The FIFA World Cup Finals start tomorrow evening, with Brazil and Croatia kicking off at five in the evening at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paolo. Over in Group E, France is leaning on Paul Pogba to lead them to the top of the group, but Switzerland continues to peck at their heels in odds and predictions. Meanwhile, Honduras is getting no love from the analysts, and the current headlines suggest that many have forgotten Ecuador exists.
Ecuador does exist, though, and the other teams in Group E would be wise to remember it. Touted as one of the dark horses in the tournament, the Ecuadorian side has size and strength in their arsenal, a major advantage on set pieces. Many of the individual players on the team are skilled at one-on-one matchups and are capable of creating space and opportunities.
The potential kryptonite for La Tri will be the back five. Their defense is experienced, but mostly in lesser clubs, and goalkeeper Maximo Banguera played so poorly in qualifying that he lost the starting spot for several games. He will be number one on the depth chart again for group play, but Ecuador’s back four will need to avoid letting the other teams get in behind them.
Ecuador also has the advantage of not being a European team, as those have historically not done so well in tournaments in South America.
No one has forgotten about Switzerland, least of all France. Odds favor France to top the group, but the Swiss are young, talented, and experienced at a high level of play. What could really hurt Switzerland is their style of play, which is slower compared to their South and Central American opponents, and their tendency to rely too much on their strong defense. Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld will most likely plan careful, calculated attacks and attempt to keep the tempo to a level his players find comfortable.
France has been pegged as the favorite to win the group, but their lack of experience, particularly after the unfortunate exit of injured star Franck Ribery, could be their undoing. In Ribery’s absence, France is leaning on former Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba to lead their team to victory in Group E and in the World Cup knockout stages. Pogba, whose controversial transition from Man U to Juventus in 2012 led to some less-than-flattering comments from Sir Alex Ferguson, has helped his new Italian club to back-to-back titles in Serie A. At 21 years old, Pogba has earned a Golden Boy trophy and a spot on the Serie A Team of the Season, despite having only 51 starts in club and only 11 caps with the French international team.
The main criticism of Pogba is his “lazy” playing style, but the young star insists that his “easy play” does not mean he is not focused. This will be France’s biggest hurdle—that the young players do not become overconfident and make simple mistakes.
Honduras is the only team in the group that no one really expects to advance. This could work to their advantage to an extent—the other teams could underestimate them—along with their older, more experienced lineup. Many of the Honduran starters play in the top English and American leagues and played in the 2010 World Cup tournament, where Los Catrachos managed a draw and only allowed three goals.
The experienced players end on the field for Honduras, however; the team lacks depth on the bench, particularly in the middle third of the field, which will cause problems late in games and especially in Honduras’ final Group E match against the young, fresh Swiss team. Honduras, like Ecuador, also has a weak goalkeeper behind an otherwise solid defense.
The worst thing the Hondurans can do for themselves is to allow the lack of support to hurt their confidence, but even with full self-confidence, the team has the least chance of the four to advance to the next stage. With France leaning on talent like Paul Pogba, Ecuador’s superior size and strength, and Switzerland’s tough defense, Honduras is the true underdog for Group E in the 2014 World Cup. They are not likely to get a Hollywood ending, though.
Commentary by Christina Jones