The teams of Group E have played their final matches and the two powerhouses from Europe will advance to the first knockout round for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. France earned the top spot after a scoreless draw with a 10-man Ecuadorian squad, and will battle Nigeria in the first knockout round while Switzerland’s decisive 3-0 win over Honduras earned them runner-up and a bid against Lionel Messi and his band of Argentinians.
Ecuador put up a strong fight against the mighty French, but a red card to Antonio Valencia for a studs-up challenge gave La Tri too big of a mountain to climb. Michael Arroyo and Enner Valencia came agonizingly close, but were unable to hit the target. France seemed content to play for the tie, particularly after the red card was issued in the 50th minute. Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba had fantastic shots on goal in the second half, but France could not find the net either.
Les Bleus have now advanced to the round of 16 eight times in World Cup history, with five semifinals appearances, two finals appearances, and one championship in 1998. France lost to Italy in 2006 on penalty kicks, but failed to advance out of the group stage in 2010. The French attackers have proven they can score, even without their top playmaker Franck Ribery, who injured his back before the first game and was replaced on the roster with Rémy Cabella. The defenders have also proven they can stop the other team from scoring, allowing only two goals in the group stage of the tournament, both in garbage time to a thoroughly defeated Swiss team.
France was somewhat counted out going into the tournament, especially after their injury woes came to a head, but the team has put on a dominating performance and could go far in the 2014 World Cup. If France defeats Nigeria, they will face either the first place team from Group G—which is still up in the air as of Wednesday, but likely to be Germany—or the second place team from Group H, which is too close to call.
Switzerland took a mortifying performance against France and used it as motivation to shore up their defense and beat Honduras into submission. The Swiss took a 2-0 lead over the Central Americans—who have yet to win a World Cup match—into halftime and drove the final nail in the coffin in the 71st minute to win 3-0 and become the second European team in Group E to advance to the knockout rounds. Xherdan Shaqiri scored his first World Cup goal in the match, and his second and third as well, completing a hat trick to put his team into the next stage.
Honduras gave their worst performance of the tournament, and, if the United States team advances on Thursday, will be the only CONCACAF team to not make it out of the group stage. Mexico and Costa Rica each clinched advancement, and the U.S. has a good chance to move on as well.
This will mark Switzerland’s fourth time to advance past the group stage, with two quarterfinals appearances as their biggest World Cup accomplishment. The Swiss team is young and fast, but their defense has shown to be too weak to hold up to the more aggressively offensive teams like France. Argentina will be a tough, likely impossible opponent to beat, and the potential field past the round of 16—which could include Belgium, the United States, or Portugal—only gets more difficult. Switzerland is building a good core, however, and could make a serious run for the championship in 2018 or 2022.
Despite the unwritten rule that European teams do not fare well in South American climates, France and Switzerland put Ecuador’s and Honduras’ dreams to bed on Wednesday, earning advancement to the knockout rounds for the 2014 World Cup as the first and second place teams for Group E. France will likely make it to at least the quarterfinals, but may falter there if they have to face Germany. Switzerland may not have the defensive strength needed to withstand Messi, and could see their journey come to an end on Tuesday.
Commentary by Christina Jones