The group epitomising the Europe vs. America tussle gets underway in Brazil on Sunday, as Switzerland take on Ecuador in the Group E curtain-raiser.
Alongside France and Honduras, Switzerland and Ecuador will be fighting for a place in the knockout stage, and every nation will fancy their chances of progression—but it won’t come easily.
Though the Swiss are the highest-rated side on paper, they’ll face a stern test when their campaign begins on Sunday against an Ecuador outfit looking to emulate their exploits of 2006 by reaching the round of 16.
Venue: Estadio Nacional de Brasilia
Date: Sunday, June 15
Time: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1/ABC
Switzerland Ready for Group-Stage Battle
Though hardly the most daunting of groups for Switzerland—the sixth-best side on the planet, according to FIFA's world rankings—they’re more than aware of the advantage all South American nations have heading into the tournament.
With temperatures and humidity sky-high throughout the month of action, European sides will likely find it difficult to cope with the physical demands that a World Cup brings.
Then, of course, there’s the added pressure of no European nation ever lifting the World Cup in South America.
A European team has never won a FIFA World Cup in South America.— Uber Football Fact (@UberFootFact) December 20, 2013
Playing conditions in Brazil mean that Ecuador will be able to treat Sunday’s clash as a home encounter, while the Swiss will be the weary travellers.
Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld reiterated just how tough a task his side face in front of them during an interview with Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, as FIFA.com reported:
It cannot be a coincidence that a European team couldn't win a World Cup held in South America. Not in Uruguay, not in Mexico, not in Argentina and for sure not in Brazil. It's a very strong group. All three teams are not easy to beat, otherwise they would not be qualified for the World Cup. But we have had a very good preparation so far. We do have the potential to qualify for the round of the last 16. That is our goal. Then there are no limits.
Hitzfeld’s first hurdle on his quest for the knockout stage is Ecuador, who come into the tournament off the back of some strong form.
Steve Douglas of The Associated Press weighed in on Switzerland's form prior to the match:
From being the bores of the last two World Cups, Switzerland could be one of the draws of the 2014 tournament as retiring coach Ottmar Hitzfeld puts his faith in an exciting younger generation in Brazil.
According to SoccerWay, Ecuador have lost just two of their last nine matches—claiming draws against the likes of Argentina, the Netherlands and England in that time with a victory over Uruguay to boot.
Reinaldo Rueda’s side’s physical approach will undoubtedly cause Switzerland problems, and they must use their fitness and strength to their advantage if they’re to claim all three points in Brasilia.
Ecuador midfielder Edison Mendez believes that Sunday’s clash is an all-or-nothing fixture and told EFE that he feels the match has all the ingredients of a six-pointer, per FourFourTwo:
"The first match will be important not to lose. Against Switzerland it is for is six points, not three. They are a direct rival and we have to get the points. (A win) gives us the ability to fight against France and against Honduras."
However, with Switzerland unbeaten in their last 11 World Cup matches, per WhoScored.com, and failing to lose during qualifying, it’s hard to see Mendez and Co. grinding out a result on Sunday.
Belgium were 1 of 7 teams that were unbeaten in European qualifying. Others: England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 6, 2013
The victor of Group E’s opener will hold a massive advantage in the race for knockout-stage progression, but as Netherlands’ 5-1 victory over Spain on Friday taught us, nothing can be taken for granted in a World Cup.
With France looking like qualifying with relative ease, getting three points on the board at the first time of asking for either Switzerland or Ecuador will be crucial on their road to success.