The 5th of the Group contests is Group E. Group E is contested by 2 Latin American sides that have a chance to go through, Ecuador and Honduras, alongside easy qualifiers Switzerland and 1998 Winners France, who barely qualified at the hands of Ukraine.
Switzerland are the highest ranked team in the Group, and after sailing through qualifying, they hope to take advantage of a very good draw. They can make the quarterfinals without too much of a challenge if they win the Group. The key to doing well for them is the match against France. A formidable midfield duo of Gokhan Inler and new Bundesliga star Granit Xhaka help Switzerland greatly, along with fullbacks Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichsteiner. The star of the team is Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri, and he will be the greatest threat on the wings. Can Switzerland perform well in the Group and open a door to the quarterfinals?
Ecuador are a disciplined and hungry CONMEBOL (South American) side that qualified through passion and flair. Although often unrecognized, they placed higher than Uruguay in qualification and showed that they could earn the same glory as the heavyweights. Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia is expected to be the fastest player in the entire tournament according to a study done by FIFA, and he will be key if Ecuador take advantage of a poor performance from shaky opponents Switzerland and France.
France barely qualified for the World Cup. Drawing the same qualification group as Spain, they finished in the destined 2nd place spot, forcing them to playoff against Ukraine. After losing the first Ukraine leg 2-0, they came back with a 3-0 win to qualify for the World Cup. France have stars across the entire field, and being dark horses, they are less recognized than the rest of the headlining teams. Their team is supported by sweeper-keeper Hugo Lloris and in front of him, there are 4 elite centre backs who could start, the most likely being Real Madrid youngster Raphael Varane and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. Franck Ribery has been ruled out of the World Cup in the last week, but he will be replaced by La Liga headliner Antoine Griezmann, and he will pair up with Mathieu Valbuena and Champions League Winner Karim Benzema. Perhaps the best asset in the entire French team is the free flowing midfield with 3 box-to-box talents, Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi. Whether or not they bring their A game, the French could be an exciting team to watch.
Honduras have maintained a steady qualification record for one of the worst teams in the tournament, qualifying twice consecutively. Although they don’t have a high level of talent on any European scale, they still play a very solid game. Drawing into what is probably the weakest (if not second weakest) group in the tournament will help their chances of progressing, but unfortunately even this cannot put them under the category of “favourites”. Their biggest talent is Emilio Izaguirre, who plays as a left back for Celtic.
Strengths by Position:
There are some strong goalkeeping options in the group, but none can even come close to that of Hugo Lloris who is more than willing to come off the line as a sweeper keeper.
The fullback talent on display may be one of the best in the tournament, as both France and Switzerland have good fullback duos. Patrice Evra and either Mathieu Debuchy or Bacary Sagna will provide genuine strength for France on both wings. As for Switzerland, rising star Ricardo Rodriguez has been viewed as a potential replacement for Evra at Manchester United, as the Frenchman is ageing. Stephan Lichteiner is a valued wingback for Juventus, and he will help as an attacking fullback for Switzerland.
1. Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland
2. Matthieu Debuchy/Bacary Sagna, France
3. Stephan Lichsteiner, Switzerland
4. Patrice Evra, France
France is blessed with immense talent in the centre back positions. They have 4 great options in Eliaquim Mangala, Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane and Laurent Koscielny. Expect the latter 2 to start.
1. Laurent Koscielny, France
2. Raphael Varane, France
There are no anchors that will hit the headlines in the group. Switzerland and France will be sacrificing these types of players for box-to-box midfielders who offer a better offensive and defensive threat, therefore balancing the team while puncturing opposition teams in central areas.
The box-to-box talent for Switzerland is great. Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami are both highly underrated options. However, this is dwarfed by the amount of talent in the French midfield. Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye are great players who have hit the headlines in their mid-late 20s. Paul Pogba has gone from Manchester United reject to the top-targeted midfielder in the world right now, and he plays an immense role in the Juventus midfield at the tender age of 21.
1. Paul Pogba, France
2. Blaise Matuidi, France
2. Yohan Cabaye, France
4. Gokhan Inler, Switzerland
5. Valon Behrami, Switzerland
France will be sacrificing attacking midfield positions for more box-to-box midfielders to make up for the lack of an anchorman. Expect Granit Xhaka to play a role in the position.
3 teams have great wingers ready to display their talent. French winger duo Antoine Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena have to compensate for the loss of Ribery, and Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia has the drive to do it alone for Ecuador when the going gets tough. Xherdan Shaqiri will be the face of Switzerland’s success; that is, of course, if they succeed.
1. Antoine Griezmann, France
2. Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland
3. Antonio Valencia, Ecuador
4. Mathieu Valbuena, France
The striker position is usually filled with talent to spare. Ecuador will be trying their hardest to cope with the mid-qualification death of Christian Benitez, nicknamed “Chucho”. France have immense talent, regardless of whether Olivier Giroud, Loic Remy,or Karim Benzema starts, but expect the latter to do so. Josip Drmic is a rising star in the Bundesliga, and although he is usually a winger, he will start here for Switzerland.
