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Group E – Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras
From what looks a relatively easy group for the French, both the 2002 and 2010 finals could have been thought of as similarly manageable – and we know how they ended. Les Bleus have a habit of making things difficult for themselves, whether it be internal conflict or leaving it late in the playoffs, their inconsistency in recent years can be considered a problem. Now led by their ‘98 World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps, positive signs through expansive attacking football and a youthful squad hold the key for a successful World Cup campaign. Samir Nasri’s snub from the 23 man squad drew questions after arguably his best Premier League season yet, but Deschamps felt he had enough options, notably Mathieu Valbuena, to counterbalance a player deemed potentially destructive and surplus to requirements.
Vying to displace France at the top of Group E, the Swiss are ranked eighth in the world which clinched the final seeded spot after an unbeaten qualifying group. Nine clean sheets in their last fifteen games, cite a sturdy defence organised efficiently by veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. In attack, options centre around the three dynamic Bundesliga men, Xheran Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Josip Drmić who provide their greatest attacking threat – despite young centre back Fabian Schär being their top goalscorer in qualification.
Ecuador and Honduras make up Group E making the group much tighter than expected. Both accustomed to the South American climate, did show surprising results when qualifying; Ecuador boasting a fine home record; beating Columbia, Chille and Uruguay while Honduras defeated Mexico, USA and Costa Rica. Despite their recent record the World Cup is a different ball game and I feel Honduras will struggle to get many points, leaving Switzerland and Ecuador to fight for that final place. Under Hitzfeld’s organised stewardship, I’d predict Switzerland to progress behind France.
Group F – Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria
Quite like France’s group, Group F, you’d think will be a breeze for Argentina. On the face of it that maybe true, with affluent attacking options at their disposal, in Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero, they no doubt have the players capable of inflicting serious damage. Their defence however could be more destructive, particularly goalkeeper Sergio Romero whose lack of game time and susceptibility for errors could prove decisive. Down their left side Marcos Rojo is probably the side’s achilles heel and as coach Alejandro Sabella deploys a 4-3-3 system, the lack of protection in the left back area will be worsened, which teams should look to exploit.
Bosnia and Herzegovina offer the biggest challenge to the Argentines, with the talented playmaker Miralem Pjanić playing behind Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević. They are the only World Cup debutantes in Brazil and could be backed to merit their qualification by going further into the tournament, providing their front two yield a similar return to which saw them qualify, collectively netting 18 goals.
Iran and Nigeria hold the final two places in Group F. Despite Iran surprisingly being the highest ranked Asian team in the tournament, they have never gone further than the group stages in three attempts. I’d consider it difficult to see how Carlos Queiroz will be able to avoid a similar fait when looking at their opposition. The Super Eagles on the other hand are one of two unbeaten African nations in qualifying, and will look to Victor Moses as their talisman to give energy into a team deficient of real attacking quality. Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina to go through.