World Cup Profiles - Group E

Group E

For a few days in November, it did not even look like France would reach the World Cup.
A miserable showing away to Ukraine in the play-off saw Les Bleus come away from Kiev with a 2-0 defeat and their chances of qualifying for soccer’s greatest tournament hanging by a thread.
But a resounding 3-0 win at the Parc des Prince, where France played with passion and flair hardly characteristic of their performances in recent years, sealed qualification for a tournament they last won on home turf in 1998.
A place in the play-offs always looked the height of France’s ambitions after they were drawn in the same group as Spain, and despite drawing away to La Furia Roja courtesy of a stoppage time Olivier Giroud strike, they lost the return, and a 0-0 draw in Georgia ensured that first place was out of their reach.
So what can we expect from France at the tournament? This is a squad with an interesting mix of youth and experience. Much rests on the shoulders of Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, but in goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, midfielder Paul Pogba and striker Karim Benzema, France do have a strong spine. They lack centre-backs of the quality of yesteryear, but they are unlikely to be severely tested in a group containing Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.
Another question concerns whether Deschamps is able to establish unity in a squad famous for infighting. Who can forget Nicolas Anelka’s expulsion from the 2010 World Cup for arguing with coach Raymond Domenech at half-time of the defeat to Mexico, and the players’ refusal to train after Patrice Evra’s row with the fitness coach?
One of Deschamps’ main concerns will surround where the goals are going to come from. Ribery was the top scorer in qualifying with five, but Benzema and Olivier Giroud managed only two apiece. Both played nine games in qualifying, but Benzema was preferred for the second-leg against Ukraine and reacted with a goal. He possesses the pace that Giroud lacks and remains Deschamps’ most potent attacking weapon, despite a goal drought stretching from June 2012 to October 2013.

How they qualified
Drawn into a group that contained not only world and European champions Spain but just five teams overall, France had precious little margin for error when their campaign kicked off. In the end, they made just one slip, losing at home to La Roja, but it was a defeat that cost them first place in the section. Didier Deschamps' side rarely sparkled during the group phase except for a fine performance on Spanish soil, where their efforts were finally rewarded with a last-gasp equaliser in a 1-1 draw. Ultimately they were destined for the play-offs, as they had been ahead of South Africa 2010, and their chances of reaching Brazil took a battering in Kiev, where Ukraine's superior desire and team spirit earned them a 2-0 advantage at the halfway stage in the tie. That left Les Bleus requiring a display of perfection in the second leg, but, with the Stade de France crowd in feverish mood, the 1998 FIFA World Cup winners turned things around with a 3-0 win that could prove a turning point for a side containing a number of exciting fresh talents. Mamadou Sakho, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba are the standard-bearers of the new generation, while the gifted youngsters who led France to FIFA U-20 World Cup glory in 2013 stand waiting in the wings.

World Cup history
France have always commanded respect on the global stage thanks to various legendary players and impressive performances dating back to 1930, but they made the leap to a whole new level in 1998. Whereas Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana and co experienced agony at the semi-final stage in 1982 and 1986, the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps finally took Les Bleus all the way, lifting the Trophy on home soil. That was followed by a surprise group-stage exit four years later, but they came close to adding a second star to their shirts in 2006, only losing out on penalties to Italy in the Final. Without 'Zizou' in their ranks, France then made a forgettable tilt at South Africa 2010, disappointing their supporters both on and off the pitch.

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mickael Landreau (Bastia)
Defenders: Raphael Varane (Real Madrid), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Lucas Digne (PSG), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (PSG), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Clement Grenier (Lyon), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Loic Remy (Newcastle)

The key players
France boast solidity and strength in depth at the back, with a pair of top-drawer goalkeepers in Hugo Lloris and Mickael Landreau and a rearguard bolstered by top European experience of Laurent Koscielny and Raphael Varane. Further forward, Franck Ribery can produce moments of magic, while Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud both possess a keen eye for goal.

The Coach: Didier Deschamps
The former defensive midfielder spent the best years of his career with Juventus in Italy. It was he who guided the club out of Serie B after their relegation due to their part in the Calciopoli scandal that rocked Italian soccer in 2006. The former Monaco and Marseille boss took on the France job in July 2012 just before the World Cup qualifying campaign and earned a contract extension until 2016 after guiding Les Bleus through the play-offs.

