We are now just 5 days from the start of the 2014 World Cup. It’s so close now that you better have your watch parties set up and your jerseys and scarves clean and ready to go. With that in mind, it’s time to start breaking down the action that will happen on fields across Brazil.
Non-soccer fans, and we all know a few, look to the World Cup and want to see the stars. The big names drive the ratings in any sport and especially amongst “new soccer fans”. If this is you and you are reading this preview to get educated, Group E may disappoint you in its star power.
Perhaps the biggest star in Group E, Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery, has been ruled out of the World Cup for France. After Ribery the star power quickly drops off. France’s Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) and Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia (Manchester United) are known because of their popular club teams. Folks familiar with Major League may be familiar with Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo) and Victor Bernardez )San Jose Earthquakes) of Honduras. Other than that, there’s not much for casual fans to get behind. Hopefully, we can change that for you.
Today we take a look at Group E. If Group G is the Group of Death, is Group E the Group of Life?
Group E Teams (32flags Pre-Tournament Power Ranking):
France (No. 9), Switzerland (No. 16), Ecuador (No. 26),Honduras (No. 29)
Player to Watch in Group E: Paul Pogba (France)
As a Manchester United supporter I see Pogba as the one that got away. After featuring mostly for Red Devils’ youth teams,Pogba was allowed to leave for free when his contract was up two years ago. Pogba joined Italian giants Juventus and has become a star. Just 21 years old Pogba is now considered one of the best midfielders in the world. Drawing comparisons to former French star Patrick Viera, Pogba has a knack for scoring from distance. He’s also a bull in the midfield and can thwart an opposition’s attack with his exceptional vision and strong tackling ability. Pogba has 12 goals for Juventus in 63 appearances including this incredible volley againstUdinese earlier this year:
X-Factor in Group E: Can France return to their glory days?
After beating Brazil on home soil to win it all in 1998 the French lost to Senegal in 2002 and were sent home without scoring a goal. 2006 saw a return to the final. After leading Italy 1-0 in Germany thanks to a Zinedine Zidane panenka penalty kick, it was the French hero playing in his final game for “Les Bleus” that may have changed French football for years to come. Italian defender Marco Materazzi equalized and then proceeded to get under Zidane’s skin, allegedly slurring his mother and sister. This led to the now famous headbutt that saw Zidane sent off and the French eventually losing the final to Italy on penalty kicks.
South Africa 2010 saw the French team shrouded in controversy after some players refused to train. France was beaten by both Mexico and South Africa, finishing last in their group. After a favorable draw in Brazil, France look poised for a run in 2014. They have a great goal scorer in Karim Benzema and their defense is stout. The absence of Ribery will be a big loss. Benzema is more of a target forward who needs service and Ribery is one of the best in the world on the wings. If the team can find a replacement for Ribery, put their egos aside, and come together for this tournament they have a chance to do very well and erase any bad memories of 2010.
Odds of Winning World Cup (courtesy of VegasInsider.com):
Most Important Game: Switzerland vs. Ecuador
Believe it or not Switzerland is actually the seeded team in Group E after finishing their UEFA qualifying unbeaten. Ecuador, led by Manchester United winger Antonio Valenica, will look to do well on South American soil. France is a huge favorite to win Group E but this match, the opener in the group, should determine who advances as the second place team. If the young Swiss team, led by Bayern Munich starlet Xherdan Shaqiri, can get a result here it will help with their confidence going in to their other two group stage matches.
Teams to Move On: France and Ecuador
France was drawn into Spain’s qualifying group and had to get by Ukraine in a playoff just to qualify for Brazil. Their luck turned when they were drawn in to Group E. I don’t really see any scenario where they don’t finish top of the group and cruise into the Round of 16. Honduras has some flair, led by Roger Espinoza (Wigan Athletic) and Garcia, and will be fun to watch but even scoring a goal may be a success for the CONCACAF nation. As stated earlier Ecuador and Switzerland will battle for second in the group and Ecuador gets the edge based on their experience and playing close to home in South America.