Alternative Group E Preview: Altitude sickness, boredom and anthem-offs
There were understandable gasps when France and Switzerland were drawn together. When the two sides were paired in 2006 they contested a game so dire football had to rebrand itself as ‘Kickball’ while France and Switzerland were both hit with UN sanctions.
This is a very different French side which should win the group fairly easily, so the drama lies in whether Ecuador or Honduras can upset Switzerland, who will wow fans with their usual brand of sensible, defensive football.
Road to Brazil
As ever, Ecuador benefitted from playing their home games at high altitude. Many of Argentina’s top players didm’t make it past base camp for their 1-1 draw while Colombia’s stars were clearly hindered by wearing oxygen masks.
France needed to dig deep to qualify, battling back from a 2-0 deficit in a play-off with Ukraine. Against all odds, the French won 3-0 in Paris and Ukraine fell into political chaos (although some commentators have pointed out that happened more than four months later and may have been more closely linked to ethnic tensions).
World Cup pedigree
Since winning the tournament in 1998, France’s World Cup campaigns have been characterised by disharmony within the squad. This time, however, the squad seem united in their hatred of Samir Nasri, who has been left at home.
Switzerland, led by ancient boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, who has announced his intention to retire and/or fall asleep in a comfortable armchair immediately after the competition, set a record at the last World Cup for the most minutes at finals without conceding; in 2006 they didn’t let in a goal but were asked to go home anyway. Nobody’s sure exactly how many minutes it was, because nobody could stomach watching more than 90 minutes of Switzerland.
A football match between Honduras and El Salvador once turned into the 100 Hours War in 1969, while a war between the two nations turned into a football match in 1974. As a result, in Honduras no distinction is made between war and football, and tourists are urged not to join in kickabouts. Ecuador reached the second round in 2006 but lost to England, so they may not bother doing so again.
British viewers will recognise Ecuador’s national anthem by Sash! feat. Adrian Rodriguez which peaked at No.2 in the UK Singles Chart in 1997. Unlike Ecuador, Honduras’ anthem didn’t appear on the Ministry of Sound’s ‘Mash Up Mix 90s’ album, but Jason Derulo recently performed a stripped down cover version in Radio One’s Live Lounge.
France are hard to beat with La Marseillaise, their rousing, bloodthirsty call to arms. Switzerland’s offering is more about how nice mountains look and tidying up after yourself. Indeed, Switzerland’s lengthy, old-fashioned anthem is so unpopular that a competition has been launched to find a new one that players don’t have to spend several weeks rehearsing.
Worth a bet
One bookmaker are offering 500/1 on you watching all three of Switzerland’s games.