World Cup Group E Preview
With France surely starting as favourites despite being seeded behind Switzerland in the draw, the Swiss and Ecuador will likely be competing for the second qualifying spot from Group E, but the wealth of talent in Switzerland’s midfield should see them progress.
Any England fan who watched the Miami friendly against the South Americans earlier this month will have been able to see where Ecuador’s main threat lies – wingers Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero offer pace and trickery down the flanks, and their direct approach, particularly on the counter-attack, will make many a fullback sweat. Former Manchester City striker Felipe Caicedo is likely to cause the most trouble to opposition defences up front.
The Achilles heel may well be the defence, particularly the centre-backs, but playing their games in conditions similar to those they are used to, as well as the motivation provided by the tragic death of former Blues striker Christian Benítez, should see Ecuador competing fiercely for a place in the last 16.
Even without talismanic winger Franck Ribery, France will be looking at Group E as a group that they should be winning. However, their final two friendlies in the build-up to Brazil showed the often inconsistent nature of Les Bleus – first they toiled to a 1-1 draw against Paraguay in Nice before thrashing Jamaica 8-0 seven days later.
France’s squad is actually a relatively inexperienced one at international level, with Karim Benzema, Patrice Evra and Hugo Lloris the only players to have passed the 50-cap mark for their country. However, with a mix of flair and power Didier Deschamps’ side should be confident of unlocking the defences of their three opponents, all of whom would surely take a draw in their game against the French.
This French side also boasts impressive strength in depth, particularly in the midfield area. Cabaye and Pogba will surely start in the centre of midfield, and Antoine Griezmann, Mathieu Valbuena, Blaise Matuidi, Rio Mavuba, Morgan Schneiderlin, Moussa Sissoko and Rémy Cabella will all feel they have a strong claim for a starting spot.
With Benzema, Olivier Giroud and Loïc Rémy to choose from up front, France shouldn’t find themselves short on the goalscoring front either, and should (although you never can tell with the French) progress easily to the knockout stages.
Undoubtedly the minnows of the group on paper, it would represent a huge achievement were Honduras to progress to the knockout stages.
Perhaps one of the least skilful teams at the tournament, Los Catrachos will be relying on their physicality as a side, particularly in a midfield marshalled by Stoke’s Wilson Palacios, whilst Anderlecht’s 21-year-old winger Andy Najar is one to watch.
Wilson’s brother Jerry, Rony Martínez, Carlo Costly (who you may remember from a five-month spell at Birmingham City five years ago) and New England Revolution striker Jerry Bengtson will be competing for a place up front, with Bengtson the most likely candidate after netting nine goals in qualifying.
Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side were the top seeds for the group, and their talent-filled team will be hoping and expecting to progress. In Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodríguez they have two marauding full-backs, the latter of whom comes into the tournament off the back of an outstanding season for Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, whilst Villa new boy Philippe Senderos provides the experience in central defence.
It is in midfield, however, that this Swiss side are bursting with talent. Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri is likely to be their key dangerman, and with Napoli trio Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami and Blerim Džemaili, Tranquillo Barnetta, Gelson Fernandes, Granit Xhaka and Valentin Stocker all in the squad, Hitzfeld has a wealth of talented options to choose from.
The weakest area for the Swiss in recent years has been the attack, with no striker having been able to come close to filling the hole left by record goalscorer Alexander Frei’s retirement in 2011. The four strikers in the squad have an average age of just 22½ and a mere nine international goals between them, although 21-year-old Josip Drmić hit 17 goals in 33 Bundesliga games for relegated Nürnberg this season and will be hoping to display his talents on the world stage.
Predicted top scorer
If Karim Benzema turns up in Brazil he will almost certainly be amongst the goals, but Drmić will be confident of hitting the net after his superb domestic season. Both players have a wealth of creativity supporting them from their respective midfields, and could net a handful of goals each if they hit their stride early on.
France and Switzerland. Although Ecuador’s incredible fitness levels and home continent advantage will serve them well, both the French and the Swiss should have enough to progress, as long as their defences stand up to teams hitting them on the counter-attack.
Group E Villa connection
Villa fans will be watching how successful Senderos is at leading the Swiss defence, in anticipation of him competing for a place alongside Ron Vlaar in the heart of Villa’s backline next season. Senderos unfortunately is unlikely to start for the Swiss, so unless injuries strike the Swiss camp, we may have to wait until the domestic season starts to get an insight.
Once upon a time we’d have been able to see Ulises de la Cruz down the right hand side of Ecuador’s defence, but those glory days have unfortunately passed.
Villa also is something of a retirement home for classic French talent if you look at the short stints of the past-their-best David Ginola and Robert Pires at the club. Even French international winger Didier Six, who signed for Villa in the 1984/85 season, at 30, perhaps also had his best years behind him.
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