Ecuador (Reinaldo Rueda), Hondura (Luis Fernando Suarez), France (Didier Deschamps), Switzerland (Ottmar Hitzfeld)
June 15: Switzerland vs. Ecuador
June 15: France vs. Honduras
June 20: Switzerland vs. France
June 20: Honduras vs. Ecuador
June 25: Honduras vs. Switzerland
June 25: Ecuador vs. France
While France is the favorite to win Group E, each country has something to prove in their nation’s World Cup timeline. Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras have problems defending, and the speed in width to exploit each other’s weaknesses. Second place will come down to the final match – and which side lets in the least amount of goals.
The Success of Each Team Will Be Defined By:
Ecuador: Finding the right combination at center back
Honduras: Wingers Andy Najar and Oscar Boniek Garcia winning their 1 on 1’s
France: The midfield balance of Yohan Cabaye, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi
Switzerland: Their fullbacks and star attacker Xherdan Shaqiri creating through pressing
In a recurring theme to World Cup preparations, Group E lost its top attacker with France’s Franck Ribéry ruled out of the World Cup with a back injury. But it’s the snub of playmaker Samir Nasri in favor of Mathieu Valbuena that represents the mentality of the 2014 French side. The 2010 team was undone by locker room unrest, finishing last in their group. Mindful of that, manager Didier Deschamps named his 23 with cohesion in mind.
Ribéry’s direct pace will be missed, but France already has his replacement in Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann. If you were to have money on someone coming out of (relatively speaking) nowhere to make a name for themselves, Griezmann would be the one (or Group E peer Xherdan Shaqiri). Arsène Wenger compared his intelligence to Robert Pires, and Arsenal is closing in. The left side is his.
Ribéry is France’s best attacker – but the side is powered by their midfield. Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, and Yohan Cabaye give France the most balanced midfield three in the tournament. Goals, graft, press, long shots, tackling, creating – the trio can do it all. They should over power the midfields in Group E. They can pull out a moment to finesse experienced sides in the knockout stages. France will go as far as the trio drives them.
France also has great balance at center back, picking two between the class of Raphael Varane, the power of Mamadou Sakho, and a combination of both in Laurent Koscielny. At age 33, Patrice Evra isn’t the attacking threat he used to be, but his defensive discipline and cover for the midfield and Griezmann will go much further. Even without Ribéry (and Nasri), France will get goals out of Karim Benzema. Their balance of trios and duos all over the field should see them deep into the tournament. That should be more than enough to rid the taste of 2010.
Ecuador continues to mourn 27-year-old striker Christian Benitez, who passed away from cardiac arrest last summer. Their motivation will not be in question. And although they lack the footballing history of other CONMEBOL sides, Ecuador have qualified for three out of the last four World Cups, making it to the quarterfinals in 2006.
Outside of the immense tragedy, Benitez’s role on the field is difficult to replace as the side have no like for like. Manager Reinaldo Rueda will rely on Enner Valencia and Felipe Caicedo for goals. Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero will provide the creativity from the wing. Center midfielders Christian Noboa and Segundo Castillo will cover for Valencia and Montero.
There’s no doubting that Ecuador can create chances. But their defensive record in qualifying, giving up 16 goals in 16 matches, will not see them through to the knockout stages. The problems start at center back, where Rueda used eight different combinations during qualifying. Group E has no shortage of teams relying on width for quick counter attacks (especially Honduras and Switzerland). Valencia and Montero must be mindful and track back just as much as they go forward.
Regardless of these shortcomings, Ecuador’s on-field unity is its biggest strength. It’ll be tested in this group.
One team’s defensive misfortune is another squad’s lifeline. Honduras’ strength on the wings plays well in the group. They’ll rely heavily on the 1-on-1 capability of wingers Andy Najar and Oscar Boniek Garcia for their attack. The pair goes against Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy in the opening match. Their second match versus Ecuador represents their best chance to get three points. They drew Switzerland 0-0 in the 2010 World Cup. And we’ll go from there.
Tactically, Luis Fernando Suarez’s side is simple – keeper, four defenders, two holding midfielders, two attacking wingers, and two strikers. Wilson Palacios and Luis Garrido are responsible to cover Najar and Garcia’s rampaging runs forward. The backline should be tidy enough – Victor Bernardez and Maynor Figeroa at centerback, with Emilio Izaguirre of Celtic bombing up the left side to support the attack. His Rangers’ counterpart at right back, Arnold Peralta, was left off the team due to injury.
The backline, outside of Izaguirre’s attacks, and the two holding midfielders Palacios and Garrido, have one purpose: do just enough so Najar, Garcia, and strikers Carlos Costly and Jerry Bengtson can win matches. It’s not complex, and the side will be more than happy to sit back and take its chances on the counter. Although Honduras scored 13 goals in 10 matches of World Cup qualifications, they also gave up 12. Something has to give.
Honduras’ expectations are modest, ranging from scoring a goal (they failed to do this in 2010), to winning a match (they’ll have a chance), to making it into the knock out stages. To the latter point, they’ll go as far their defense takes them.
Outside of Neymar, no team will rely on a young player to shoulder its attack more than 22-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri for Switzerland. The Swiss transitional attack is built around the pace of Bayern Munich’s top player off the bench. The blueprint would be the side winning the ball in their opposition half, and Shaqiri’s run behind the defense the first outlet pass.
Few managers can compete with Ottmar Hitzfeld’s success in the modern game, having won Champions Leagues with two separate sides. His approach fits well with Switzerland’s pace. The side has the two best attacking fullbacks in the group with Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichsteiner. The pair can attack, press, and defend - they may be the difference in Switzerland getting out of the group.
Hitzfeld will rely on the Napoli center midfield combination of Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami to provide cover for Lichsteiner and Rodriguez’s runs forward, as well as providing a surprise attack of their own to decide close matches. Striker Josip Drmic is expected to finish those chances.
Similar to Ecuador, Switzerland’s weakness is in the middle of their defense. Center backs Fabian Schar and Steve von Bergen must do enough of everything – pressing, clearing, covering, and heading – for Switzerland to move on. Although the side only gave up 6 goals in 10 matches of qualification, they had the easiest group in Europe with Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus. It was, ostensibly, a Group of Swiss Life.
Hitzfeld is arguably the best manager in the World Cup. The side will want to do better than 2010, when they beat Spain in the opening match, only to finish third in the group. You could say the same about Honduras, who finished in last place, behind Switzerland, in the same group. In fact, all sides are seeking some sort of redemption from 2010. France needs to erase that memory by making a deep run in Brazil. Deschamps responded by building a side based on harmony. And Ecuador’s momentum of making it to the knock out round in 2006 stopped abruptly, having failed to qualify in 2010.
France has the most balanced attack in the group, as well as the best center back pairing. Honduras, Ecuador, and Switzerland have more than enough attacking width to create goals. In a group weighted heavily towards attack, the side that comes in second will be decided by a backline that defends just enough.