Sunday, June 15, 2014 5:29 pm
When the draws for the FIFA World Cup were made in December 2013, many considered Group E as a straightforward group for 1998 champions France to qualify from ahead of Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.
France remain favourites to qualify from the group, after apparently sorting disciplinary issues in the team by leaving out a number of players from the World Cup squad, most notably Samir Nasri despite the Manchester City midfielder being one of the most in-form French players in the closing months of last season.
A below-par campaign at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa followed by an embarrassing public falling-out after Euro 2012 that brought an end to Raymond Domenech’s time as France coach and for now, the involvement of Nasri and Yann M’Vila with Les Bleus, mean the current set led by Didier Deschamps have much to prove and are determined to do so.
Deschamps, captain of the 1998 winning side, stated after naming his final squad that he has not picked the best players but is confident he has brought to Brazil the best team for France.
Comprising the relentless midfield duo Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi along with the exciting Antoine Griezmann, skillful Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena and Remy Cabella as well as assured defenders Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, Bacary Sagna and Raphael Varane, Les Bleus can be confident of passage to the knock-out rounds.
The absence through injury of Franck Ribery, whom Cabella replaced, is a blow to the French side’s chances of going far in Brazil. But it may also be a blessing in disguise that further fortifies the renewed team spirit Deschamps is keen to utilise in France’s favour during the World Cup.
The opening three days of the World Cup would however have the French alert against falling victim of a shock result as Spain and especially Uruguay, bringing the other nations in the group into focus.
Switzerland caused a stir during the 2010 World Cup after beating Spain in their opening group match then, only to fail to win their following two matches and bow out in the group stage.
In the four years that have passed, Switzerland failed to qualify for Euro 2012 but have since seen an upturn and made it to Brazil from an albeit average group but in impressive fashion nonetheless.
Coached by seasoned veteran Ottmar Hitzfeld; who will step down from the helm after the World Cup campaign, the strength of the Swiss side lies in midfield where Gohkan Inler, Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri highlight the pack.
Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio provides adequate cover at the back while Juventus full-back Stefan Lichtsteiner is the assured name in an otherwise average Swiss defence that has rising star Fabian Schär in its ranks as well as Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos.
The Swiss attack comprises the unheralded 22 year old Haris Seferović whose career has so far failed to live up to the promise it held after a sterling display at the 2009 U17 World Cup.
Then there is Josip Drmic who will be one to watch after an impressive season with Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga, scoring 17 goals in 33 matches to earn a move to Champions League bound Bayer Leverkusen. How well they perform on the biggest change however remains to be seen.
At the last World Cup, the Switzerland met Honduras in their final match of the group stage, with a goalless draw knocking the Swiss – who needed a win – out. A sniff of vengeance may be in the air for Switzerland.
Not much is expected from Honduras though after fellow Central American nation Costa Rica’s inspired display against Uruguay on Saturday, the Hondurans may be inspired as well… or not.
Their form heading into the World Cup signals a poor outing should be expected, winning just one of their last seven matches and losing two of the last three in preparation for the World Cup.
Honduras met with group opponents Ecuador late last year in a fiery friendly match which ended in a 2-2 draw with both sides finishing the match with 10 men.
At the World Cup, Ecuador would hope to take advantage of being on South American grounds to make it out of the group. That said, Ecuador is competitive in matches against their opponents and the Europeans in the group would do well to be wary of the threat posed by them.