On paper, Group E has a clear divide in quality compared to some of World Cup 2014’s other groups. There are two teams that look likely to progress, and then two teams that would require miraculous campaigns to do anything other than face elimination.
But in football, as we all know, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Everybody in this group is playing for something – Switzerland is playing for the respect that they deserve from world football, while Honduras is playing for the pride of just being involved.
And then there’s France, playing for the most dangerous thing of all – redemption. It makes for a very exciting group.
Here are your Group E contenders:
Switzerland (Ranked 6th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Switzerland are yet another country with an increasingly impressive track record of developing youngsters – they may be good at making chocolates and watches, but they’re also pretty damn good at producing footballers too.
While Swiss club teams may not be able to compete with bigger European clubs, they are continuously producing players who can. The Bundesliga in specific has benefitted from a wealth of quality Swiss footballers.
Young Swiss players Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriquez (all in the Bundesliga) have all been touted as future superstars, while others like Inler, Behrami, and Sommer offer a good pool to draw upon for manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Individually, Switzerland’s players have proven that they are worthy of playing for, and against, some of the world’s biggest teams. They now have to prove that they can achieve the same effect collectively. If this group of talented players can come together to become a team, anything could be possible for them this summer.
Player to watch: This World Cup is a massive one for Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri. The muscular winger is certainly his country’s most potent attacker. But Shaqiri will also be out to prove himself in another way – the perennial understudy to Ribéry and Robben, Shaqiri will be looking to show Bayern (or potential suitors) why he deserves to be a key component in their front line.
Predicted group finish: First or second place. This group has a fairly straightforward top two – France and Switzerland, bar a disaster for either nation, will be advancing to the knockout rounds. The battle for top spot is far more interesting. Switzerland have far less pressure than France, and perhaps have a more settled squad. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them come out on top of Group E.
Predicted overall finish: Progression into the knockout rounds will be seen as a great achievement for Switzerland, and they may have to be content with that. Much depends on who they face up against next round, but they could quickly rise to become the tournament’s dark horse.
Ecuador (Ranked 26th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
At first glance, Ecuador seem like South America’s weakest team at the 2014 World Cup. That may be true, but they’ve proven that they can go toe-to-toe with some of the world’s biggest football nations.
In fact, Ecuador actually advanced to the World Cup ahead of powerhouse nation Uruguay – “La Tri” took the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot from the CONMEBOL qualifying group, leaving the Uruguayans to battle it out in a playoff spot.
Despite a squad of much “weaker” players, the Ecuadorians have shown a comradery that comes from having a group of players all playing in the same environment. Other squads have players scattered across the globe, but bar one or two bigger players, most of the Ecuador team ply their football in Central or South America.
While other national teams are training their players to deal with the warm climate, Ecuador have already got that covered. They may not be the host nation, but they’ll be much more at home this tournament than most other teams. It could be the difference they need.
Player to watch: It will work in Ecuador’s favour to have a squad full of players used to South American football, but on individual level, their best player will be coming from a different continent. Captain Antonio Valencia will join his teammates after a fairly disappointing season for Manchester United, but the powerful winger has the energy, pace and delivery to make the difference in what will be tough games for his country.
Predicted group finish: Third place. The problem with having a player base mainly playing their club football in South America is simple – they aren’t as good as those playing in Europe. The best players eventually end up at the biggest clubs, all of which are located in Europe. France and Switzerland have those players, and they will prevent Ecuador from making it out of this group.
France (Ranked 17th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
It’s fair to say that things didn’t quite go according to plan for France last time around. Elimination in the group stages at World Cup 2010 was disappointing, but the manner in which it happened (awful performances amidst a player revolt against manager Raymond Domenech) was downright embarrassing for such a proud football nation.
Euro 2012 showed that France was back on the right track. They were eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual champions Spain, but the swagger was starting to return to a nation that had just shortly before been in turmoil.
But this summer is about more than just another shot at the trophy for Les Bleus – this is about redemption. The French players know what the world saw of them last World Cup, and they will look to obliterate that memory.
Their squad (a good balance between youth and experience, between flair and grit) is much healthier than it was four years ago. French players are playing prominent roles for massive clubs all around Europe, and their country will need more of the same.
Player to watch: A year ago, France’s key player would have definitely been Franck Ribéry. The Bayern winger (hey look, another one) was the third best player on the planet. But Ribéry has dipped, and it is very hard to look past Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema. The all-round forward was bought as a new “Galactico” signing blank years ago, and despite a period of bedding in, he looks every bit the superstar forward Madrid thought they were buying. Benzema has been less prolific for his country, but if he can bring anything close to his Madrid form to Brazil this summer, he could end up on top of the scoring charts.
Predicted group finish: First or second place. Again, this group should be easy enough for France to come through. They look well and truly past what happened last World Cup, and together with Switzerland they should progress easily to the knockout stages. First place is there for the taking if Les Bleus are in form.
Predicted overall finish: Like Switzerland, the French have been dismissed far too quickly by pundits and football fans. They may not be the powerful force that they once were, but France is still capable of anything. They spiraled into an all time low last time, but redemption could be in sight. With key players in form and a bit of luck, they could go all the way. A quarterfinal place is probably a safe bet, though.
Honduras (Ranked 33rd in FIFA’s World Ranking)
It’s easy to forget, when watching the World Cup and predicting who will win it, that for some countries, it is a massive success just to make an appearance. Honduras are certainly one of those.
They come into Group E as the definite minnow. While World Cups are a four-year occurrence for many teams at this summer’s tournament, they are a thing to treasure for La Bicolor. They’ve qualified for only three World Cups (which includes 2010 and now 2014) in their entire existence.
They’ve faired better in other competitions, achieving a semifinal position three successive times in CONCACAF Gold Cup. But Manager Luis Fernando Suárez (no, not the Liverpool striker) has his work cut out for him if his side is to achieve anything other than a humbling this summer.
Regardless, they’ll have their heads held high. They’ve done well just to be here, and even if they fall to bigger teams, they’ll be better for the experience. They’ve given themselves a platform to show the world what they’ve got, and they can’t let that go to waste.
Player to watch: Being one of the most experienced members of the team, Maynor Figueroa will need to provide his teammates with a cool head to rely upon. Figueroa has experience battling Premier League attackers, and the Hull City man will need to be at the top of his game to stop the barrage of attack Honduras will endure.
Predicted group finish: Last place. They’re a fantastic underdog story, but this isn’t a fairytale. They’ll have a great time, but the group stages is as far as they’re going to get.