Group E is a fairly passive bunch, and one a passive fan would struggle to watch. However, there is always the chance that the French will get up to something dramatic off the field. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
The countdown is getting tight, the excitement is building and FIFA must be getting edgy. Not just because the World Cup is about to kick off, but because elsewhere, something is rotten in the kingdom of football. The UK’s Sunday Times reported over the weekend that Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari who used to be a vice president of soccer’s governing body, made dozens of payments to top soccer officials to build support for Qatar’s bid. It’s a story that has been dragging on for some time now, but these are the most earth-shattering allegations yet.
Nonetheless, football is still widely loved as a sport on the field, if one ignores the boardroom politics. Group E is, sadly for them, the collection of “Err, does anybody care?” teams. It’s probably not a group neutral watchers will dive into, since it only includes one team passive soccer fans will even associate with the sport.
Who makes up the group and what are their chances of advancing?
France, Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras are grouped together here and (surprise!) France are favourites to go through. Sports betting site Pinnacle has the odds as follows:
Watch out for the Swiss
Switzerland have kept nine clean sheets in their last 15 games and even beat Brazil 1-0 during that string of results. You can insert the joke about Swiss precision here now. A strong defence is their greatest asset, but things are a bit more tricky when it comes to finding the back of the net. In fact, it was a defender who scored the most goals for them during their qualifying rounds…and he only managed three.
Still, if watching a team become some frustrated with the inability to find the back of the net is your thing, then watch out for the Swiss.
The French are revolting!
Well, they’re not this time; but they were at the last World Cup – and who can miss the opportunity to use this headline?
They might be the most notable team in the group, but their previous World Cup outings have been a little off-centre. In 2002 and 2010 they failed to win a single game. In 1998 and 2006, they made it to the final. Call it Jekyll and Hyde, or call it “the magic of the World Cup”. Or simply call it what the French paper L’Equipe did: “Is this the worst French team in history?”
That question came after Les Blues lost 2-0 to Ukraine in a playoff last year. They responded in the second leg to win 3-0 and become the first European side to overturn a two-goal deficit in the play-offs.
An honourable mention for Honduras and Ecuador
Honduras might have qualified for back-to-back World Cups for the first time ever, but it’s highly unlikely that they will go further than the group stages. The squad doesn’t really have any top-quality players.
Ecuador, meanwhile, do have a few attacking prospects, but their defensive side could let them down. During the qualifiers, they also struggled with the away leg of their campaign, failing to win a single one. Their home leg was impressive, though: they dropped just two points in total – against Argentina. They beat Uruguay in the qualifiers so their prowess is not to be scoffed at, but probably nothing to get too excited about, either. Disappointingly, the Ecuador earworm dance tune by Sash is not their theme song.
Players to watch
Paul Pogba (France): An exciting young talent which embodies the modern midfielder. Strong, superb with possession, excellent control and scary going forward. He’s just 21 years old and has only played ten games for France, but he has already scored three goals. Of course there are also Loic Remy, Olivier Giroud and Franck Ribery.
Carlo Costly (Honduras): We could make a reference to him not really being costly at all, but we’ll resist. The 31-year-old has an eye for a goal and has scored 30 times in 68 matches for his country. He is a nomad who has changed clubs almost every year since 2009. But that’s not something that has impacted on his time with the national team. In fact, he’s a favourite with the fans.
Blerim Dzemaili (Switzerland): Despite his stocky appearance, Blerim Dzemaili is a central part of the Swiss midfield. He features more as a defensive midfielder for Switzerland and has only scored once in his 32 appearances.
Antonio Valencia (Ecuador): Lo and behold, it’s a name you might know! The Manchester United player can play either on the wing or at fullback. His approach tends to be that of putting his head down and charging, something which has frustrated fans in England. An experienced player with 70 caps, Valencia will be a key presence for La Tri. DM
Photo: Picture taken on 19 November 2013 shows Ecuadorian national soccer team players (front row, L-R) Segundo Castillo, Renato Ibarra, Fricson Rafael Erazo, Antonio Valencia, Fidel Martinez and Walter Ayovi; (back row, L-R) Juan Carlos Paredes, goalkeeper Maximo Banguera, Jorge Guagua, Christian Noboa and Jaime Ayovi posing for photographers before the international friendly soccer match between Honduras and Ecuador in Houston, Texas, USA. Team Ecuador will face Switzerland, France and Honduras in Group E of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil. EPA/JORGE CAMPOS
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