Prediction: Knockout Stages
France were fortunate to land a comfortable looking group despite not being among the top eight seeds for the tournament. The draw was kind and they should progress in first place, ahead Ecuador.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 16th
Best World Cup Result: Winners (1998)
Best European Championship Result: Winners (1984 and 2000)
Record Scorer: Thierry Henry (51 goals in 123 games from 1997 to 2010)
Most Capped Player: Lilian Thuram (142 caps between 1994 and 2008)
Captain: Hugo Lloris

Group Matches:
Sunday, June 15, 2014 v Honduras (Porto Alegre)
Friday, June 20, 2014 v Switzerland (Salvador)
Wednesday, June 25, 2014 v Ecuador (Rio de Janeiro)

Ecuador qualified for the 2014 World Cup as something of a surprise package, finishing fourth in South American qualification to make only their third appearance at the finals.
Despite their relatively little historical success, La Tri beat out their more famous neighbours for a spot in Brazil, defeating Uruguay in Quito on the penultimate matchday to guarantee they would finish above their more famous opponents.
Ecuador managed qualification despite the tragic death of star striker Christian “Chucho” Benítez in July 2013 at the age of 27. Benítez’s untimely death was felt throughout the team, who have retired his number 11 jersey, and will no doubt be looking to honour his memory in Brazil this summer.
Coach Reinaldo Rueda has La Tri playing an economic style predicated on work-rate and teamwork, a style that they hope will see them qualify from a group that is not as daunting as it could have been. Though some would see the lack of foreign-based players in the Ecuador squad as a hindrance, their familiarity with the South American climate could be the deciding factor in a group containing two European nations.

How they qualified
Ecuador were plagued by inconsistency during their qualifying campaign. While La Tricolor went undefeated at home, beating every opponent in Quito except Argentina, with whom they drew, the side was unable to reproduce that form on the road, failing to win at all and drawing just three times. Nevertheless, one such stalemate – against Uruguay in Montevideo – proved decisive as Ecuador finished level on points with La Celeste but grabbed the last automatic qualifying spot thanks to their superior goal difference (four compared to Uruguay’s zero).
With a team that was among the top four in the standings on 14 of the 16 matchdays and that had to overcome the tragic death of Cristian Benitez, coach Reinaldo Rueda became the third Colombian to guide Ecuador to FIFA World Cup qualification.

World Cup history
While Ecuador failed to extricate themselves from a tough group at Korea/Japan 2002, their first-ever appearance at the final stages of a FIFA World Cup, the story was quite different at Germany 2006, where the South Americans got as far as the last 16, having surprisingly finished second in their pool behind the host nation. Unfortunately for the CONMEBOL representatives, England would prove a hurdle too far; the Three Lions triumphed 1-0 to move on to the quarter-finals.

Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera, Adrian Bone, Alexander Dominguez
Defenders: Gabriel Achilier, Walter Ayovi, Oscar Bagui, Frickson Erazo, Jorge Guagua, John Narvaez, Juan Carlos Paredes, Cristian Ramirez
Midfielders: Michael Arroyo, Segundo Castillo, Carlos Gruezo, Renato Ibarra, Fidel Martinez, Edison Mendez, Oswaldo Minda, Christian Noboa, Pedro Quinonez, Luis Saritama, Antonio Valencia
Forwards: Jaime Ayovi, Felipe Caicedo, Angel Mena, Jefferson Montero, Cristian Penilla, Joao Rojas, Enner Valencia, Armando Wila

The key players
Wingers Antonio Valencia and Christian Noboa, as well as forwards Felipe Caicedo and Jefferson Montero, represent an exciting new wave for Ecuadorian football, but they are also ably assisted by a handful of evergreen stalwarts with European experience, such as Edison Mendez, Walter Ayovi and Segundo Castillo.

The Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda is certainly well tenured, having previously managed his home nation Colombia at every level, and taken Honduras to the 2010 World Cup. However, Rueda has faced scrutiny in previous jobs for his tactics, often seen as somewhat negative despite the results his teams would gain. Those same accusations have followed him to the Ecuador job, where a swift exit from the tournament could see Rueda soon lose his job. For his part, Rueda has claimed he will not be changing the system that saw La Tri make the tournament for only the third time in their history.

