Group E: France, Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras
Everyone is quick to label groups once we pass the World Cup draw. Group E has been tagged the group of life, as France, Honduras and Switzerland will be reminded of their group stage exits in 2010. Ecuador will be featuring at the tournament for the first time since 2006.
France, unsurprisingly, will start favourites to advance to the next stage along with fellow European qualifiers Switzerland, firming as runners-up, due to their impressive qualification record. Ecuador has a handful of young superstars, including Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, who will prove testing opposition for the two favourites. Honduras finished third in CONCACAF, enjoying back-to-back qualifications.
How they got there
France qualified for Brazil through the European play-offs after they finished second in a group featuring world champions Spain. They edged past the Ukraine with a 3-2 aggregate after a three-goal home victory at the Stade de France after losing the first leg 2-0.
France possess a squad littered with stars none more so than the midfield with Yohan Cayabe, Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba - three of the first names on the team-sheet. For Les Bleus, goals will be vital for progression deeper into the tournament. In that regard they will rely on Karim Benzema, the hulking Real Madrid forward who scored 17 goals this term. He will be ably supported by Arsenal talisman, Oliver Giroud who carried the Gunners attacking force through the opening months of the EPL season, where they sat atop.
In an open group such as Group E – the way you start off is paramount. France when they exited in the group stages have lost their opening matches, so the game in Porto Alegre against Honduras will be their chance to start on the right foot.
The other game of significance will be the second group game against fellow UEFA members Switzerland. Both nations will be banking on qualifying from Group E and a point or three in this game will be vital.
Predicted group finish: First
How they got there
Switzerland were mammoth in UEFA qualification going undefeated and, ironically, topping group E – the highlight being an eight- goal feast against Iceland that ended 4-4.
There is a large Basel contingent in the Switzerland squad with several of the key playmakers having, or currently, plied their trade in the Swiss Super League. The man to watch for the top seeds will be Granit Xhaka. The younger midfielder playing for Borussia Monchengladbach has drawn parallels to Bastian Schweinsteiger due to his intelligence on the ball.
Staying in Germany – there is also young Bayern Munich winger, Xherdan Shaqiri who has impressed with his speed and will cause problems for defences across Group E and further.
No European country has ever won a World Cup hosted in South America, so the opening game of Group E against Ecuador is key. Switzerland will want to familiarise themselves with local conditions against a team well versed in them.
Much like my France overview – Switzerland will be eyeing the game against familiar opposition from their UEFA qualifying. They can squeeze themselves past the Frenchmen into first position if they can get a favourable result.
Predicted group finish: Second
How they got there
Ecuador took the fourth and final automatic qualifying position in CONMEBOL, pipping Uruguay who had to go into a play-off against Jordan. During the process, they secured a 1-1 draw against Argentina and a single goal victory over Uruguay proving they can produce a giant killing result if needed to move through the group.
The name that sticks out right away for Ecuador is Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and rightfully so, as the 28-year-old will shoulder a lot of responsibility for the side. Much like his role at United, Valencia will play provider for Jefferson Montero up front while, hopefully, keeping his anger in check. He was involved in an incident with Raheem Sterling last weekend that saw both men red carded.
These will be familiar conditions for Ecuador who travel to Brazil regularly during qualifying. So the opening game against Switzerland will be an opportunity to spring a surprise on an unsettled opposition.
Also their penultimate game against group whipping boys Honduras should give them a positive lift of a multiple goal score line before facing the French who may have already qualified for the second round by the last game.
Predicted group finish: Third
How they got there
Honduras will make their third World Cup appearance, unexpectedly for most, as they finished third in the ‘hexagonal’ final phase of CONCACAF qualifying. They did so ahead of World Cup ornaments Mexico. The Central American nation weren’t fortunate in their finish defeating both Mexico and United States but belied by draws against lower opposition.
Journeyman striker Carlo Costly, will be a key figurehead for the Hondurans if they want to trouble the other teams. The striker, who has traversed Europe in his career, has 31 goals in 70 appearances for the national side and will be the beacon of light, as they will be spending a majority of their games defending.
Honduras who have been anointed the whipping boys of Group E, will take aim on their second and third matches of the group to spring a surprise. The Central Americans face Ecuador who may come off an opening defeat to Switzerland and will be operating in a more defensive method and be open to a snatch and grab 1-0.
The CONCACAF nation will be hoping that Switzerland will have qualified before their final group game in Manaus. If so, the Swiss may have clocked off thinking of their second round opponent and allowing Honduras to sneak under their guard and finish 2014 on a high.
Predicted group finish: Fourth
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