World Cup 2014: Guide to Switzerland's Group E

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World Cup team profile: Switzerland

SWITZERLAND (seeded)

How do they play?

Style & formation: Switzerland play a neat passing game and press the opposition. They display far more urgency and attacking intent than the Swiss side criticised for defensive tactics at the last World Cup.

The two central midfielders keep a disciplined shape in front of the back four, although one will drive forward when the Swiss attack. The left-footed Xherdan Shaqiri starts wide on the right in a 4-2-3-1 system but regularly drifts into central positions, allowing marauding right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner to venture down the wing. The link-up play between the two is a key part of the team's attacking arsenal.

Ottmar Hitzfeld

Strengths: Bayern Munich's Shaqiri is one of the most highly-regarded young players in Europe and he is among seven members of Switzerland's strongest XI who played for a top-six club in Italy or Germany this season. Full-backs Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez are a class pairing; they encapsulate the team's energy and provided the most goal assists by a defender in their respective leagues this season.

Weaknesses: There are fitness and quality concerns in central defence and the team can be vulnerable to the counter attack, especially down the right due to Lichtsteiner bombing forward and Shaqiri not tracking back. Josip Drmic may be the top-class striker they need but he's unproven at international level.

Key player

Kosovo-born Xherdan Shaqiri, 22, is still part of the supporting cast at Bayern Munich but he takes a lead role for Switzerland as their key creative force.

An instinctive player, the stocky left-footed livewire starts wide on the right but regularly roams infield. Three hamstring tears this season are a concern.

One to watch

Josip Drmic could be the answer to Switzerland's prayers for a top striker. A stellar 2013-14 season included two goals in the March friendly against his parents' native Croatia and 17 goals for Nurnberg, earning him a move to Bayer Leverkusen.

The boss

Ottmar Hitzfeld will retire after the World Cup, six years after taking charge. The German, 65, has infused the side with youth since the failure to qualify for Euro 2012 and he says: "This is a team that doesn't hide. We are willing to take risks." His 19 major club trophies include two Champions League titles.

How they qualified

Switzerland qualified with a match to spare for the first time, finishing unbeaten in a relatively weak group and keeping clean sheets in seven of their 10 matches.

World Cup record

The Swiss have reached three quarter-finals, but none since hosting the tournament in 1954.

In 2010, they failed to get out of their group despite an opening 1-0 win over champions Spain.

Fifa ranking: 6

Switzerland team graphic
Possible starting XI

Squad

Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel).

Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo).

Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel).

Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach).

ECUADOR

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World Cup team profile: Ecuador

Prospects

Ecuador's World Cup plan hinges on wingers and a prayer. They shift the ball out quickly to the flanks, where captain Antonio Valencia offers pace and power down the right and Jefferson Montero is full of daring and dribbles on the left. The full-backs join in as auxiliary wingers, a position they often play for their clubs.

The tactic can be effective, particularly on the counter attack, but playing with two wide men and two forwards leaves a ponderous central defence exposed.

The death of forward Christian Benitez last summer has also upset the balance of the side, with no like-for-like replacement available.

Key player

Unplayable at times, infuriating at others, left winger Jefferson Montero is pivotal to Ecuador's prospects of advancing to the knockout stage. Coach Reinaldo Rueda is constantly on his case to become more consistent but admits: "He's the kind of player spectators love to watch because he plays like a kid in the street, throwing opponents off balance."

Mexico-based Montero, 24, has been linked with a summer move to Europe.

One to watch

Midfielder Christhian Noboa is integral to Ecuador's modus operandi. The 29-year-old has the vision and range of passing to supply the wingers and also has the task of protecting Ecuador's suspect centre-backs.

Noboa, of Dynamo Moscow, ate some snow on his first day in Russia seven years ago and was sick for the next week.

The boss

Colombian Reinaldo Rueda was appointed in 2010 after guiding Ecuador's Group E opponents Honduras to their first World Cup for 28 years in South Africa. Rueda's first year in charge of Ecuador was disastrous and he hurriedly reshaped the team after they failed to win a game at the 2011 Copa America

How they qualified

Ecuador were second in the South American standings after 10 matches but only won one of their last six matches. Crucially, that victory in the penultimate fixture was against nearest rivals Uruguay to all but secure the last automatic qualifying spot.

Coach Reinaldo Rueda dedicated the achievement to key forward Christian Benitez, who died suddenly last July from heart failure.

They only dropped two points in Quito, the altitude sickness-inducing capital, but failed to win a single away game.

World Cup record

Ecuador's first World Cup was 2002, when they finished bottom of their group. Four years later, they won two group games but lost to England in the last 16.

Fifa ranking: 26

Squad

Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC), Alexander Dominguez (LDU Quito), Adrian Bone (El Nacional).

Defenders: Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua, Oscar Bagui, Gabriel Achilier (all Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona SC).

Midfielders: Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Luis Saritama (Barcelona SC), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Edison Mendez (Independiente Santa Fe), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Michael Arroyo (Atlante).

Forwards: Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca).

FRANCE

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World Cup team profile: France

Prospects

It is now apparent that France's daily sports newspaper L'Equipe was rather hasty to ask "Is this the worst French team in history?" after the first leg defeat against Ukraine in a World Cup play-off.

