With the biggest show on the planet around the corner, TheHardTackle brings to you a special series that provides you with group-wise capsules of information on each nation. No more hiding away from discussions and debates, we promise to make you a World Cup scholar before the showcase event begins. The world is getting ready, are you?
Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile
FIFA Ranking: 2
Best Performance: Fourth place in 1950
Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Spain goes into South Africa as one of the favorites. They are the current European champions, having won the European Championship in 2008. They have qualified for the FIFA World Cup twelve times, best result is reaching fourth place in the 1950 edition. They have also won 3rd place in Confederations cup in 2009 and have won Gold in Olympics in 1992.
In July 2008, La Furia Roja rose to the top of the FIFA World Ranking for the first time in their history, becoming the sixth nation, and the first who had never won the World Cup, to top this ranking. Between November 2006 and June 2009, Spain went undefeated for a record tying 35 consecutive matches —record shared with Brazil— including a record 15-game winning streak.
Spain did not enter the inaugural World Cup of 1930, but qualified for the Italy-hosted tournament of 1934 and reached till the quarter final. A combination of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War denied them competitive football until the 1950 World Cup. They finished in fourth place which remains the furthest that they have reached in the World Cup.
Looking to end the drought!
Even though Spain managed to win their first major international title by winning European Nation’s cup in 1964, the team failed to get past the first round of World cup in 1962 and ’66. The same scenario recurred when they became the runners up in Euro 1984 but failed to qualify for the world cup 1986. They have reached the quarter finals four times, recently in 2002, but the failure to live up to their standards in crucial games have earned them the choker’s tag in big matches.
But Spain’s recent track record – winner of Euro 2008, undefeated and untied in World Cup qualification is so enviable that even though their record doesn’t speak much about their ability in the history of World cup football, they are easily considered as one of the favorites to win this title.
Spain were put into an easier group. Turkey and Belgium were the nearest dangerous opponents. They went on to record a perfect World Cup qualifying record with 10 wins out of 10 matches. Spain secured their place at the 2010 World Cup finals after beating Estonia 3–0.
This Spanish side is a complete team in the sense that they have quality players in every position of the field and each one of them can be replaced by equally qualified players. This team has been playing together for the past 3 years and it showed in their results.
A strike partnership between Villa and Torres can terrorize any defense in the world. The midfield boasts of enough talent to create dangerous opportunities. The dynamic midfield duo Xavi and Iniesta are sure to start in all the matches. Either Alonso or Fabregas will play as a deep lying playmaker. David Silva will be finishing up the midfield line up operating from the left wing. In defense they have the experienced Puyol, his club team mate Pique along with Sergio Ramos and Capdevila. And even though the captain of the side, Casillas had an indifferent season, his name itself gives the team a confidense worthy of a winner.
The team lost only one match over the past 3 years and so it is difficult to judge the weakness of the team. Rival team managers would be following Spain’s 2-0 defeat against USA in Confederations cup semi final to find out the flaws in their game. Apparently it appears that if the supply from midfield to feed the strikers is cut off by good man to man marking and constant pressure, it seems the side runs out of idea. Ball possession is another key to break their shackles.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
Xavi Harnandez (midfielder): One of the best playmakers of the current generation. His technique, vision, creativity and ball control makes him the heartbeat of the Spanish side. His versatility can allow Del Bosque to play an additional striker if needed as he can also play in a defensive role owing to his good pressing and snatching ability.
FIFA Ranking: 24
Best Performance: Quarter finalist in 1934, ’38 and ‘54
Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Switzerland reached the quarter-finals in their first two World Cup appearances in 1934 and 1938, crashing out to the eventual losing finalists on both occasions – Czechoslovakia in 1934 and Hungary in 1938. The highlight of the 1938 campaign was a 4-2 victory over a Nazi-controlled German team also featuring Austrian players after the annexation of the country. When World Cup football resumed in 1950, the Swiss were knocked out at the group stage.
Four years later, the Swiss hosted the tournament and again made the quarters finals. The quarter-final match against Austria was the highest scoring match in World Cup history as Switzerland remarkably threw away a three-goal lead, conceding five in seven first-half minutes to lose 7-5.
