By RYAN TOLMICH
While it may lack the star power of some other World Cup groups, there are plenty of story lines to watch for in Group E.
Headlining the group is Switzerland, who enter the tournament carrying the tag as the most overrated seeded team in the competition. The Swiss are heavily viewed as the weakest of the tournaments seeded teams, despite a roster that boasts attacking threats like Gokhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka.
Sitting right behind them is France, who head to Brazil with a chip on their shoulder as well. The French struggled through qualifying, earning themselves a place in the playoff round that saw them drop the first leg to Ukraine by a 2-0 scoreline. Les Bleus rallied to win the fixture’s second stanza 3-0, but limping through qualifying was far from the best message to send after the highly publicized 2010 disaster. Adding to France’s frustration will be the absence of star winger Franck Ribery, who was ruled out of the tournament with a back injury.
The group also includes CONMEBOL side Ecuador, who enter the tournament with more to play for than just international glory. La Tri head to Brazil mourning the loss of striker Christian Benitez, who tragically passed away from cardiac arrest back in July.
Rounding out Group E is Honduras, who finished third in CONCACAF qualifying behind the U.S. and Costa Rica. Honduras has long had the reputation for being one of North America’s most tricky fixtures and any team looking past them is putting themselves in danger for a major upset.
Here’s a closer look at Group E:
WORLD CUP GROUP E
6/15- Switzerland vs. Ecuador, France vs. Honduras; 6/20- Switzerland vs. France, Honduras vs. Ecuador; 6/25 Ecuador vs. France, Honduras vs. Switzerland.
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Switzerland: Gökhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Granit Xhaka
Ecuador: Antonio Valencia, Walter Ayovi, Felipe Caicedo, Jefferson Montero
France: Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena, Paul Pogba, Laurent Koscielny
Honduras: Roger Espinoza, Carlo Costly, Oscar Boniek Garcia, Wilson Palacios
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri
Ecuador: Carlos Grueza
France: Paul Pogba
Honduras: Andy Najar
SBI’s PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. France. Too much talent, regardless of their struggles in qualifying.
2. Switzerland. Creative attack should be enough to cruise through the bottom two.
3. Ecuador. Will fight valiantly for the memory of Benitez.
4. Honduras. Honduras always finds a way to make things tricky, but they’ll fall just short.
When it comes down to it, the French are just too talented for their Group E opposition. Benzema will prove to be too much for any non-elite defenses, while an explosive midfield led by Cabaye, Pogba and defensive anchor Blaise Matuidi. Switzerland will justify their spot in the FIFA rankings by qualifying through to the knockout rounds. Meanwhile, both Ecuador and Honduras are sure to pose an interesting challenge to the group’s top two with both sides potentially giving France and Switzerland a scare or two.
How do you see Group E shaking out? Will Switzerland justify their ranking? Will France overcome their shaky qualifying campaign?
Share your thoughts below.