The race for top spot in Group E continues on Friday as Switzerland take on France in Salvador, Brazil. The pair enjoyed opening victories against Ecuador and Honduras, respectively, though their triumphs came in very different styles.
France ran out comprehensive 3-0 winners over Honduras in Porto Alegre, while Switzerland left it to the very last minute to find a way past Ecuador in a 2-1 victory.
Sitting level on points at the top of the group, both sides will fancy their chances of advancing to the last 16, though the prize of winning the group and avoiding a likely meeting with Argentina in the knockout stage makes Friday’s clash that little bit more important.
Venue: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
Date: Friday, June 20
Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET
TV Info: ITV1/ESPN (U.S.)
Switzerland Looking to Upset the Odds
Though the Swiss are officially 11 places ahead of France in the FIFA World Rankings, they come into Friday’s vital Group E match very much as the underdogs.
The French were good value for their 3-0 victory over Honduras on Sunday and could have had more goals in an easy tie for Didier Deschamps’ side.
While Switzerland will prove a much sterner test for France than Honduras, Swiss assistant manager Michel Pont said that facing the star-studded French will be a very difficult task—per AFP, via FIFA.com:
It is extremely difficult to find weaknesses in the France team, it's the first time in 13 years that I've struggled to find them. It is very well organised, compact defence, who make individual sacrifices which is down to the will of the players. We have to find weaknesses by jumping on every opportunity. You have to get at the French and try to disrupt this magnificent machine.
It appears Pont, alongside manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, will send the team out with an attacking mentality—something that proved decisive against Ecuador.
As Squawka Football’s statistics show, Switzerland had the better of the attacking action against Ecuador, and they got their just rewards with Haris Seferovic’s last-gasp winner:
However, while Switzerland will hope their attack hits top gear against the French, they’ll also need to ensure their defence is up to the task of facing some of the best in the business.
Leading the line for France will be Karim Benzema, who netted a brace during Les Bleus’ victory over Honduras and showed that he’s a striker to be feared in Brazil—a sentiment that television presenter Joe Morrison agrees with:
For someone who plays 2nd fiddle to Ronaldo and Bale plus has to endure transfer speculation every summer Karim Benzema is a top performer— Joe Morrison (@joefooty) June 15, 2014
As Opta Joe revealed, the Real Madrid man was at the heart of France’s best moments, managing seven shots on goal during the match:
Aided by the lively Mathieu Valbuena, if Benzema performs in the same vein against Switzerland, it's difficult to imagine his World Cup tally failing to rise as the French head toward the knockout stages.
Key Stats and Prediction (statistics via WhoScored.com)
Switzerland and France haven’t met since 2006, when they played out a 0-0 draw in the World Cup group stage.
The sides have drawn each of their last three matches, dating back to March 2005.
However, France have lost just one of their last 12 internationals—a 2-0 defeat to Ukraine that was reversed in the 2014 World Cup play-offs.
In their last five matches against Switzerland, the French haven’t tasted defeat—winning the two matches that preceded the trio of draws.
Switzerland, meanwhile, come into the tie in strong form of their own—having lost just one match since August 2012.
Though the Swiss are undoubtedly a strong outfit and will pose a threat from the offset, France just about have the edge both tactically and in terms of personnel.
Prediction: France 1-0 Switzerland