The worst came after 2 unsuccessful world cup campaigns in 1962 and ‘66 when the national side spent 28 years in the international wilderness between the ‘66 appearance and qualification for the 1994 tournament.
In the 2006 tournament in Germany, Switzerland had the misfortune of being the first team to ever be knocked out of the World Cup without conceding a goal.
Say (swiss) cheese!
Switzerland topped their qualification group ahead of Greece and Israel, qualifying for their second successive finals. A slip-up in the second game against minnows Luxembourg – losing 2-1 at home – looked to have damaged their chances, but they finally qualified after six wins in the next eight games, including impressive home and away victories against second-placed Greece. The prolific partnership of record goal-scorer Alexander Frei and FC Twente striker Blaise N’Kufo was key to qualification success.
The strength of team Nati lies in their talented midfielders and prolific partnership of the striker duo. Bayer Leverkusen’s Tranquillo Barnetta, winger, is their most talented player. His creativity and vision can often produce dangerous moments. Central midfielder Gökhan Inler of Udinese is well known for his long range screamer and shot power and recently has been tipped to play in BPL. The midfield also consists of Beni Huggel, Swiss Footballer of the Year. The strike partners Frei and N’kofu have been playing well together with the pair netting nine goals between them during the qualifiers. Lurking in their shadows will be young talent Eren Derdiyok(Bayer Leverkusen), big and skillful in the air.
The defense of the team has not been tested much during the qualifying round as there was not any top teams apart from Greece. Senderos, their centre half, has not been in good form in the last season and did not have much match practice of late. The Natis also lack in big match experience.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
The best talent for the Natis in recent years. His vision and creativity helped Leverkusen jump to the top of Bundesliga for a significant period in last season and it was also rumored that Arsene Wenger was interested to have his service last year.
FIFA Ranking: 40
Best Performance: First round in 1982
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
After only one appearance in the World Cup, Honduras are dreaming of a brighter future. Their sole appearance came in 1982 and they put up a creditable showing. They drew with hosts Spain and Northern Ireland, but a defeat to Yugoslavia in the final game cost Honduras a place in the second group stage.
However, the country’s World Cup history will always be associated with a conflict that broke out with El Salvador in 1969. Relations had been tense due to immigration between the two neighbouring nations before riot broke out during and after a qualifying game for Mexico 1970 in San Salvador. The Salvadoran Army launched an offensive in Honduras and fighting raged on until a ceasefire was called six days later. Despite the problems running far deeper than sport, this has been labelled the ‘Football War’.
Honduras fought it out with Costa Rica to the last breath. They needed to defeat El Salvador in the final match and then hope that Costa Rica failed to earn three points against USA. Costa Rica had looked poised for victory after Brian Ruiz scored two goals in the first half against USA, but the Ticos crumbled in the second half, and the game played in Washington ended in a draw, which, coupled with a 1-0 win against El Salvador, allowed Honduras to return to the World Cup by virtue of their better goal difference.
Back after nearly three decades!
A lot of Honduran footballers play in MLS. Captain and attacking midfielder Amado Guevara has played for New York, Chivas and Toronto and is the playmaker for Los Catrachos. Honduras boast of a number of names playing for European teams. Midfielder Wilson Palacios has made a big impression in the Premier League.Another creative midfielder is Julio Cesar de Leon who spent last season at Torino (on loan from Parma). Left back Maynor Figueroa became famous for his long range free kick for Wigan this season but is also a pretty impressive left back. Striker David Suazo of Genoa is an experienced player and his partnership with fellow striker Carlos Pavon, Honduras’ all time top scorer, makes quite a dangerous strikeforce for a team that won’t be fancied.
Most of the players ply their trade in lesser known leagues and competitions. They lack exposure and experience in top level.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
Palacios has made a big impression in the BPL. He muscled and anchored the midfield for Spurs with dominance. Often moved forward creating opportunities for his team. He is surely their player to watch out for.
