After seeing the top seeds coming in the shape of the erratic and largely unpredictable French, a rapturous roar was rumoured to have been heard from the Swiss camp. Group E is one of the most open groups in the tournament and a shock or two could well be on the cards. Switzerland will fancy their chances, while on their home continent Ecuador will be looking to impress. Finally, there is minnows Honduras, who if their self belief is anything to go by, could yet have a say in Group E.
Picking up the pieces from the disastrous reign of his predecessor Raymond Domenech, Didier Deschamps has set about restoring discipline and harmony within the squad. The former Juventus midfielder stayed true to his virtues when he controversially omitted Samir Nasri from his 23 man squad, despite the attacker’s fine form with Manchester City this season.
The French qualified via the playoffs after finishing behind Spain in the groups, impressing in the second leg where they overturned a two goal deficit to see off Ukraine. Les Bleus tended to struggle away to lesser teams who were content to park the bus during their qualifying campaign, which is something to look out for when they come up against a mean Switzerland defence. Franck Ribery’s back injury means he won’t be representing his country at the tournament, which is a major, but not fatal blow to Deschamps’ plans. Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann, has been in free scoring form in La Liga, is likely to take his place in the side, however, Loic Remy will also fancy his chances.
Elsewhere, Deschamps likes to make his side hard to beat, choosing Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye andBlaise Matuidi in a dynamic midfield trio. Hugo Lloris has impressed in goals for Spurs while Karim Benzema will be hoping to add to the two trophies he won with Real Madrid this season. The form of both full backs, Patrice Evra and Matthew Debuchy is a cause for concern for the French manager. Opponents are likely to exploit the flanks when looking for joy against the 2006 finalists. The French, who generally tend to perform contrary to expectation, bear the least amount of public pressure since their triumph in 1998, and have been handed a kind draw which sees them avoid the hotter climates in the group stages. Deschamps’ men can have no excuses for not qualifying from the group.
Unbeaten in qualifying, Ottmar Hitzfeld will be hoping to go out with a bang as he bids farewell to football after the tournament. The highly experienced German has added fresh youthful exuberance to the team of experienced veterans which saw off Spain in the last World Cup. Leverkusen bound striker Josep Drmic has a growing reputation to live up to while full back Ricardo Rodriguez will hope to verify his claim as the best young left back around.
Elsewhere, Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler will hope to keep things tight in midfield and set up the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Valentin Stocker on the counter.
After seven clean sheets in 10 qualifiers the Swiss defence will need to be on form again if they are to progress to the second round. Centre half Fabian Schar top scored in qualifying with three goals, and could be good value in the First Goalscorer Market. Losing only four of 29 competitive games since 2008, the Swiss are notoriously hard to beat, and will fancy their chances of finishing the group without a loss. Hitzfeld has experimented with a flexible, attacking style which gives the Swiss a more potent attacking threat, this approach is likely to be seen in the game with Honduras where they may need a few goals in order to boost their showing in the ever important goal difference column.
Games in the wretched heat of Manaus and Salvador are a worry, but La Nati should be well accustomed to the conditions, having flown in nine days before their opener in order to acclimatise. Hitzfeld’s meticulous planning coupled with a confident, united squad means Switzerland will be disappointed not to qualify, if not top Group E. One of the tournament’s strongest dark horses, avoiding defeat against France could spark a Swiss assault on the latter stages of the competition.
Qualifying purely on home form in their high altitude Quito base, Ecuador will look to use the conditions to their advantage again, and qualify from Group E. Reinaldo Rueda, their Colombian coach claims they can reach the final by imposing their high energy, highly physical style on their opponents. Likely to set up in a 4-4-2, the Ecuadorians will be reliant on wide men Montero and Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia to provide the creative spark. The death of former star Chucho Benitez has left players and fans in shock and is likely to be playing on their minds as they try to leave their stamp on the tournament. The biggest concern lies in the heart of defence where defenders are struggling for form and fitness. Rueda experimented with a massive eight different players at centre back as he sought to remove the gaps, but his efforts were in vain as seen in recent friendlies with Australia who scored three, and a below strength England team who found the back of the net twice, as well as missing a host of chances.
Goalscoring is also a concern, top scorer Felipe Caiceido found himself on the scoresheet seven times during qualifying, with only four from open play, while the whole team managed a mere 20 in sixteen games. La Tri will be hoping the conditions can give them an advantage as they face off with Switzerland and France, otherwise qualification looks an unrealistic dream.
One of only two teams to beat Mexico in their own back yard in their last 80 home games, as well as beating the US in qualifying, Honduras will have to hope for similar shocks in Group E. Coach Luis Fernando Suarez has previous World Cup experience having lead Ecuador to the last 16 in 2002. He sets his side up defensively, in a 4-4-2 that can change to a 4-5-1 or even a 4-6-0 when needed.
The team isn’t full of complete strangers, with Hull’s Maynor Figueroa at centre half, Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre at left back, and Stoke’s Wilson Palacios, who is on record claiming he believes they can win the tournament, at the heart of their midfield. Ambition across the rest of the camp is a little more rational, with the aim being to score a goal. Despite our love of an underdog, this is probably a bridge too far for Honduras, who without wanting to patronize, will be happy just to be there.