2014 World Cup Preview: Group E

Group at a Glance: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, and Honduras. Either Sepp Blatter, and to a lesser degree Michel Platini, custom built this group for their respective countries in one of the most brazen middle finger raisings to the concept of fairness in sports, or it’s one hell of a coincidence. Given Blatter’s unabashed narcissism, it’s likely the former. You could argue that seeded team Switzerland isn’t one of the top 30 teams in the World, let alone the top 8. The French, on the other hand, on paper appear to be reasonably good, but performed so abysmally in South Africa in 2010 that a seed for them would have been laughable, even for the megalomaniacal Blatter. Or, you know, it could all be a coincidence and it was just luck that the home nations of soccer’s two most powerful men ended up sharing a group with two of the perceived weaker sides in the tournament, Ecuador and Honduras. But let me be the first to say, don’t under estimate Ecuador, and especially Honduras. Wait, you mean I’m not the first? Fine, let me be the second… not the second either? To hell with you then, let me just say it…

Favorites to Advance: France and Honduras. France just has too many world class players to not make it out of this group. Ribery, Nasri, Evra, and a host of others competing in the upper echelons of the World’s elite leagues. I admit it, Honduras may be a bit of a homer pick for me, as four current members of the national squad at either at one point played, or still do for my favorite English side, Wigan Athletic: Maynor Figueroa, Wilson Palacios, Roger Espinoza, and Juan Carlos Garcia. The Swiss are well organized and defensively responsible, but I don’t see them scoring enough to advance, especially with the retirement of Alexander Frei. Ecuador tries as hard as anyone, and did brilliantly to qualify, but apart from Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia (another old Wigan hand), they’re going to be overmatched talent-wise.

Players to Watch: If the Swiss are going to make me eat crow and advance out of the group stage, it will take titanic performances in the midfield, namely from the brilliant Gokhan Inler, as well as Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaquiri and veteran, Tranquillo Barnetta. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Carlos Costly, Honduras’ top striker. As a player, he’s never really overwhelmed me… but as a center forward, you don’t need to be overwhelmingly good. You just need to smash the ball into the net when the opportunity presents itself, and Costly does it a lot. Teams often go far in big tournaments on the broad shoulders of a striker on a hot streak, and if Costly goes on one, Honduras could be dangerous.

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