If that game was the nadir for a France side still bruised by abject displays and player unrest at the last two major tournaments, then the 3-0 victory in the second leg has signalled a renaissance.

Coach Didier Deschamps says France "are no longer among the elite teams"; those that are will not relish facing them - though the loss of Franck Ribery to injury was a major blow on the eve of the tournament.

Key player

Striker Karim Benzema was briefly dropped from the national side last autumn amid a 15-match goal drought for France, but he has thrived as the spearhead of a new-look three-man attack with four goals in his last five internationals as of 7 June.

Benzema, 26, responded well to early-season criticism from Real Madrid's supporters, ending the season with 24 goals for the club in all competitions.

Paul Pogba

One to watch

Midfielder Paul Pogba, 21, has excelled since defying Sir Alex Ferguson and leaving Manchester United for Juventus in 2012. He was voted Europe's best Under-21 player for 2013 and Pogba's agent claims the midfielder is "as valuable as a Salvador Dali" painting.

France coach Didier Deschamps has hailed Pogba's athleticism and quality but says the player must learn to adopt "the highest level concentration and application".

The boss

A World Cup-winning captain in 1998, Didier Deschamps took charge after Euro 2012.

He had the worst record of any France coach after a year in the job, but his desire to build an athletic side that "imposes itself on its opponents" has gradually reaped results. He has also brought unity to the squad after years of dressing-room disharmony.

How they qualified

They became the first European side to overturn a two-goal deficit in the play-offs, beating Ukraine with an impressive 3-0 home win - albeit benefiting from an offside goal from striker Karim Benzema. Prior to that second leg, 84% of French fans had predicted failure. France went into the play-offs after finishing three points behind Spain in their group.

World Cup record

Winners in 1998, runners-up in 2006 and semi-finalists in 1958, 1982 and 1986, their best performances have tended to come close to home. Only once have they reached the knockout stage outside of Europe - that was at Mexico 86.

Fifa ranking: 17

Squad

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Stephane Ruffier (Marseille), Mickael Landreau (Bastia).

Defenders: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Lucas Digne (Paris St-Germain) Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna (both Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid).

Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi (both Paris St-Germain), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille).

Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Remy Cabella (Montpellier), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Loic Remy (Newastle, on loan from QPR).

HONDURAS

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World Cup team profile: Honduras

Prospects

Qualifying for a second successive World Cup was an unprecedented achievement, and Honduras coach Luis Fernando Suarez says "it's time to take the next step". A first World Cup win would represent the progress that Suarez seeks, but it is hard to disagree with the bookmakers' assessment of Honduras as tournament outsiders.

They are a physical and compact side who play 4-4-2 and it's a reflection of the team's lack of creativity that the full-backs tend to offer their most potent threat. Set pieces and counter attacks provide the Central American nation's best hope of causing an upset.

Key player

Jerry Bengtson was the team's nine-goal top scorer in the World Cup qualifying stage and is considered so important to the Honduran cause that he avoided sanction for walking out on the squad ahead of a game last summer.

Bengtson, 27, has yet to make an impact in Major League Soccer with New England Revolution but he has always scored goals for his country and is a particular threat with his aerial prowess.

One to watch

Winger Andy Najar was smuggled into the USA by his parents as a 13-year-old and he has proved to be one of Honduran football's best exports in his first full season with Anderlecht.

Now 21, Najar impressed with his pace and dynamism as the Belgian club won a third straight league title. Though not assured of a starting spot for his country, his qualities provide Honduras with a different option.

The boss

Colombian Luis Fernando Suarez has World Cup experience, having guided Ecuador to the last 16 for the first time in 2006 before they were knocked out by England.

Since taking charge of Honduras, he has led them to the semi-finals of the two most recent Gold Cups and coached the Olympic Games team that reached the quarter-finals at London 2012. .

How they qualified

They finished third in the final round of qualifying despite keeping just two clean sheets in 10 games. Highlights included 2-1 wins at home to the USA and away to Mexico, before a 2-2 draw in Jamaica sealed qualification.

World Cup record

They failed to win a game (D3, L3) in their two previous campaigns (1982 and 2010). While they did not score a goal in South Africa they were not embarrassed in losses to Chile and Spain, and salvaged pride with a draw against Switzerland.

Fifa ranking: 33

Squad

Goalkeepers: Noel Valladares, Donis Escober (both Olimpia), Luis Lopez (Real Espana).

Defenders: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Juan Carlos Garcia (Wigan), Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Qingdao Janoon), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua).

Midfielders: Edder Delgado (Real Espana), Luis Garrido (Olimpia), Roger Espinoza (Wigan), Jorge Claros (Motagua), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Oscar Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA).

Forwards: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense), Carlo Costly (Real Espana), Rony Martinez (Real Sociedad).

Fixtures

15 June 2014

Switzerland v Ecuador, Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, 17:00 (ITV)

15 June 2014

France v Honduras, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 20:00 (BBC)

20 June 2014

Switzerland v France, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 20:00 (ITV)

20 June 2014

Honduras v Ecuador, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 23:00 (ITV)

25 June 2014

Honduras v Switzerland, Arena Amazonia, Manaus, 21:00 (BBC)

25 June 2014

Ecuador v France, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 21:00 (BBC)

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