The time has almost come, and FIFA World Cup Group Play opens Thursday, with Group E taking their pitches on Sunday in Brazil for their first matches of the tournament. In the weekend leading up to the start of tournament play, Honduras pulled off an unexpected draw against England, injury-ridden France crushed Jamaica, Ecuador replaced an injured Segundo Castillo, and all the while Switzerland’s young, eager athletes are chomping at the bit to prove themselves worthy of the World Cup trophy.
Honduras made waves on Saturday after their fierce, aggressive match with England ended in a 0-0 tie. England Coach Roy Hodgson was “frustrated” with the result, and he and several English players complained about the officiating and Honduras’ rough playing style. Hodgson told reporters he was just glad to get out of the match without any injuries.
On the other hand, Honduras Coach Luis Fernando Suarez said he was pleased with the “intensity” of his players, and that it felt like the World Cup had started early. Lightning delayed the match in the first half, but play eventually resumed after about 45 minutes of waiting. In the 66th minute, Honduras’ Brayan Beckeles was ejected after receiving his second warning in 14 minutes, and Honduras finished the game with 10 men.
Ecuador made the decision Sunday to call up Oswaldo Minda to replace Castillo. The Al-Hilal midfielder injured ligaments in his right knee last month in a friendly against Mexico. Ecuador Head Coach Reinaldo Rueda had left Minda off of the 23-man roster, but called up the 30 year old Chivas USA midfielder to take the open spot left by Castillo. Minda and Castillo have similar experience and playing styles, though Rueda has not guaranteed Minda will take the field.
Switzerland has been quiet in the realm since their 2-0 victory over Peru in their second and final warm-up match last Tuesday. The match was somewhat disappointing despite the win, as the Swiss only managed to score late in the game against an opponent that did not qualify for the finals. Switzerland has the youngest team of the group, with an average age of 25 years old, although France has the least number of caps. Finals rookies Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri—currently touted as the best young talents in Swiss football—will make their debuts and hope to add to their combined 15 international goals.
Prior to the weekend’s friendlies, Switzerland looked poised to take first place in Group E after France was hit hard with injuries. France took their ill luck in stride, however, and crushed Jamaica, while Honduras took a surprising draw against England, leaving Switzerland’s fate, and the fate of Group E, just a little less certain in this World Cup tournament.
France had an unsettling week due to the losses of star player Franck Ribery and young hopeful Clement Grenier, leaving fans wondering if this might not be the year of Les Bleus after all. France stifled all of that negativity on Sunday by routing Jamaica 8-0. Jamaica did not qualify for the 2014 World Cup. French striker Karim Benzema scored two goals and set up two more before retiring to the bench to give Morgan Schneiderlin his debut. Five different players scored for the French side, including substitute Antoine Griezmann, who got minutes due to Ribery being injured.
With France handing Jamaica a crushing defeat and Honduras pulling off a rough draw with England, Switzerland and Ecuador will have their work cut out for them as Group E battles to advance to the round of 16 in this year’s World Cup. Ecuador and Switzerland will take the stage first on Sunday morning, and France and Honduras will follow later that afternoon.
Commentary by Christina Jones