As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Two European sides and two Latin American sides will clash in Group E, and there are at least a few stories that will be revisited from World Cups past when the action gets underway in Brazil. Switzerland and France will revisit a rivalry that has laid dormant for eight years, a duel between CONCACAF and UEFA squads offers a rematch from four years ago, and one team is just happy to be back in the tournament after missing the trip to South Africa.
Smart money says the Swiss should advance, but which of the other three hot-and-cold teams is likeliest to make it out of the group to play in the knockout stage? France needed a miracle 3-0 win over Ukraine to even make it to Brazil, the 1998 championship and 2006 finals appearance seeming even further in the distant past. But can either Ecuador or Honduras actually unseat the Europeans from the top two spots? Let’s now look quickly at each of the six matches that will determine the group standings and predict how the group will shake out. (All times Eastern.)
Switzerland v. Ecuador/Brasilia (June 15/12:00pm)
There is no history between these teams — at any level, be it under-20, Olympic, futsal, indoor soccer, women’s play, women’s under-20 play, under-17, under-15, mountain ruminants, whatever. What we do know is that a November loss in a friendly to South Korea broke a 14-month undefeated streak for the Swiss team, where they finished first in their UEFA World Cup qualifying group, won or drew four friendlies (including three against World Cup qualifiers), and finished with 24 goals against nine allowed to wrap up a 10-4-0 stretch before the loss to the Koreans. The last time Ecuador was in the World Cup, they got bounced by a Beckham bend.
PREDICTION: 2-0 Switzerland
France v. Honduras/Porto Alegre (June 15/3:00pm)
Just as it went for their fellow group members in the opposite opening match, France and Honduras will be playing their inaugural international against one another. France had to play a qualifier against the Ukraine to make it to Brazil, and needed three goals in Saint Denis after losing 2-0 on the first leg in Kiev. They got all three, winning 3-0 thanks to strikes by Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema. Honduras, meanwhile, qualified comfortably ahead of Mexico in the CONCACAF hexagonal. But the French have looked strong after that three-goal outburst against the Ukrainians, winning their most recent friendly 2-0 over the Netherlands. What does this all mean, though? Don’t expect an easy win for the French, despite their past two results…
PREDICTION: 2-2 draw
Switzerland v. France/Salvador (June 20/3:00pm)
After blowing the match against the Hondurans, France will need to win outright against Switzerland. But they’ve drawn each of the past three times they played, in 2006 World Cup qualifying and then again after being drawn in the same group. France won big in their past two matches, while Switzerland fell to South Korea in Seoul. That means little, though, as Switzerland is probably the better overall side right now. Look for them to find the late winner that will break the run of draws between these two sides and leave the French sweating all the way into the final match of Group E play… and a win might not even be enough, depending on the result of the other match on the 20th.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Switzerland
Honduras v. Ecuador/Curitiba (June 20/6:00pm)
These two countries have a solid recent history, having squared off each of the past three years and 10 times since 2000. Their most recent showdown in Houston last November ended 2-2, but before that Ecuador took the two previous encounters (on penalties in 2011 after a 1-1 match, and a 2-0 rematch in 2012). Enner Valencia had the late equalizer for Ecuador in a match Honduras looked to have won at BBVA Compass Stadium, and Carlo Costly should be a factor for Honduras like he was with his brace in that match. Familiarity will likely breed contempt when these two teams play in Curitiba, and a card or two is likely to be flashed as neither team does the other any favors.
PREDICTION: 2-2 draw
Honduras v. Switzerland/Manaus (June 25/4:00pm)
Four years ago, these two sides also played their final World Cup group match against one another. On that June 2010 day in Bloemfontein, both Switzerland and Honduras desperately needed a victory to have any chance of reaching the next stage of the competition. Instead they held each other scoreless, and the point apiece coupled with Spain’s win over Chile sent both teams home early. This time around, Switzerland should have nothing but pride to play for, with the other teams cannibalizing one another’s chances in a series of draws. With a win, Honduras would be guaranteed passage regardless. Is a fix in the air? Nah… but Honduras will somehow pull off the surprise nonetheless.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Honduras
Ecuador v. France/Rio de Janeiro (June 25/4:00pm)
When they played six years ago in Grenoble, nothing was on the line when France won 2-0 in the friendly. The second meeting between these two squads will be much more meaningful. Both teams will know that a win keeps hope alive for the second round. While a win will ultimately prove fruitless for the French as they get bounced for the second straight World Cup after the infamous Zidane/Materazzi final of 2006, they’ll at least go out with a bang against the South Americans…
PREDICTION: 3-0 France
Group E Prediction