Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
16 June, 5:00 PM IST
Los Catrachos, as Honduras are nicknamed, have often been the nearly men in Concacaf Qualifying zone. Often associated with the infamous “Soccer War”, they looked to be missing the flight to South Africa too. But they were saved by a last ditch USA equalizer against Costa Rica which ensured direct qualification. Honduras usually plays a 4-4-2 & 4-5-1 for away games. Their qualifying round was characterized by a solid defensive display, as they finished with least goals conceded in the Concacaf zone final round. Wing play is one of their strong points. Veteran striker Carlos Pavon scored seven goals in qualifiers and would be the main threat upfront. The Honduran legend is their all-time top scorer with 57 goals from 100 appearances. Pavon’s strike partner Carlos Costly will be a big miss for Honduras.
Chile has a richer world cup history when compared to their opponents. Salas – Zamorano lit up the biggest stage of football in 1998. La Roja can turn out to be the most exciting team this world cup. Masterminded by former Argentine tactician ‘El Loco’ Bielsa, they play a fast paced & offensive 3-3-1-3. A hefty Humberto Suazo acts as pivot while fleet footed schemers Alexis Sanchez & Matias Fernandez open up defences with their darting runs. Chile was the 2nd top scorer in South American zone & finished in 2nd place, a point behind Brazil. They collected 16 of 33 away points. Suazo topped the goal scoring list ahead of some of the best strikers in the world. Bielsa’s training methods have often taken toll on his players. Defender Roberto Ayala missed 2002 world cup after being injured in training. Chile’s high pressing game might be hindered if the players are tired.
Honduras has already made the journey without first choice striker Carlos Costly. Costly’s back-up David Suazo is also a doubt, having suffered from a thigh injury. Dependable midfielder Wilson Palacios gathered rave reviews in EPL, but might miss out due to a muscle injury. Humberto Suazo remains doubtful with a thigh injury.
Honduras’ form has been patchy in the buildup. They lost to Turkey, Venezuela & drew with Belarus & Azerbaijan. The last warm up game ended in a 3-0 mauling by Romania. Chile’s form has been in sharp contrast compared to Honduras. They have won each of their last three games without letting in a goal. They beat Trinidad & Tobago 2-0, Zambia 3-0 & New Zealand 2-0.
Honduras’ best chance is to try and expose Chile’s lack of width in defence. A three man defence can often be cranked open by a fast attack through the flanks. Honduras’ strong defense will be tested to its limit by the attack minded Chileans. Honduras has held the upper hand in recent friendly games, winning 2 of the last 3 head to head encounters.
World Cup Head to Head Record: This is their first ever meeting in a World Cup.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Honduras: Played 3, Won 0, Lost 1, Drawn 2
Chile: Played 25, Won 7, Lost 12, Drawn 6
Other key facts:
(1) Chile has not won a world cup game since 1962. (2) There have been 16 matches between South American & Central American teams in the world cups. South Americans have a heavy edge with 13 wins & just 1 loss. (3) Chile drew all three group games in the last world cup in 1998. Losing the knockout game. Honduras drew two of their three group games in 1982, losing the last one to Yugoslavia.
Alexis Sanchez (black & white) in action for Udinese
Player to watch out for: Alexis Sanchez (Chile) Sanchez burst on to the scene with Udinese this season. Playing as an advanced winger he is blessed with pace, ball control & great technical ability. He thrives in a three striker system where he frees up space with his darting runs.
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
16 June, 1900 hours IST
La Furia Roja has been the underachievers in world cup from time immemorial. They have often been dismissed as the quarter final team. Indifferent showings in ’94, ’98, ’02 world cups seemed to compliment that fact pretty well.
In world cup 2006, veteran coach Luis Aragones brought a bunch of young & exciting players who lit up the group stage. But once again disappointment was the only return as Spain bowed out to the experience of France. The same team had matured by the time of Euro 2008. And they put on a memorable performance, sweeping past teams like Italy, Russia & Germany to capture their 2nd European title. The world sat up & took notice of an almost perfect team. A world class goal keeper, solid centre-backs, marauding full-backs, a supreme destroyer in the middle of the park, a playmaker with sublime skills, two fast & skillful wingers & an awe inspiring striker pair. Spain might have ended up building the most complete team since West Germany in 70s.