Prediction: Knockout Stages
This group could have been far worse for Ecuador, and Rueda will be targeting a second place finish. France will be favourites, but in the form of Switzerland, Ecuador probably drew the weakest top seeds in the tournament. The first match in Brasília will be crucial but Ecuador are tipped to progress to the knockout stages as runners up to France.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 28th
Best World Cup Result: Round of 16 (2006)
Record Scorer: Agustín Delgado (31 goals between 1994 and 2006)
Most Capped Player: Iván Hurtado (167 caps between 1992 and 2010)
Captain: Antonio Valencia

Group Matches:
Sunday 15th June vs. Switzerland (Brasília)
Friday 20th June vs. Honduras (Curitiba)
Wednesday 25th June vs. France (Rio de Janeiro)

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, yet the nation’s recent World Cup record is far from sweet. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the last time they hosted the competition, in 1954, to find their best effort. Their quarter-final appearance that year matched their run of 1934 and 1938, although the World Cup in those days was contested by just 16 teams.
Switzerland have only just begun to re-emerge as a credible soccer nation, having spent the entire 1970’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s in the international wilderness. With a talented crop of players pouring through into the senior team, it won’t be too long before they find themselves progressing into the latter stages of a major competition, although the 2014 World Cup may have come four years too early for that to occur just now.

How they qualified
Switzerland secured their place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil on the penultimate qualifying matchday. However, it was far from plain sailing for Die Eidgenossen, who faced several setbacks along the way.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s ensemble raced to the group summit following opening victories over Slovenia and Albania, but dropped points for the first time in their next qualifying games. Hitzfeld's charges recorded a 1-1 draw with Norway and a 2-0 victory over Iceland before chalking up a draw and a win against Cyprus.
Nerves got the better of Switzerland in their next game against Iceland, when they ended up drawing 4-4 after leading 4-1. There were no further slip-ups in their final outings though, with a 2-0 triumph over Norway all but ensuring their qualification for a third consecutive World Cup, before a 2-1 win over Albania sealed Switzerland’s Brazil 2014 ticket with a game to spare.

World Cup history
Switzerland have contested the FIFA World Cup finals nine times to date (1934, 1938, 1950, 1954, 1962, 1966, 1994, 2006 and 2010), reaching the last eight on three occasions. However, their most recent appearance at the quarter-final stage came almost 50 years ago, at the 1954 finals on home soil.
Since then, the Swiss have twice made the last sixteen (1994 and 2006), but failed to survive the group stage three times. Their group campaign in 2010 was a bittersweet affair: they handed eventual world champions Spain a 1-0 defeat in their opening fixture, but ultimately packed for home after just three games.

Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel)
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo)
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel)
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach)

The key players
There is undoubted quality throughout the side, starting with keeper Diego Benaglio, a German championship winner in 2009 with Wolfsburg. The combination of experienced players such as Tranquillo Barnetta, Gokhan Inler and Philippe Senderos, with highly-talented youngsters Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Schar, Granit Xhaka and Valentin Stocker, has borne fruit and the side are more than capable of making their mark at Brazil 2014.

The Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
European managers don’t come much more successful than Ottmar Hitzfeld, who carved a grand reputation for himself during his tenure with German giants Bayern Munich. The German tactician led Bayern to five Bundesliga titles during two spells, as well as three German Cups and a Champions League. He also lifted the Bundesliga crown twice with Dortmund, and the 65-year old boasts four Swiss Super League titles to boot. What better man, therefore, to pull Switzerland out of the darkness and lead them into a brighter future? He has a new generation of stars to nurture, most of which are being snapped up by big European clubs. The time for Switzerland to prosper begins now.

Prediction: Group Stages
It will be tough for Switzerland to qualify out of a group which includes South Americans Ecuador and favourites France. Honduras and Ecuador stand in Hitzfeld way, so they’ll fancy their chances. France will be under pressure to put to bed their awful showing in the 2010 edition in South Africa which could see them top the group this time around, the battle between Switzerland and Ecuador will be a vital encounter. However, we are tipping Ecuador to edge second place.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 8th
Best World Cup Result: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
Best European Championship result: Group stage (1996, 2004, 2008)
Record Scorer: Alexander Frei (42)
Most Capped Player: Heinz Hermann (118)
Captain: Gokhan Inler

Group Matches:
Sunday, June 15, 2014 v Ecuador (Brasilia)
Friday, June 20, 2014 v France (Salvador)
Wednesday, June 25, v Honduras (Manaus)