FIFA Ranking: 15
Best Performance: Third place in 1962
Coach: Marcelo Bielsa
Chile is one of the original thirteen national teams that competed in the inaugural 1930 World Cup. They started off well beating Mexico and France without conceding a goal. But a 3-1 loss to Argentina eliminated them from the tournament.
Their best World Cup result was a third place finish in 1962, when Chile was the host nation. They lost 4-2 to eventual champions Brazil in a semifinals match and went on to defeat Yugoslavia 1-0 for third place.
Chile’s qualification for the 1974 World Cup was way more interesting than their participation in the tournament. Chile and old foes U.S.S.R. had a play-off for a place in the 1974 World Cup. The first leg in Moscow finished in a draw, and so all had to be decided in Santiago. The Soviet team refused to play the second leg at Estadio Nacional in Santiago, because it had been used as a concentration camp by Augusto Pinochet after his 1973 military coup. Instead of relocating the game, FIFA demanded it be played in Santiago, and so the match kicked off with Chile as the only team present.
Chile kicked off, went downfield, and scored. 1-0. Obviously there was no Soviet team to restart the game, and so the match was abandoned and awarded to Chile. Thus Chile qualified for world cup 1970.
Then came Roberto Rojas scandal. During a qualifier for the 1990 World Cup it was Brazil vs Chile at the Maracana. Brazil were leading 1-0, a result which would mean Chile failing to qualify for the World Cup. In the 67th minute a firework was thrown onto the field and Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas went down injured. Chile’s players left the field and refused to continue playing, claiming it was not safe to do so. The match was abandoned.
However, when FIFA reviewed video of the incident, they noticed that the firework had made no contact with Rojas, and that the keeper had faked his injury, presumably to try and have the match abandoned and get another shot at Brazil. FIFA disqualified Chile from 1990 World Cup qualifying and also banned them from even attempting to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
After the shame of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, 1998 was all about redemption and the strike partnership of Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano. With the help of two of Chile’s all time greats they managed to reach the second round of the tourney, only to be humbled by Brazil later on.
A good run for Chile, finishing at 33 points and with a 10-3-5 record. They finished with one point short off the eventual qualifying round toppers, Brazil. What may be more impressive is that the wins home and away were split – five and five. They also beat Argentina for the first time ever in an international match during the qualifiers and defeated Bolivia away from home.
Their strength is their attack-minded approach.The formation 3-4-3 has the point man Humberto Suazo. Flanking him will be the pacy duo of ex Liverpool player Mark Gonzalez and Udinese’s Alexis Sanchez, one of the biggest talents in the world, with Mathias Fernandes, another talented player, tucked in just behind as a trequartista. It’s a phenomenal ode to attacking football.Carlos Carmona, Rodrigo Millar and Roberto Cereceda have been called in to provide a bit of the work in midfield, while the three-man back of Gary Medel, Gonzalo Jara and Waldo Ponce get to enjoy nightmares of the counterattack. The man who gets to enjoy the fun evolve in front of him is their goal keeper Claudio Bravo.
La Roja coach Bielsa devised the 3-4-3 formation to play in the qualifying round. This formation might help in scoring goals. But quality opponents, who don’t entertain open football and are good in counter-attack, can prove to be too good for such an attacking approach.
TheHardTackle’s Player to Watch Out:
Udinese’s winger has been in limelight for quite some time now, attracting interest from Manchester United gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson. His talent, quick feet and vision can produce moments of brilliance and he is Chile’s player to watch out for!
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The most important match in this group is going to be the match in which Chile takes on Switzerland. On the last day Chile will be facing Spain but Switzerland will be facing the so called minnows Honduras. Switzerland will have it easier to reach the next round if they don’t spoil their chances against Chile.
Spain’s form over the past 3 years has been tremendous and they are a strong enough team to qualify for the next round as Group H topper. As for the second team to qualify from this group, Honduras might fall behind because of their lack of experience. Chile and Switzerland have to fight it out. The Hard Tackle predicts Switzerland to prevail because of a more compact approach towards the game. Their midfield and forwards can cause a lot of trouble to the attack-minded Chile team.