Two years since that Euro win very little has changed. Spain is going into this world cup as one of the favourites, they are still a team with very little weakness. Barcelona has dominated European football in last 2 seasons & they form the backbone of this team. Former Real Madrid gaffer Vicente del Bosque took over the team from Aragones. No man was better suited for this job. Del Bosque is well known for his attacking brand of football and he is good at managing star players.
Spain waltzed through their qualifying round getting past the dangerous Bosnia with ease. They amassed a total of 28 goals in 10 games, with star striker David Villa grabbing 7.
Very few teams can boast a squad with such strength and depth as Spain. Three in-form and highly rated goalkeepers in Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina and Victor Valdez. Carels Puyol and Pique would resume their successful defensive partnership in Spanish jersey now. Full-backs Ramos, Arbeloa and Capdevila are all competent in both attack & defence. In terms of midfield, Spain is the best in the world. Xavi is the main orchestrator, playing deep in the midfield, stringing pass after pass. No other team in the world would think about benching Cesc Fabregas, but La Furia Roja can. Xabi Alonso will play the role of holding midfielder while youngsters Sergio Busquets and Javi Martinez will play the role of destroyer in midfield. David Silva and Andres Iniesta offer the mobile counterpart to Xavi’s playmaking. These two will make runs and find spaces behind the defense while Xavi picks them out. Upfront they have the lethal pairing of Villa and Torres. Both the strikers have superb scoring rate in club level. Greenhorns Mata, Pedro and Llorente will back them up.
One of the very few weaknesses in the current team is the lack of a physical holding midfielder. Marcos Senna performed this role with great aplomb in Euro. He was an unsung hero, but arguably one of the most crucial players. His injury problems as well as drop of form led to his missing out from the squad. Busquets or Martinez, who fit the Senna role are inexperienced in top level. This deficiency maybe addressed by Del Bosque by changing his usual 4-4-2 formation. He might switch to a 4-5-1 to accommodate one more midfielder to play the holding role. That would mean benching Villa or Torres.
Switzerland was one of the earliest innovators in world football. Their head coach Karl Rappan created the “Bolt System” in 50s, which would be the basic blueprint of Catenaccio. After a series of disappointments they came back strongly in 1994 world cup. Spearheaded by Alain Sutter, Stephane Chapuisat and coached by Roy Hodgson, they played some exciting football. They reached the 2nd round after a 4-1 win over Romania, but were dumped out by Spain. In 2006 world cup, an organized Swiss team topped their group ahead of France. They lost in the 2nd round again, this time to Ukraine.
Experienced manager Ottmar Hitzfeld took over from long time coach Kobi Kuhn in 2008. Hitzfeld modeled the side after his famous Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich teams of 1990s, strong, well organized & tough to break down. They safely negotiated a passage to South Africa, despite being in a tricky group with Greece and Latvia. They lost just one game and let in eight goals.
Tranquillo Barnetta (in red) will have his task cut out
They do have some in-form players going into this world cup. Serie A campaigners right-back Stephan Lichsteiner and midfielder Gokhan Inler both enjoyed good seasons in Lazio and Udinese respectively. The Bayer Leverkusen pair of Tranquillo Barnetta and Eren Derdiyok played vital roles in their club’s surge for league title. West Ham’s Valeron Behrami garnered rave reviews in the London club. Veterans Alexander Frei and Hakan Yakin will add experience.
Switzerland usually plays a 4-4-2 with wingers launching in crosses for tall centre forwards. Blaise Nkofu enjoyed good form in qualifiers and he will be main target for those crosses. The Swiss would look to exploit the lack of physical players in the Spanish midfield.
The Swiss are missing their all time leading scorer Alex Frei as well as Behrami. For Spain, Iniesta has been declared fit, but he may not start. Torres is recovering from a minor thigh injury.