Meet the World Cup rank outsiders. Together with fellow central Americans Costa Rica, Honduras are the least fancied side at this year’s tournament.
However, Luis Fernando Suarez’s side can take much heart from a qualification campaign that saw them defeat Mexico at the Azteca on their way to a third place finish in the group.
With a dearth of star names, Suarez will be relying on the collective in Brazil This Honduras squad is made up primarily of local based players and those that ply their trade in the MLS and the Chinese second division. There is a contingent that play in England, but Wilson Palacios, Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia have struggled for game time at their respective clubs, although Maynor Figueroa continues to be a dependable performer at full-back.
This team is inferior to the one that was narrowly edged out by Spain and Chile, before drawing with Switzerland in the group stages four years ago and anything other than a group stage exit in Brazil will be a major shock.

How they qualified
Following their group-phase exit at South Africa 2010 and the departure of coach Reinaldo Rueda, La H went through a rocky period. The appointment of Luis Fernando Suarez in March 2011 brought stability to the national set-up, however, with the new coach also working hard with Honduras’ youth sides, steering the U-23s to the quarter-finals of the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
Having gauged the quality of the country’s new generation, Suarez set about rejuvenating the full national team, giving it fresh impetus by drafting in a clutch of promising youngsters. The result was a convincing performance in Round 3 of the CONCACAF preliminaries, with Los Catrachos topping their group on goal difference from Panama to knock out Canada and Cuba.
They went on to take the third and last direct qualifying slot in the final six-team phase, an achievement made possible by their form at home, where they dropped just four points, and an era-defining defeat of Mexico at their Azteca fortress in September 2013.

World Cup history
Upon making their first FIFA World Cup return in nearly three decades, Honduras were faced with tough group adversaries in South Africa, including eventual World Champions Spain. The Hondurans opened the tournament with a 1-0 loss to Chile, and soon became the ill-fated team to first encounter the wrath of tournament top-scorer David Villa, who grabbed both goals in Spain’s 2-0 win. In their only other FIFA World Cup appearance, Jose de La Paz held the coaching reins and steered Honduras to a surprising opening 1-1 draw with Spain, the 1982 tournament’s hosts, and followed up that account with the same scoreline against Northern Ireland. Their campaign was cut short, however, at the group stage after Yugoslavia beat Los Catrachos 1-0 thanks to a late goal.

Goalkeepers: Noel Valladares, Donis Escober (both Olimpia), Luis Lopez (Real Espana)
Defenders: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Juan Carlos Garcia (Wigan), Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Qingdao Janoon), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua)
Midfielders: Arnold Peralta (Rangers), Luis Garrido (Olimpia), Roger Espinoza (Wigan), Jorge Claros (Motagua), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Oscar Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Chavez (Colorado Rapids)
Strikers: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense), Carlo Costly (Real Espana), Rony Martinez (Real Sociedad)

The key players
Left-back Emilio Izaguirre was the find of the 2010/11 season for Celtic - named Scottish Premier League Player of the Year - and is a key force within Honduras's respectable backline. He is helped by captain and goalkeeper Noel Valladares who, despite a shy off-the-field personality, played an instrumental role in Honduras's qualification for South Africa 2010 and their deep run at the latest instalment of the Gold Cup. Wilson Palacios, one of the more recognisable faces of Honduran football playing for Stoke City, is also a crucial piece of the Honduran puzzle.
The front line have been doing their bit too, where old hand Carlo Costly has impressed alongside rising star Jerry Bengtson, who burst on to the international scene at London 2012 and top-scorer for La H in the qualifiers with nine goals.

The Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
The Colombian took Ecuador to the second round of the 2006 World Cup where they were beaten by England. After resigning following a poor start to the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, Suarez had stints at clubs in Ecuador, Colombia and Peru before taking up the reigns of the Honduras national team in 2011.

Prediction: Group Stages
This is not one of the more difficult groups at the 2014 World Cup, but Honduras will nonetheless be lucky to get a point.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 30th
Best World Cup Result: First-Round (1982, 2010)
Best CONCACAF Championship Result: Runners-up (1991)
Record Scorer: Carlos Pavon
Most Capped Player: Amado Guevara
Captain: Noel Valladares

Group Matches:
Sunday, June 15 v France (Porto Alegre)
Friday, June 20 v Ecuador (Curitiba)

Wednesday, June 25, v Switzerland (Manaus)