Alex McInnes has you covered with his guide on Group E at this year’s World Cup.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that this will be the tenth appearance at a World Cup finals by ‘Schweizer Nati’. They seem to be one of those nations who quietly go about their qualification and more often than not make it through to the big tournaments. Their best performances being making the quarter finals in 1934, 1938 and the 1954 finals on their home turf. This competition will be German Ottmar Hitzfeld’s last in charge of the Swiss as his 6 year reign as manager is coming to an end, being replaced by ex-Lazio manager Vladimir Petković. The Swiss exceeded in qualification, winning seven and drawing three out of a ten game series, finishing top of their group ahead of Iceland in second. This group is a hard one to read, France should really win the group but second place is up for grabs and any one of Switzerland, Ecuador or even Honduras could claim it but I think the Swiss have enough about them to do so. No longer with the familiar faces of old boys Hakan Yakin or Alexander Frei in the frame, Switzerland have a very youthful look about them this time around. The main guys to keep an eye out for will be Diego Benaglio in goal, Stephan Lichsteiner coming in off the back of a solid season for Juventus, Fabian Schär, captain and heartbeat of the Napoli midfield, Gökhan İnler, Xherdan Shaqiri of FC Bayern München, Granit Xhaka and Haris Seferović.
I believe this tournament will be a bitter sweet experience for ‘La Tri’ who finished fourth in their qualification but will be playing in the memory of fan favourite and national icon Christian ‘Chucho’ Benítez after his sad and untimely death last summer, passing away after suffering a cardiac arrest at the age of only 27. Every kick of the ball by Ecuador will be in his memory and as way of remembrance, the #11 shirt has been retired. This will be Ecuador’s third ever appearance at a finals, the first of which being at Korea & Japan 2002 but gone are the days of Álex Aguinaga, Iván Hurtado, Ulises de la Cruz and the enigma, Agustín Delgado. The preliminary squad put out by La Tri is largely unfamiliar but there are a few names that you might know; Manchester United player and National captain Antonio Valencia, Frickson Erazo of Flamengo, 35 year old Édison Méndez who plied his trade in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie from 07-09 with PSV Eindhoven, Christian Noboa, Renato Ibarra and ex-Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo. It will be interesting to see what this team can do this summer but I am not expecting fireworks. Maybe being used to the climate will have a bearing but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope. Rest in Peace Chucho.
2010 was a nightmare for ‘Les Bleus’, an absolute disgrace. Raymond Domenech, already a bit nutty, lost the plot and more importantly, the players…and this was all mid-tournament. Nicolas Anelka was dismissed from the squad after insulting Domenech and then the players boycotted the following training session. France crashed out of World Cup 2010 gaining only one point in a goalless draw with Uruguay, losing to Mexico and hosts, South Africa. On return to France the players had to answer to the Minister for Sport and even then French President, Nicolas Sarkozy and even some players were banned for their part in the debacle. This coming from a team that won the World Cup in 1998 on home soil and reached the Final, losing on penalties to Italy in 2006. France, now managed by Didier Deschamps, have a lot to live up to and make up for this time round and I have a feeling that they will could do pretty well. Finishing second to Spain in qualification mean Les Bleus had to face a play off decider against Ukraine. They lost the first leg 2-0 away in Kiev. Cue crisis. Luckily they turned it around in Saint-Denis with a 3-0 home win, that was a close call. Deschamps’ men should qualify from this group with ease but I guess a lot depends on the mental state of a lot of his players. Key players this tournament will be captain Hugo Lloris, Laurent Koscielny, veteran Patrice Evra, Yohan Cabaye formerly of Newcastle United, Paul Pogba, Franck Ribéry, Antoine Griezmann and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema. Let’s hope it’s a quiet World Cup off this pitch this time round.
Admittedly Honduras are a team I know next to nothing about which also makes them one of the teams I want to watch this summer, I love watching the unknown teams and it would be amazing to see a team of this stature make it out of the group. Managed by the Colombian Luis Fernando Suárez, this will be ‘Los Catrachos’’ third ever appearance at a World Cup Finals, the first being the 1982 tournament in Spain and more recently their second being at South Africa 2010, each time not making it out of the group. There are a few players who play in the UK and they will most likely be the key players for Honduras; Hull City’s left wing back Maynor Figueroa, Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre, Juan Carlos García and Roger Espinoza of Wigan Athletic, Wilson Palacios of Stoke City and the only other player I know of who currently plays for Anderlecht in Belgium’s top flight, right winger Andy Najar. Here’s hoping they can cause an upset or two in June.