(Photo Courtesy of FIFA)
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Projected Lineup: Noel Valladares, Brayan Beckeles, Emilio Izaguirre, Maynor Figueroa, Victor Bernardez, Luis Garrido, Roger Espinoza, Wilson Palacios, Oscar Garcia, Jerry Bengtson, Carlo Costly
Previous Experience: This is their 2nd appearance in as many World Cup’s and their only other qualification was way back in 1982.
Honduras is going to field a starting 11 that features a majority of players who are in their late 20’s or older. This should give the team a bit more poise than the other, younger teams in the tournament (I am aware of how much of a stretch this is but it is hard to find strengths for this team).
Weaknesses: Take Your Pick
The squad is made up of primarily unknown players and any name you might recognize comes from a bottom of the table EPL or MLS team. They lack an organized attack and do not have a very sturdy defense. Both of these were on display in their qualifying campaign in which they barely snuck into the tournament. If you still aren’t convinced, they just lost to Israel, 4-2 (I rest my case.)
Player to Watch: Jerry Bengtson
The tall, lanky New England Revolution striker was the team’s most dangerous attacker throughout the qualifying stages. He led the team with 9 goals and was close to the top of the list in total goals for any CONCACAF player. Bengtson is a finisher but lacks the ability to make many chances on his own so he will only produce if given the opportunity.
Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Projected Lineup: Diego Benaglio, Ricardo Rodriguez, Steve von Bergen, Fabian Schar, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Gokhan Inler, Valon Behrami, Granit Xhaka, Valentin Stocker, Josip Drmic, Xherdan Shaqiri
Previous Experience: Since 1962 they have only qualified for the World Cup five times. The Swiss were able to make it out of the group stage only twice, with both of those appearances ending in an abrupt loss in the round of 16.
They had an amazing run in the qualifying stage after a very fortuitous draw. The teams that they beat weren’t exactly powerhouses (Slovenia, Albania, Norway, Cyprus and Iceland) but any string of victories on the World Cup stage is good to build up momentum. The Swiss were able to secure a top-8 spot in the FIFA World Ranking, which gives them a seed in the tournament. This seed will help them avoid playing the more difficult teams early on if they make it out of the group.
Weaknesses: Lack of competition
Coming out of the qualifying stages with 7 wins and 3 draws is great for momentum but the Swiss could be in for a shock when they play some real competition in the tournament. France might be an early wake up call for Switzerland and it will be interesting to see how they handle a more competent side.
Player to Watch: Gokhan Inler
Just watch the video. Inler has a real knack for making space and opportunities for himself in the midfield. He can (and will) shoot from anywhere and has the ability to score. Inler currently plays for Napoli but has been recently linked to Liverpool. Expect to see at least one long-range effort by Inler that ends in a goal.
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Projected Lineup: Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Raphael Varane, Mathieu Debuchy, Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Yohan Cabaye, Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema
Previous Experience: In the past four World Cups, France has either made it to the finals (1998 and 2006) or failed to make it out of the group stage (2002 and 2010) so they lack consistency to say the least. A perennial power, France’s name is always in the conversation come World Cup time.
Strengths: A full cast of stars
This team features well-known players at every position and has all the makings of a World Cup champion. Hugo Lloris is very reliable between the pipes if anyone can get past Koscielny at center back. France has one of the most talented, young midfielders in Paul Pogba along with the experience of Laurent Koscielny. The James Bond villain, Franck Ribery, along with Giroud and Benzema highlight the attack for France and will look to make up for the embarrassment that was the 2010 World Cup.
France is a very volatile team and not in the sense of their on field play. Controversy seems to follow the French side around constantly as something always seems to pop up around World Cup time. If France can avoid any off the field issues it seems likely that they will do well in this tournament.
Player to Watch: Franck Ribery
Ribery has been struggling with back issues that kept him out of many games this season for Bayern Munich. There is no doubt that France will be a better team if Ribery is in the line-up. Ribery is a pacey winger who has the ability to dribble and is extremely dangerous when out on the field.
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
Projected Lineup: Alexander Domínguez, Juan Carlos Paredes, Jorge Guagua, Frickson Erazo, Walter Ayoví, Segundo Castillo, Christian Noboa, Jefferson Montero, Antonio Valencia, Enner Valencia, Felipe Caicedo
Previous Experience: This is the 3rd appearance for Ecuador on the World Cup stage in the last 4 tournaments. La Tri failed to qualify in 2010 after a run into the round of 16 in 2006.
Strengths: Location, Location, and Location.
Being from a similar, almost more difficult, location to play in as Brazil, Ecuador has a leg up on both Switzerland and France. The team trains in altitude and will be well acclimated to the hot Brazilian summer. They will look to tire the European sides out and hope that the curse of the European teams in South America continues.
Weaknesses: Size in the Back
The team lacks any size on defense and features a slower, less physical group on the back line. The team will need to find a way to control the midfield and avoid corners at all costs because they will surely be victimized in dead ball situations.
Player to Watch: Antonio Valencia
Arguably the fastest player in Europe, this right-winger will look to get the ball up the field as quickly as possible and create a bit in the middle of the field. He plays a much more pivotal role on the national team than he does at Manchester United so his teammates will be expecting a lot out of him. Look for Valencia to shoot a lot more and cross a lot less than he does at United.