It may not be packed with superstars, yet Group E of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is definitely one to keep an eye on. With previous winners such as France and dark horses Switzerland and potential banana skins in Ecuador and Honduras, this group may not be as straightforward as it might seem.
Considered outsiders for the competition, Switzerland do have the potential to spring an upset. After all they were the only side to inflict a loss on an all conquering Spain outfit in the 2010 edition of the FIFA World Cup. There remains genuine enthusiasm that has settled in the Swiss camp. With a blend of youth and experience, the ingredients are there for Switzerland to potentially go deep into the competition.
Factor in the priceless management skills of Ottmar Hitzfeld and you have a side that will be hard to beat. Curtains will be drawn on Hitzfeld’s illustrious career come the end of the World Cup and his side will want to see him off in a manner that does justice to his accomplishments. In Gokhan Inler and Stephan Lichtsteiner, Switzerland have two established stars of Italian football while the exuberance of Xherdan Shaqiri and Ricardo Rodriguez brings in the element of unpredictability and excitement. Alongwith Rodriguez, Granit Xhaka and Haris Seferovic represent the stars of the Swiss u17 side that won the World Cup in 2009.
Switzerland breezed through their qualifying campaign with minimum fuss and finished their group an impressive 7 points ahead of nearest rivals Iceland. They ended their journey undefeated and were seeded heading into the draws which gave them the advantage of a comparatively easy group.
South America’s representative in Group E Ecuador, finished 4th in their CONMEBOL qualifiers which ensured automatic qualification. Of the four teams present, Ecuador might not be the most fancied outfit yet they have the armory to give the bigger guns a run for their money. Antonio Valencia remains their best and most important player on the pitch in a side that is heavily reliant on wing-play.
Their outstanding home record was in large part responsible for their success in the qualifiers with only Argentina managing to come away with a point. In contrast though, their form on the road saw them pick up three draws as they went winless. This is Ecuador’s third shot at the FIFA World Cup after previously making it through for the 2002 and the 2006 editions.
La Tricolor, as they’re known, definitely have their work cut-out for them but they’ll be aware of the fact that the draw could have been worse. Ecuador are outsiders for this group but with players like Felipe Caicedo and Valencia, the hope will be that they could elevate them to the next round.
Heavy favorites to qualify as group winners, France made their way to Brazil after overcoming Ukraine in the play-offs. The 1998 winners will be relatively content with the draw that was handed to them and should make it through to the next round. Les Bleus aren’t firm contenders in the eyes of the bookmarkers yet they do have the talent to make in-roads into the competition.
A survey of their squad brings forth stars like Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Hugo Lloris but their hopes rest on the shoulders of arguably the best young player in Europe, Paul Pogba. The Juventus midfielder has the world at his feet with potential that has the whole of French Football licking their lips. Pogba’s display in the recent 4-0 mauling of Norway offers hope that the French could surpass expectations.
Manager Didier Deschamps has experience under his belt but what has garnered attention in the snubbing of Man City star Samir Nasri. Only time will tell if his decision will be vindicated but it’s a sign that perhaps harmony in the squad is the best way forward for now. The undeniable quality is there in abundance but what matters is whether we will see a gleaming Les Bleus side or a pale impression of one.
The designated punching bags of the group, it will take a herculean task for Honduras to manufacture the points needed to rise from the group stages. They will take heart from the fact that they managed to hold Switzerland to a goalless stalemate in the last edition of the World Cup.
Having finished third in CONCACAF qualifying, Honduras were handed a direct route to Brazil. It was by no stretch of the imagination easy for them though, having secured their passports on the final matchday with a 2-2 draw against Jamaica.
Honduras may be the minnows of the group but the fact that they’ve made it to Brazil means they will be no pushovers. Manager Luis Fernando Suarez’s side tend to be more compact and that maybe the philosophy he will be forced into employing. His team will rely on pacy and strong forward Carlo Costly while in Wilson Palacios, Emilio Izaguirre and Maynor Figueroa they have players with heavy European experience. History though, does work against them as they’ve never managed to win a World Cup match. Brazil might be the perfect stage for them to do away with an unenviable record.