1. Karim Benzema, France
2. Josip Drmic, Switzerland
Previews and Predictions:
Some great matches will be played in Group E. Let’s take a look:
Switzerland vs Ecuador:
Switzerland will avoid dropping any points, to raise their chances of a quarterfinal finish. Ecuador will need to get a point here and/or against France to even think about advancing.
Switzerland Left-Back: Switzerland’s Ricardo Rodriguez will need to stop a motivated Antonio Valencia. This is the only close tactical battle of the match, and although weather favours the Ecuadorians, Switzerland dominate. Ricardo Rodriguez is a better player than Valencia, but Valencia in the weather and mindset that he needs to deliver will put it over the edge.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-1 Ecuador; Goals, Drmic, Valencia; MOTM Valencia
Switzerland won’t hit the ground running just yet, and they will draw because of an impressive performance by Ecuador, who can have realistic chances of advancing if Switzerland lose to France.
France vs Honduras:
France could potentially be eliminated if they don’t grab 3 points here. If they underperform, something isn’t right in the training grounds for this match. They win across the pitch and have absolutely no reason why they can’t win by at least 2 goals.
Prediction: France 2-0 Honduras; Goals, Benzema, Griezmann; MOTM Griezmann
France will not hit the ground running either, and they will grab a win due to a fantastic performance from Griezmann.
Switzerland vs France:
The winner of this match will likely win the group, and France could do just that. Switzerland would do well to grab a draw, even though it would most likely see them drop to 3rd in the group. Aspirations of a quarterfinal finish mean Switzerland would have to win the Group (to prevent playing Argentina), meaning that a draw would force them to win on goal difference (assuming France beat Ecuador).
France pretty much win across the pitch other than 2 tactical battles in the match.
Switzerland Left-Back, Rodriguez vsValbuena: Valbuena has the ability to destroy Ricardo Rodriguez, but Rodriguez’s attacking and defensive abilities give him the edge here.
Switzerland Right Side, Lichsteiner and Shaqiri vs Griezmann and Evra: Shaqiri is a better player than Evra currently, and Griezmann beats Lichsteiner. Expect whoever is on form to come out and win it here.
France need this match to pretty much win the group, whereas Switzerland need the exact same. Drive from the Swiss will take France to the edge again, just like in qualification.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-1 France; Goals, Xhaka, Pogba; MOTM Xhaka
Switzerland will still have a hard time winning the group, but a great performance will silence doubters of the nation that holds FIFA Headquarters.
Ecuador vs Honduras:
Honduras’s only realistic chance of getting points is here, and they will need to be at their absolute best. Neither team’s players stand out here except for Valencia. Ecuador will take the match.
Prediction: Ecuador 1-0 Honduras; Goals, Valencia; MOTM Valencia
Valencia will be on fire at this point, getting Ecuador 4 points by himself and having them 2nd in the Group at this point.
Switzerland vs Honduras:
Right now, France and Ecuador have 4 points each, with Switzerland at 2. Honduras are eliminated, and if Switzerland doesn’t win, they are eliminated as well. Expect Switzerland to win across the pitch again, in a demoralizing group for Honduras.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-0 Honduras; Goals, Shaqiri; MOTM Shaqiri
Now Switzerland have a +1 Goal Difference, and if Ecuador and France tie, this will be vital. Ecuador are also +1, France are 1 point ahead at +2. If Ecuador can score 2 goals and at least a draw, they will advance. France need a draw to advance.
Ecuador vs France:
The deciding match of the group will contest huge passion. This is basically a knockout stage match without OT.
France win across the pitch except for 1 position.
The Manchester United Tactical Battle: Antonio Valencia must do his best to get past Manchester United teammate Patrice Evra. They will have huge knowledge of each other, so we will see something very interesting.
Prediction: Ecuador 0-2 France; Goals, Cabaye, Koscielny; MOTM Koscielny
A comfortable win for France on the day will eliminate Ecuador. A brilliant Cabaye goal will dictate the match, with a Koscielny header as an ending bonus.
Final Prediction Table:
France, 7 pts, +4 GD
Switzerland, 5 pts, +1 GD
Ecuador, 4 pts, -1 GD
Honduras, 0 pts, -4 GD
Switzerland will pip Ecuador in the race for 2nd and will play Argentina in the Round of 16.
Match Schedule for Group E (Eastern Time):
Switzerland vs Ecuador, June 15 @ 12 pm
France vs Honduras, June 15 @ 3 pm
Honduras vs Ecuador, June 20 @ 6pm
Switzerland vs France, June 20 @ 6pm
Honduras vs Switzerland, June 25 @ 4pm
Ecuador vs France, June 25 @ 4pm
I will be following Group E at the World Cup, and you should definitely tune in to my articles and the World Cup itself. Will France and Switzerland advance? We’ll have to wait and see.