France is leading Group E with six points, but Ecuador and Switzerland are nipping at Les Bleus heels, and even Honduras has a (minuscule) hope of advancing if Wednesday’s final FIFA World Cup group matches go exactly right. France will face Ecuador, while Switzerland takes on a demoralized Honduran squad.
France v Ecuador
France has set itself apart as the clear leader of Group E after two dominant three-goal wins over Honduras and Switzerland. Honduras was shut out after a second yellow for Wilson Palacios put Los Catrachos down a man against Les Bleus. France led Switzerland 3-0 within the first 45 minutes, and though Switzerland managed two late goals in the second half, France also scored two more to take a 5-2 win.
A win or a tie against Ecuador will qualify France for the round of 16 as the top team for the group, but the French side can also advance with a loss as long as the goal differential is less than six and Switzerland does not defeat Honduras by a margin of more than eight goals. In other words, France is highly likely to advance, and to do so in first place, which would pit them against Nigeria in the next round.
Les Blues have decided on an attacking lineup for this match, with Antoine Griezmann, Moussa Sissoko, and Karim Benzema at forward, while Mathieu Valbuena and Patrice Evra have moved to the bench.
Ecuador started the tournament with a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Switzerland, but bounced back in the second match of group play with a 2-1 victory over Honduras. Enner Valencia has been a rising star for La Tri, scoring all three of the team’s goals so far.
Wednesday’s game is not a must-win for Ecuador, who would advance on goal differential if Switzerland also loses to Honduras or if both games end in a draw. Ecuador could take first place from France only if they win by more than six. Otherwise, if they advance, they will do so as the Group E runner-up, and will play Argentina in the first knockout stage.
Ecuador is sticking with a similar lineup to their game versus Honduras, with Valencia and Michael Arroyo attacking, while Alexander Domínguez continues to protect the net in favor of Máximo Banguera, who lost the starting spot thanks to poor play in qualifiers.
Prediction: France 2 – 1 Ecuador; Benzema and Sissoko will score for France, and Valencia will continue to carry Ecuador. France will advance as the top team to play Nigeria, and Ecuador will be eliminated by Switzerland beating Honduras.
Switzerland v Honduras
Switzerland, who were the top-seeded team for Group E going into the 2014 World Cup, won their first match against Ecuador thanks to outstanding finishing from substitutes Admir Mehmedi and Haris Seferović, but their final four folded like cheap chairs in the face of Les Bleus’ world-class attackers. The Swiss managed a couple of late garbage goals, but the embarrassment was not erased. Los Catrachos are big and rough, and could break down Switzerland’s defense. The Swiss will score easily on the Central American team, and could likely get a free kick close to the goal or even a penalty kick if Honduras gets too wild with their tackles.
The team can advance if they defeat Honduras and Ecuador loses to or draws with France. The game is a must-win situation for the Swiss, who are behind Ecuador in goal differential. Switzerland can only overtake first place if France loses to or draws with Ecuador and the Swiss win by more than eight goals. Most likely, Switzerland will advance as the runner-up team for Group E, and will face Argentina in the round of 16 on Saturday.
The Swiss are playing with Josip Drmić as their lone striker, with Mehmedi, Granit Xhaka, and Xherdan Shaqiri providing offensive support from midfield.
Honduras has had a disappointing showing for the 2014 World Cup, losing in grand fashion to France with only 10 men, and then scoring first against Ecuador, only to let Enner Valencia net two goals and take the win for La Tri. Honduras is the only one of the four CONCACAF teams in the tournament that has not qualified for the next round except the United States, but the U.S. team has a much higher possibility of advancing than Los Catrachos.
The only scenario in which Honduras could advance Wednesday is if they are able to beat Switzerland and Ecuador loses to France by a combined margin of more than four goals. Otherwise, the Central American team will find itself on a plane home very soon.
Honduras is playing with a stout midfield, putting four of their most experienced players on the field in hopes of controlling the game against the fast, young Swiss team.
Prediction: Switzerland 3 – 2 Honduras; Switzerland’s quick counterattack will pay off in dividends, but their leaky defense will show its weak links as well. The Swiss will come out on top and advance to the knockout rounds to play Argentina.
Switzerland, despite their patchy play, will advance as runner-up for Group E and France will be the group winner after Wednesday’s final matches, moving both European teams into the round of 16 for the 2014 World Cup. The Swiss will meet up with Lionel Messi’s squad on Saturday, while France takes on a fiery Nigerian side.
Commentary by Christina Jones