Thursday, May 1, 2014

World Cup Preview: Group E Predictions

Everyone's favorite desk-bound prognosticator is back with another World Cup preview. Read previous installations here.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

"Guys? Has the game started?" - 2,000 people
Intriguing. Switzerland as a Pot 1 team, eh? Let's see where this goes.

Prediction: France win group, Switzerland second.


"We ride at dawn!"
Even before starting this writeup, I already hate my predictions. This is kind of the same thing that happens with my NCAA basketball picks - I make my picks based on what should happen, and then it all goes to Hell. I'll pick the wrong upsets in this World Cup as well, I'm sure, so don't be surprised if Ecuador sneak out of this group.

Having said that, I think France is pretty safe. They just have way too much quality to not survive and advance, even with the shocking exclusion of Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri. It's well known that England, German, Italy, Spain, and France house the top five domestic leagues in the world, and out of France's current roster, 22 of 23 players play in one of these leagues. 

For contrast, Honduras, Ecuador, and Switzerland combined can claim 20 such players between them. 

Meteoric talents like Ribery, Benzema, and Lloris will carry Les Bleus through to the knockout stages, despite the French's historical record of mixed World Cup performance outside Western Europe.


Seems that it was recently goal time.
For the same reason that I have France winning this group, I have Switzerland emerging as the second-place team. They are simply a deeper team, with more experience playing high-stakes, top-notch football. Since a shock victory against Spain in 2010, the Swiss have been rightly seen as a global threat.

Age will not be a factor that slows this team down. They have the youth to overcome the oppressive Brazilian heat, as captain Gohkan Inler is only 29, and studs like Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are 22 and 21, respectively. In fact, their oldest player is 30, which is mighty young for a goalkeeper with 55 caps to his name in Diego Benaglio.

Also, read those names. This is not your father's Switzerland side. (Did your father have a Switzerland side? Whatever). Players born in such former Socialist Republics as Macedonia, Yugoslavia, and, um... Cape Verde have made their way onto this roster, and they're poised to represent the Schweizer Nati to the best of their abilities. 

Granted, I don't know a ton about their players. What I do know, however? They play against better teams both at the club and country level, and they're currently 8th in the world. That's gotta count for something. 


A preview of how the Ecuadorian team might feel after this group stage.
The dude above is Antonio Valencia. In addition to eating an unfinished prototype of Willy Wonka's newest face-enlarging candy, he's the only player I've heard of on this Ecuador team. He plays for Manchester United and has an alarming habit of suffering shocking injuries (don't click that link if you're a fan of left ankles).

He's got some skill, for sure, but Ecuador will need to rely on more than one player to make it out of this group.

And although they might only have one household name, the Ecuadorians come absolutely chock-full of international experience. An astonishing eight players have over 40 caps, including 34-year-old left back Walter Ayovi - a man who played in all 16 of Ecuador's World Cup qualifying games.

This kind of steady play at the back is one of the reasons that I could see Ecuador moving on. Another chief reason is one that I make reference to repeatedly, because it bears repeating: the atmosphere.

Now, again, I'm not simply talking about matches that will be played in high heat and humidity. I'm talking about mini sports wars that will be fought in a cacophony of drums, heat, haze, smoke, firework residue, g-strings, sweat, sunscreen, weed, booze, and humidity.

Granted, this is a major international tournament, and it's in a relatively underdeveloped country, so the police presence will likely be formidable. However, this isn't always the best idea.

Ecuador plays in South America. They know what it's like to go into big stadiums and deal with the best teams in the world. They fought Uruguay to a 1-1 draw on away soil, and nearly nipped a point from top-5 world power Colombia, losing 1-0 away. The crowds of their home continent will be behind them and against the European adversaries of France and Switzerland. I like these Ecuadorians. I'm just not sure if they can make up for the gulf in quality.


"Sup, fresh? It's our turn, baby"
Sadly, despite Maynor Figueroa's cool-ass facial expression up there, I just don't think the Hondurans have the depth to make this a contest.

(Sidenote: it's hard to write this with a straight face while listening to the song in that caption's link. I suggest you play it.)

Yes, we all remember this complete nonsense, but the Yanks redeemed themselves in the Gold Cup with a 3-1 victory. The Honduras were solid at home and shaky on the road in CONCACAF, and I'm guessing they won't get much in the way of support when they run into the big boys in Brazil. A road loss to Panama and a tie in Jamaica are causes for concern when facing top-notch opposition, and the Honduras should probably prepare for a quick exit. 

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