A Group with a distinct Europe vs Latin America feel to it, the obvious favorites to qualify, France, aren’t as comfortable as earlier expected to finish first in Group E, as the young Swiss team should give them plenty of problems for the top spot, while Ecuador and Honduras, at the moment at least, look like sides without the capability of going any further in the World Cup.
An interesting difference between France and the other three teams is the depth and completeness of their squad. They are also the only side with a formidable striker in Karim Benzema. Whether or not that will help them set the difference between them and the others remains to be seen.
There’s nothing too impressive about Switzerland with a first glance at their squad but when you look a bit deeper, it won’t be that surprising to see them finish first in this group considering the rivals. Xherdan Shaqiri is the big talent who might not be getting too much club football with Bayern Munich but is a unique talent that will be the creative force in front of a solid defense and defensive midfield.
But defense and creativity aren’t enough – Switzerland need to score goals. That has been a problem, especially with their list of strikers, and Josip Drmic of Nurnberg being their top man at the moment. Fabian Schar was their top scorer in the qualifiers with three goals, but relying on your centre backs to carry you with goalscoring usually isn’t a very good plan to achieve success in this tournament.
France lost Franck Ribery to an injury but there is still a lot of talent on this team, solid defensively as they are talented on offense. The question, as always with the French side, will be whether or not something that has nothing to do with football gets in the way. Karim Benzema is a World Class striker but usually needs someone to take some attention from him. This means Olivier Giroud, Loic Remy or Antoine Griezmann, who has the chance to be the breakout player of the tournament.
In the midfield, the special talents of Paul Pogba will be on display, but the help he gets from Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi in the defensive midfield might be the most important factor in this team’s progress, while their wing back situation might be a bit worrying, with Evra and Bacary Sagna not being the dominant and two-way players they were a few years ago, which could cause problems.
The biggest problem for Ecuador will be that the World Cup isn’t being hosted at home. This team is very difficult to beat in the heights of Quito, but away from home they’ve been in poor form through the qualifying campaign, and their fast, physical pressure style usually doesn’t work as well when they don’t have the thin air on their side to affect the visiting and slightly choking opponents.
Everything Ecuador will do will probably be determined on how well their wingers, Jefferson Montero of Morelia and Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, get into matches. They have a very weak central midfield and a defense that’s going to need a lot of help. If they get anything creative on the offensive side of the ball, it will be because Monteo and Valencia do it. It doesn’t seem like enough in this group.
For Honduras, qualifying from this group is a secondary goal. The first one will be finally picking up a World Cup win. It’s the third time this side will be in the biggest tournament, picking up three draws and three losses along the way. A team that had a comfortable road through the CONCACAF qualifying is hoping that the combination of a strong and stingy defensive game with an opportunistic striker like Jerry Bengtson will give them those 3 points.
Qualifying? That comes later, and depends on how they come out of their first two matches, and especially against Ecuador, which they obviously see as the one game they should feel confident about winning. Whether or not they’ll be able to get some minutes of possession and not rely on counter attacking and set pieces is the question that will determine if this will be a forgotten or memorable experience from a side no one expects anything from.