World Cup 2014 Preview
The Group Stages
Group E contains two European nations along with one South American and one Central American team. On paper France and Switzerland look like making it a case of European domination in Group E this summer.
Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld led Switzerland through a successful qualification campaign undefeated. Switzerland won their group with ease, seven points ahead of second-placed Iceland. The qualifying draw was very favourable for Switzerland however and they may come to regret not being tested to any great extent on the road to Brazil. A current FIFA ranking of 7th may not be a true reflection of the strength of the Swiss team as a result but Hitzfeld’s men will be eager to prove otherwise. Luck does seem to be on their side once more with the group draw for the finals. With quality in their ranks such as goalkeeper Benaglio, Gokhan Inler in midfield, plus Barnetta, Senderos, Shaqiria and Stocker then Switzerland should make it past the group stage at least. The one obvious problem they have is that they do not have any proven goalscorers in the squad. Goals may be hard to come by as a result especially if they reach the last sixteen in Brazil.
Ranked 23rd at the moment according to FIFA, Ecuador qualified by stealing the last automatic spot (4th position) from Uruguay in the South American stages. Ecuador coped with tragedy along the way, losing their striker Cristian “Chucho” Benitez, who died due to cardiac arrest at just twenty-seven years of age. Benitez had already contributed four goals in qualifying by the time of his passing. Ecuador’s key players are Antonio Valencia, Christian Noboa, Felipe Caicedo, Jefferson Montero and Segundo Castillo. Caicedo was their top-scorer in qualifying with seven goals to his name.
Another sub-plot in the group involves Ecuador’s Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda. Rueda coached Ecuador’s Group E opponents Honduras during their group exit at South Africa 2010. Rueda’s experience and insider knowledge about the Honduran’s strengths and weaknesses may be an advantage but it may not be enough to get Ecuador into the last sixteen.
Unpredictable as ever, France come in to this summer in a rich vein of form. They finished in second place behind World Champions Spain in the European group stages. France then faced Ukraine in the playoffs. They won 3-2 on aggregate after losing the first leg 2-0. They have impressed since this playoff encounter, most recently ending Netherlands’ seventeen-game unbeaten run with a 2-0 defeat in Paris. Didier Deschamps has an impressive squad available to him; Hugo Lloris in goals, Eric Abidal, Laurent Koscielny, Varane, Sakho, Ribery, Benzema and Giroud are all playing at the top level and will be eager to impress this summer. France are ranked 17th in the world at present. Franck Ribery was also shortlisted for the Ballon D’or at the start of the year and is playing the best football of his career, scoring five goals in qualifying for the finals.
“La H” as they are known do not have many household names in their squad; Left-back Izaguirre and midfielder Wilson Palacios ply their trade at Celtic and Stoke City. Jerry Bengston was a revelation en-route to Brazil. Bengston burst onto the scene at the London Olympics in 2012 and scored nine goals in qualifying. Veteran forward, Carlo Costly also scored seven goals while Osael Romero chipped in with six. The Honduras coach, Luis Fernando Suarez, led his team to 1st position in their initial qualifying group (ahead of Panama on goal difference and with one point more than third-placed Canada). They then finished in 3rd place behind the USA and Costa Rica in the final group stage, taking the last automatic qualification spot.
Group E predictions:
France should do enough to win this group despite being ranked ten places below Switzerland. Lady Luck smiled on Switzerland again with this draw and they will be expected to qualify for the second round.
Join us again in a few days for our preview of Group F.
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