World Cup Head to Head Record: 1966 World Cup: Switzerland 1-2 Spain (Group Stage) 1994 World Cup: Spain 3-0 Switzerland (2nd Round)
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Switzerland: Played 26 Won 8 Lost 13 Drawn 5
Spain: Played 49 Won 22 Lost 15 Drawn 12
Other key facts: (1) The last time Spain failed to progress beyond group league was back in 1998. For Switzerland we need to go back further to 1966. (2) In 2006 world cup Switzerland became the first team to be knocked out despite not conceding a goal. (3) Del Bosque and Hitzfeld have had a fair share of clashes in Champions’ League. From 2000 to 2002 their teams met each other 8 times in 3 editions of UCL.
David Silva, an important cog in the Spanish wheel
Player to watch out for:David Silva (Spain) The gazelle like winger is one of the best in the world in his position. Light weighted Silva is blessed with an express speed and a wonderful ability to beat a defender through dribble and pace. He has an incredibly powerful shot for a player of his physical attributes. He possesses the ability to score some screamers.
Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
16 June, 11:50PM IST
Uruguayan strike pair of Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan was heavily tipped to run riot in South Africa. In the first game the pair turned out to be a dud. In a highly disappointing France – Uruguay match none of the strikers remotely came near scoring a goal. Forlan’s best chance was a long ranger that never really troubled Lloris, while Suarez was invisible for the whole game. Uruguay starting out with a 3 man defense meant that two of the central midfielders had to drop back and support the defense. This isolated Forlan and Suarez. The wider wingbacks showed less urgency in moving up; starving the front two of any concrete supply. Uruguay’s mentality can also be criticized as they looked like playing for a draw for most of the match.
They can ill afford another slipup against the hosts, anything less than a win might hamper their chances of reaching the last 16.
Bafana Bafana was derided as the weakest ever host nation before the world cup. Experts destined them to be the first hosts to get knocked out in first round. The Rainbow Nation’s previous flirtations with the world cup were hardly encouraging. After losing to France, they drew against Denmark & Saudi Arabia in 1998. They did get their maiden world cup win in 2002 beating Slovenia. They were knocked out in first round in both occasions.
Despite all the negative criticism, South Africa’s performance in pre world cup friendlies was highly encouraging. It looked like they were peaking at the right time. Coach Carlos Alberto Perreira is highly experienced, having won a world cup with Brazil in ’94. His shrewdness along with the home support could push South Africa to cause an upset or two.
And they did start off well. Against a well organized and in-form Mexican team they started off a little off the hook. The players looked like suffering from cold feet and Mexico dominated the early exchanges. However, the slippery South African wingers often managed to get past the high line of Mexican defence. Giovani dos Santos was creating all sorts of problems for the slightly awkward shape of the South African defence. A change of left backs in 2nd half made the hosts more fluid. Tshabalala sent the entire nation into ruptures with a sweetly taken goal. South Africa was on the verge of a famous win and looked more threatening. Sadly, there poor marking on set pieces cost them the 3 points as Marquez slotted in an equalizer. Mphela came agonizingly close to snatching a stunning winner, but his shot hit the post.
Uruguayan poachers need to step up their game against South Africa. They are not the best of sides when it comes to defending and can let in goals against the likes of Forlan. Uruguay has played two friendlies with South Africa, one they won 4-3, the other was 0-0.
World Cup Head to Head Record: This is their first ever meeting in a World Cup.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
South Africa: Played 7 Won 1 Lost 2 Drawn 4
Uruguay: Played 40 Won 15 Lost 15 Drawn 10
Other key facts: (1) Uruguay is the seventh smallest nation to have played in world cup. The other six have never gone beyond first round. Uruguay in contrast has two titles. (2) Uruguay lost their first world cup game in 1954, after going unbeaten in 1930 & 1950 triumphs. (3) South Africa is unbeaten in 14 matches.
Forlan needs to put on his scoring boots…
Player to watch out for: Diego Forlan (Uruguay) The European Golden boot winner of 2009 was starved off supply against France. Expect him to get more chances against South Africa. Forlan usually doesn’t miss many chances.