World Cup Preview: Group E

Finally, a group with a clear two best teams.

Switzerland: Of the eight seeded teams in this World Cup, Switzerland is the sore thumb. They were the only side to beat Spain in South Africa, but that was a largely different team that didn’t escape their group. This is a young team that had the benefit of an easy group in qualifying, and perhaps even an easy group here at the World Cup. Much of the Swiss squad plays for lesser clubs in the Bundesliga, and only a few—Bayern’s Xherdan Shaqiri, Napoli’s Gokhan Inler, Blerim Džemaili, and Valon Behrami—have Champions League experience. 2018 should be brighter for the Swiss, but there’s no reason they can’t make the knockout stages here.

France: The question is which French team will show up? On paper, this is one of the most talented squads at the World Cup, even without the injured Franck Ribery and the neglected Samir Nasri. But then, the same held true in 2010, when a disjointed French squad was rife with internal conflict and bombed out in the first round. Les Bleus won’t win this tournament, but just about anything else could happen.

Ecuador: The Ecuadorians persevered through tragedy to get to this World Cup; 27-year-old Christian Benitez died last July. He scored four goals for Ecuador during the lengthy CONMEBOL qualification process. All four were at home, which hints at the nature of this Ecuadorian side. Away from their altitudinous home, they didn’t have much success. Perhaps being on their home continent will help, but an escape from the group is the unlikely ceiling for this side.

Honduras: Honduras, like Ecuador, held England to a draw in a recent friendly in Miami. Honduras, like Ecuador, aren’t likely to make it out of this group. They’re a decent team—they beat the USMNT at home in qualifying—but decent does not cut it on the stage of the World Cup.

Key player: Paul Pogba, France

Paul Pogba is 21, but he already has 10 caps for France and is a key part of Juventus’ midfield. That’s shorthand for “he’s quite good.” Manchester United let him go on a free in 2012, and now he’s rumored to be worth $100 million to Juventus. If he treats this World Cup as a coming out party, France could go far.

What Will Happen: I think France will hold themselves together at least long enough to win this group, and Switzerland should have it in them to advance. No group so far has been so easy to say these things about.

 

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