Our 2014 World Cup preview continues with a look at the teams of Groups E & F. Part 3 in a 4-part series.
By Matthew Hernon
Heavily criticized for their negative approach in 2006 and 2010, the Swiss are a far more entertaining side to watch these days. Led by renowned German boss Ottmar Hitzfeld, they play a 4-2-3-1 formation with full backs Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichtsteiner regularly looking to get forward in support of the wingers. Quarter-finals could be possible if they can avoid Argentina in round two.
Memorable WC Moment—Josef Hügi grabs his second as Switzerland take a 3-0 lead over Austria in front of home fans at the La Pontaise Stadium in Lausanne. A place in the Semi-finals of the 1954 World Cup seems all but guaranteed.
Trivia—Unfortunately for Switzerland they couldn’t hold on to that lead and ended up losing the match 7-5. It remains the highest scoring game in World Cup in history.
Key Player—Gökhan Inler (Napoli)
One to Watch—Josip Drmić (Bayer Leverkusen)
You never know what France team will turn up. In the last four World Cups they’ve appeared in two finals and been knocked out in the first round twice. They showed similar inconsistencies in their play-off game with Ukraine, abjectly losing the first leg 2-0, before coming back strongly in the second, winning 3-0. The injury to Frank Ribery, a key player in that victory, is a major setback.
Memorable WC Moment—Emmanuel Petit puts the gloss on a slick French performance as Les Bleus defeat Brazil 3-0 in 1998 to claim their first ever World Cup in front of a jubilant Stade de France crowd.
Trivia—Forty years earlier Just Fontaine scored an incredible 13 goals in just six games at the World Cup in Sweden. It was the highest number of goals scored by a player at a single tournament- a record which still stands today.
Key Player—Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
One to Watch—Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Least fancied of the six South American sides, La Tri overcame the tragic death of popular striker Christian ‘Chucho’Benitez last year, to finish above Uruguay in the South American qualifiers. Their success was mainly down to their home form – they won seven, drew one out of eight fixtures playing at high altitude in capital city Quito. They aren’t as strong when playing under normal conditions.
Memorable WC Moment—Edison Mendez fires the ball home against Croatia at the 2002 tournament in Japan/Korea to give Ecuador their first ever World Cup victory.
Trivia—Ecuador were hoping to retire the number 11 jersey as a mark of respect for the late Christian Benitez, but FIFA said it was against the rules. His close friend Felipe Caceido will wear it in Chucho’s honour.
Key Player—Antonio Valencia (Man Utd)
One to Watch—Jefferson Montero (Monarcas Morelia)
The Government declared a national holiday after Los Catrachos defied the odds to finish above Mexico in their CONCACAF qualifying group. It would be an even bigger shock if they managed to claim that elusive first World Cup victory in Brazil. 2,500-1 outsiders, they are an aging squad who are likely to be on the back foot for most of the tournament, hoping to hit their opponents on the break.
Memorable WC Moment—Hector Telaya strokes the ball home to give Honduras a shock lead against hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup. The home side, who were expected to thrash their inferior opponents, are saved by a penalty late on.
Trivia—In 1969 a conflict broke out between Honduras and El Salvador shortly after the two countries had played three bitterly contested World Cup qualifying matches. The short war was actually caused by severe economic and demographic problems, however, it became known as the “Football War.”
Key Player—Carlo Costly (Real España)
One to Watch—Andy Najar (Anderlecht)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
With the “Los Cuatro Fantásticos”—the fantastic four—of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, Albiceleste certainly have the firepower to go all the way in Brazil. Coach Alejandro Sabella described them as an “anarchic team, with very anarchic players”—in other words great to watch, but lacking any real tactical discipline. That could cost them in the latter stages.
Memorable WC Moment—Diego Maradona’s goals and assists in 1986 will never be forgotten, but the most important goal in Argentina’s history is undoubtedly Mario Kempes’ extra-time strike on the ticker tape covered pitch against the Dutch in the 1978 final.
Trivia—Argentina numbered their players alphabetically in those days. Coincidentally their star man Mario Kempes got the iconic number 10 jersey. He was supposed to have it again four years later, but seeing how much Diego Maradona wanted it, he decided to hand it over.
Key Player—Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
One to Watch—Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Set to make their World Cup bow, Bosnia are a decent outside bet for a place in the Quarter-finals. An attack-minded side, they have a creative midfield and in Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević, they also boast a formidable forward line. They are not so strong defensively, but should sill have enough quality to finish above Iran and Nigeria. Opener against Argentina could be a cracker.
Memorable WC Moment—Vedad Ibišević scores the goal against Lithuania that sends Bosnia through to their first ever World Cup, sparking huge celebrations in Sarajevo.
Trivia—A total of 76 teams have competed at the World Cup since the first tournament in 1930, Bosnia will become the 77th when they kick off their campaign on June 16.
Key Player—Edin Džeko (Man City)
One to Watch—Miralem Pjanić (Roma)
Have failed to win any of their last eight World Cup games and were particularly poor in South Africa in 2010, though they have shown real signs of improvement under the leadership of Stephen Keshi. 2013 African Cup of Nations winners, they are quite strong at the back, but lack a real spark in the final third. Victory against Iran in the opening game is essential.
Memorable WC Moment—Rashid Yekini’s grips the net and wails in delight after scoring Nigeria’s opening goal of their debut World Cup in 1994. It was one of the lasting memories of that tournament.
Trivia—Playing at the back for the Super Eagles that day was current Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi. He guided Togo to their first ever World Cup in 2006, but was sacked shortly before the tournament.
Key Player—Vincent Enyeama (Lille)
One to Watch—Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow)
Carlos Queiroz has instilled a sense of discipline in the Iranian side, who are now more difficult to break down than they’d been previously. They conceded just two goals in qualification – fewer than any other team, the problem, however, has been at the other end, where they managed to find the net just eight times in eight games. It will be even more difficult against superior opposition in Brazil.
Memorable WC Moment—“Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hand,” Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives his message to the team after they defeat USA at the 1998 World Cup in one of the most politically charged games of all time.
Trivia—Steven Beitashour, who watched that game as an 11-year-old with mixed feelings from his home in San Jose, has been called up to the Iranian squad and is expected to start as their right-back.
Key Player—Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic)
One to Watch—Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC)