9 Pivotal Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group E
Finishing atop Group E will be of paramount importance to its four contestants at the upcoming World Cup.
The runner-up will likely have to face Lionel Messi and Argentina in the round of 16, and it goes without saying the bottom two places in the bracket are of zero consequence, anyway.
So there’s really only one spot in the standings that Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras will be positioning for in their head-to-head meetings.
The following slideshow will examine 10 factors that could end up separating the best from the rest—variables that could not only send a team through to the next round but also have it avoid a potential appointment with Argentina in Sao Paulo.
9. Honduras Injuries
Honduras will be keeping a close eye on both Luis Garrido and Oscar Boniek Garcia as they prepare for the World Cup at their base in Miami.
Garrido, who also led Tegucigalpa side Olimpia to a recent title, suffered a muscle strain in training shortly after joining up with Los Catrachos. Although after responding well to treatment, Honduras manager Luis Suarez is hopeful of having the 23-year-old available for the Group E opener against France.
Boniek Garcia, meanwhile, pulled his hamstring during a Major League Soccer match between the Houston Dynamo and the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 18, and the Houston midfielder will no doubt be monitored as he looks to regain full fitness in a short period of time.
8. Ecuador’s Surprise Selections
Ecuador manager Reinaldo Rueda showed a willingness to welcome new faces into his setup when he named both Christian Ramirez and Carlos Gruezo to his 30-man provisional squad in mid-May.
Ramirez, just 19 years old and a Fortuna Dusseldorf left-back, only made his senior debut for La Tri in November, while Gruezo, a Stuttgart midfielder, earned his first cap against the Netherlands on May 17.
Rueda is concerned about his side’s defensive capabilities, and both players could be of use to him in that regard.
7. The Mercurial Karim Benzema
With Karim Benzema, the stats only ever tell part of the story.
In 2013-14, the France striker scored 17 La Liga goals for Real Madrid, but he failed to find the back of the net in seven of his last 10 matches in all competitions ahead of the Champions League final.
Still, when at his best, the 26-year-old is a lethal attacker—as cultured on the ball as he is off it.
Should Benzema hit a purple patch at the 2014 World Cup, look out. France could be a serious player in the latter stages of the competition.
But should the goals, and overall effectiveness, dry up for him, it’s likely Les Bleus could be headed for a premature exit.
6. Switzerland’s Defense
At the 2006 World Cup, Switzerland (which, incidentally, topped a group including France) went out of the competition despite not conceding a single goal from open play.
At the 2010 tournament, they conceded just once in three matches and even shut out Spain 1-0 in Durban.
In 2014, whatever Switzerland manage to accomplish will likely be primarily achieved from the goal out.
In Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez, they possess a pair of top-level full-backs, and 22-year-old centre-back Fabian Schaer has been making a name for himself at Basel these last few seasons.
Scoring against the Swiss could be a difficult assignment in Brazil.
5. Antonio Valencia and a Forgettable Club Campaign
Antonio Valencia started only 20 Premier League matches for Manchester United in 2013-14.
A peripheral figure under former manager David Moyes, he never looked comfortable and ended up having one of the poorest seasons of his career.
No doubt he’ll be looking to hit a rather richer vein of form for Ecuador in June and July.
Valencia is a key player for La Tri, and with 69 caps to his name, he is also one of his country’s most experienced internationals.
Without him operating at full capacity, Ecuador are likely to crash out at the group stage.
Given the size of Brazil and the fact that no one team will be based in a single region throughout the group stage, travel will be a key factor in each of the brackets.
Group E is no exception, and the routes involved happen to favour Honduras.
The Central American side will have a considerably shorter distance to travel in advance of their World Cup opener against France in Porto Alegre, and they’ll cover about half as much ground as Ecuador as both sides converge on Curitiba.
Finally, they’ll have a slightly shorter trip to Manaus for Matchday 3 than Switzerland, although both sides will be traveling more than 4,000 kilometres.
3. Honduran Intimidation
Few sides at the 2014 World Cup will use physicality and aggression to their advantage as much as Honduras.
Often perceived as bullies, Los Catrachos picked up seven yellow cards during the 2010 group stage in South Africa, where their belligerence was especially noticeable in a scoreless draw with Switzerland.
That the Swiss will know what to expect could prove an advantage for the European outfit, and Ecuador will likely give as good as they get.
But the ability of the Hondurans to get under the skin of French internationals, such as Paul Pogba, could be a decisive factor in their June 15 showdown in Porto Alegre.
2. Switzerland’s Youth Movement
Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld named a mostly youthful squad for the 2014 World Cup—not that he had much of a choice.
The youth movement in Swiss football has been a good one, and many of the players who starred in the run to the 2011 UEFA European U-21 Championship (including Yann Sommer, Granit Xhaka, Admir Mehmedi and Xherdan Shaqiri) will be present in Brazil.
How the youngsters cope with the pressure will be crucial to Switzerland’s performance at the tournament, although veterans such as Lichtsteiner, Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami will be there to show the way.
1. Samir Nasri’s Omission
Didier Deschamps has rarely given Samir Nasri a look, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise when the manager left the Manchester City midfielder out of his squad for the 2014 World Cup.
That said, the decision will no doubt be one he’ll have to answer for should Les Bleus fail to make an impact in Brazil.
Nasri, quite simply, was exceptional for Manchester City in 2013-14, and his seven goals and remarkable playmaking ability were key factors in the club securing a second Premier League title in three seasons.
On paper, France will sorely miss him, but Deschamps is taking a gamble that matches aren’t won or lost on paper.