The first round of Group E matches for the FIFA World Cup start Sunday, and the European teams are expected to dominate the games and take the top two spots. Switzerland takes on Ecuador and France battles Honduras as all four teams try to get three points and advance to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup.
Switzerland v Ecuador: La Tri is hurting from the loss of Segundo Castillo, who injured his right knee in a friendly against Mexico and was replaced on the roster last week with 30-year-old Oswaldo Minda. Minda has not been guaranteed to play, however, as Coach Reinaldo Rueda is looking at either Édison Méndez or 19-year-old rookie Carlos Gruezo to take Castillo’s place. Ecuador will rely on their experienced defense to hold off the Swiss attack, and may collect a goal in the second half if forced to equalize.
The Swiss will not have an easy time with La Tri and players like Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, but Ottmar Hitzfeld’s young, energetic side blew through qualifying unbeaten and sit at number six in the FIFA World Rankings. Switzerland’s main problem is capitalizing early and building a comfortable lead. Rookies Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri have proven their ability to score in the waning minutes of the game, though. Fans can likely expect a scoreless draw at halftime, with the Swiss striking late in the game to take the win.
Prediction: Switzerland 2 – Ecuador 1
France v Honduras: The second match of the day will see the Europeans continue to dominate Group E for the 2014 World Cup, as there is little expectation that Honduras will prevail against the heavily favored French side. Honduras’ rough style of play worked for them in their friendly against England, but as whistle-happy as the officials have been in group play so far, it will likely get them in trouble Sunday. Wilson Palacios and Carlo Costly will be the players to watch, and could capitalize if they catch France off-guard. The best bet for Los Catrachos is to rely on their size and strength during set pieces on the young French offense and try to hold them to a draw.
France is still reeling from the loss of Ribery, but bounced back quickly with their 8-0 rout over Jamaica in their final warm-up match. The dangerous duo of Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba will strike early and often. France could find trouble in their defensive players, who are younger and less experienced on the world stage. Central defender Mamadou Sakho and left-back Patrice Evra are all but guaranteed to start, though, and have proven their talent in the Premier League with Liverpool and Manchester United. Captain and Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will hold his back line against a Honduras offense that mostly only plays as high as United States Major League Soccer.
Prediction: France 3 – 0 Honduras
The European teams of Group E are expected to dominate both games for Sunday’s 2014 World Cup matches. Given some of the upsets that took place earlier in the weekend, however, anything can happen. If Honduras pulls off a win, CONCACAF will remain the only undefeated confederation in the tournament, as Mexico dominated Cameroon on Friday and Costa Rica pulled off a shocking upset over Uruguay on Saturday.
Commentary by Christina Jones