Breaking Down France's World Cup 2014 Group Stage Opponents

Jonathan JohnsonFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  Members of the French team sing the Marseillaise after they won the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier 2nd Leg Playoff between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)
Harry Engels/Getty Images

Before the draw was made on Friday, Zinedine Zidane had suggested that France needed to face a big team in a difficult group in order to be at their best from the start of the tournament in Brazil next year, according to ESPN FC's Ian Holyman.

Zizou’s hopes did not come to fruition, though, and Les Bleus received a highly favourable draw that pits them in Group E. Their opponents are European top seeds Switzerland, South Americans Ecuador and Central American side Honduras.

Didier Deschamps breathed a huge sigh of relief that his side have been spared further difficulties after heroically overturning a two-goal deficit, ousting Ukraine 3-2 to reach Brazil per ESPN FC. His players also shared those sentiments and the team will be confined to pretty much the same area for all of their group games which is another bonus.

The danger now for the French is that the draw allows them to become complacent.

Bleacher Report

On paper, the 1998 World Cup winners should easily finish top of the group and should only be mildly concerned by the presence of Switzerland. In reality, though, the group now becomes a danger for Les Bleus.

Horrible memories of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea may come flooding back to French fans who assumed that a group containing Uruguay, Denmark and Senegal would be straightforward. Roger Lemerre's side crashed out with a single point to their name.

Firstly, facing these three sides will mean that France cannot face top-level opposition until at least the latter stages. Secondly, Deschamps’ side, who made a meal of qualification despite the presence of reigning World and European champions Spain, could badly underestimate their opponents and finish second.

Should that happen, the winners of Group F will await. That is likely to be Lionel Messi’s Argentina, based on early speculation. Alternatively, the same matchup could occur if one or more of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran or Nigeria upsets the Argentines and France top Group E.

PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 15:  French fans show their support during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group I match between France and Finland at the Stade de France on October 15, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

All could provide tricky last-16 fixtures.

Into the quarterfinals, Les Tricolores could then be tasked with knocking out Germany, Portugal, Belgium or Russia among others if they are to progress any further.

But before getting carried away, the focus will now be on France vs. Honduras on June 15 in Porto Alegre at the Estadio Beira-Rio.

Let’s take a closer look at Les Bleus’ group opponents.

 

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 14: Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld of Switzerland reacts during the international friendly match between Switzerland and Brazil at St. Jakob Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Basel, Switzerland.  (Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images)
Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images

Switzerland

Considering Switzerland’s excellent record under Ottmar Hitzfeld, this is no easy match for Deschamps and his side.

The Swiss qualified by topping Group E with 24 points. They went unbeaten.

France have drawn their last three clashes with their neighbours, and La Nati are not easy opponents for the French.

Hitzfeld’s side are fancied to be something of a surprise package in Brazil, though, and the methodical German, who will call time on his career after the tournament, will want to go out with a bang.

Switzerland are by far and away the biggest danger for the French in Group E. Yet even as neighbours, so much about their team remains relatively unknown and is certainly underrated.

 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Muenchen celebrates victory after the UEFA Champions League final match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2013 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Liv
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Key Man?

With no standout star talents, the real strength of the side is their collective mentality.

However, Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri will stand out on the squad list. Gokhan Inler will be another player to watch, while French fans will be familiar with Stephan Lichtsteiner from his time with Lille OSC in Ligue 1.

 

 

Ecuador

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Reinaldo Rueda, manager of the Ecuador national team, against Honduras during an international friendly match at BBVA Compass Stadium on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Now led by former Honduras coach Reinaldo Rueda, Ecuador will be at their first World Cup since 2006 in Germany.

At home in South America, La Tri will not have the advantage of playing at high altitude, which often gives them an edge in many of their home internationals.

Ecuador finished fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying with 24 points, securing fourth spot ahead of Uruguay on goal difference.

Rueda saw his Honduras side finish bottom of Group H in the 2010 edition of the tournament, with his side taking a point from a goalless draw with 2014 opponents Switzerland.

An exciting team to watch, they were unbeaten at home in their qualifiers but failed to win a single match away from home. That suggests a team who do not travel well, so Rueda will be happy that his side at least stay on the same continent.

 

Key Man?

Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia is one of the more recognisable names on the Ecuador squad list.

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Antonio Valencia #16 of Ecuador against Honduras during an international friendly match at BBVA Compass Stadium on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

However, Morelia midfielder Jefferson Montero is perhaps the most dangerous member of their side.

Tragically, the team will be without Christian Benitez who passed away earlier this year.

 

Honduras

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - JULY 29:  Luis Suarez coach of Honduras reacts during the Men's Football first round Group D match between Spain and Honduras on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games  at St James' Park on July 29, 2012 in Newcastle upon Ty
Stanley Chou/Getty Images

Luis Fernando Suarez has arguably already performed above expectations in qualifying Honduras for next year’s World Cup.

Like Rueda, who is now coaching Ecuador, Suarez led Honduras’ group rivals to the 2006 World Cup and a best-ever last-16 finish.

On paper, it appears a mismatch with France in particular, given that there are no obvious star talents in Los Catrachos’ squad.

In fact, the Hondurans have never won a single game at this level. Their solitary point in the 2010 edition, gained with a 0-0 draw against repeat group opponents Switzerland, remains their best-ever result at the tournament.

 

Key Man?

With few household names in their squad, fans will be drawn toward the attacking talents of Jerry Bengtson of New England Revolution and Carlo Costly who had a short-lived spell with Birmingham City most notably.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Neymar #10 of Brazil moves the ball around Wilson Palacios #8 of Honduras in the first half during a friendly match at Sun Life Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Image
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Wigan Athletic’s Roger Espinoza and Hull City’s Maynor Figueroa will be familiar to English football fans, while promising talent Andy Najar plays his football in Belgium with RSC Anderlecht.

However, the most established name in this side is Wilson Palacios. The 29-year-old Stoke City man will provide a strong influence in the midfield and was one of the team’s most influential figures in qualifying.

 

Chances

It would be lying to suggest that France are anything but favourites in this group, but it should also be remembered that this is a side that made a mess of their qualification group.

Some of the dropped points would arguably have transformed Les Bleus into a seeded nation, but their complacency cost them.

The same could quite easily happen here if Deschamps’ side do not get off to a good start against Honduras on June 15.

However, with the Swiss second up in the fixture list, the opening victory is of vital importance.

Fail to beat Honduras, an opponent that France could easily underestimate, and the Swiss match will take on massive significance.

PARIS, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 19:  France throw their Coach Didier Deschamps in the air after winning the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off second leg match between France and Ukraine at the Stade de France on November 19, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo b
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Deschamps’ considerable experience and success in knockout competitions such as the Champions League and domestic cups with the likes of AS Monaco, Juventus and Olympique de Marseille should come to the fore and see Les Bleus through as group winners.

However, Hitzfeld and his Switzerland side will arguably have their say about that.

 

Prediction

France to win, with Switzerland finishing second.