By: Travis Thayer
12:00 ET Sunday, June 15: Switzerland v. Ecuador ABC
3:00 ET Sunday, June 15: France v. Honduras ABC
3:00 ET Friday, June 20: Switzerland v. France ESPN
6:00 ET Friday, June 20: Honduras v. Ecuador ESPN
4:00 ET Wednesday, June 25: Honduras v. Switzerland ESPN 2
4:00 ET Wednesday, June 25: Ecuador v. France ESPN
Switzerland has a young roster with high hopes, and they expect to advance past the group stage. Switzerland started off strong in the 2010 World Cup, scoring a 1-0 win over eventual champion Spain. They then faltered against Chile, and need to beat Honduras by two goals in the final game to advance on. They failed to do that and were sent home early. This year could be different for Switzerland because the group is up for grabs, and they get another chance to try to beat Honduras by two goals.
While France and Switzerland are the two favorites in this group, nobody would be surprised if Ecuador advances. One concern for Ecuador is their lack of experience in the back four. Ecuador will rely on two exciting attackers to offset that concern. Manchester United forward Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be looked upon to lead Ecuador through the group stage. If France or Switzerland falter, Ecuador is the best bet to advance – and in order to do so, they might have to get three points against either France or Switzerland.
France is yet another team who somehow struggles to play up to their potential. France went winless at the World Cup in 2010, but their struggles in 2010 shouldn’t hinder them from getting out of Group E. Past history should have no bearing on this France team because of a favorable draw. France is led by midfielder Franck Ribery, assuming that he will be fit to play. Rumors have it that Ribery will be out of the World Cup if he is not fit to play by tomorrow. If Ribery can’t play, it looks as if Remy Cabella will replace him on the roster, and not Sami Nasri. Ribery has had to carry the load for France in the past, but he should have plenty of help (if he can play) in the midfield because of up and coming superstar, Paul Pogba. Check out Pogba’s amazing strike below.
Honduras has never won a game at the World Cup. Of course, they have only made the competition twice, and it appears that Honduras is in for another winless trip. I wouldn’t rule it out completely that they win a game because crazier things have happened. If by some chance Honduras pulls an upset, it just seems that they would do it against a team like France – and completely ruin the hopes and dreams of the French. Time will tell, but it seems to be all or nothing for Honduras – and I’m leaning towards nothing.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland – The Bayern Munich marksman is only 22-years of age, but he has become the superstar of this Swiss team. After a surprise call-up to the Swiss roster in 2010, Shaqiri will be looked upon to bring some offensive firepower to a team that has only scored five goals in their last seven World Cup games. Switzerland’s success at this year’s World Cup could hinder on the performance of Mr. Shaqiri.
Antonio Valencia, Ecuador – Valencia has big time experience, playing in the Premier League at Manchester United. Valencia has electric speed coming down the wing, and he and Jefferson Montero will need to add some scoring punch to a team that struggles defensively.
Paul Pogba, France – You saw above what Pogba can do in the middle of the pitch. The French side has some talented veterans in Ribery and Benzema, but Pogba might just be the x-factor for a team that is looking to capture the World Cup title for the first time since that Zidane guy head butted someone. Pogba is rich with talent, and he should be one of the most intriguing players to watch in Brazil.
Carlo Costly, Honduras – Costly missed the 2010 World Cup with an injury, and he has been a big-time goal scorer for Honduras through the qualifying stage. Costly will be highly motivated having waited for this moment for eight years, and he will be the primary scoring option for Honduras.
HOW THE GROUP WILL PLAY OUT
Group E is somewhat unpredictable because the teams are unpredictable. France can compete with anyone in the world when they are going right, but they are also capable of flat-out disaster. Switzerland proved in 2010 that they can beat the best, when they beat Spain – but then they completely lost their focus against lesser opponents. Ecuador can’t be underestimated because they can score. All in all, it is a three team race, and France should win the group just based on talent. Switzerland and Ecuador play the group’s opening game, and a win by either team should set them up to go through. Switzerland struggles to score, and Ecuador can although their defense isn’t great. A low-scoring game would likely favor the Swiss, while a high-scoring game would favor Ecuador. The Swiss are looked at as a favorite to get out of the group, but my gut tells me it will be Ecuador.