Nickname: La Tri
FIFA Ranking: 26 / Elo Ranking: 2
Qualified: CONEMBOL (S. America) 4th Place
Apperance: 3rd - Best Finish: Round of 16 (2006)
Head Coach: Reinaldo Rueda (COL)
MLS CONNECTION: Oswaldo Minda, MID, Chivas USA
Another South American squad that used a dominating home performance to advance in qualifying, Ecuador went an unbeaten 7-0-1 in its eight home matches. In their second to last game, Ecuador defeated Uruguay 1-0 at home, which gave La Tri and 3-point cushion going into the final match day. While Ecuador lost at Chile and Uruguay defeated Argentina at home, Ecuador would win the goal difference tiebreaker and qualify for the World Cup and forcing Uruguay into the playoff.
Felipe Caicedo led Ecuador with 7 goals scored in qualification and while Ecuador's 20 goals scored were the lowest of the five qualified teams from South America, their 16 goals against is the second best.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Antonio Valencia, MID, Manchester United (ENG) - The versatile winger is one of the most well-known player on Ecuador's roster. The other would have been Christian "Chucho" Benitez, who died suddenly last summer while playing for his club team in Qatar.
PLAYERS WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Felipe Caicedo and Enner Valencia, Strikers - Caicedo has the international experience with 50 caps and 15 goals internationally at only the age of 25, but at the same age, it's Enner Valencia (no relation to Antonio) who scored once in each of the send-off matches vs. Mexico and England.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Loss 1-3 vs. Mexico, Draw 2-2 vs. England
I think Ecuador has a good chance to advance out of this group, and I might have picked them to win it because you always vote South America when the World Cup is on the continent. With that being said, like Chile, I think this is a team that plays a very good brand of soccer and they play as a team, even with a few notable stars on the international stage. And I'm sure the squad will want to win a few games, or even the group, for their fallen teammate Benitez.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME (1-2 Loss vs. SUI)
Well, there goes my surprise upset pick to win the group, but that doesn't mean they still can't advance, it's just going to be a lot harder. Beating Honduras is a must now as well as getting a result against France, either a win or a draw, which is easier said than done. Probably should have beaten the Swiss and certainly earned a tie until that late counter in stoppage time.
Nickname: Les Bleus
FIFA Ranking: 17 / Elo Ranking: 12
Qualified: Runner Up UEFA (Europe) Group I, defeated Ukraine 3-2 in aggregate playoffs.
Appearance: 14th - Best Finish: Champions (1998, as hosts)
Head Coach: Didier Deschamps (FRA)
They finished runners up to Spain in Group I, losing 0-1 at home for their only loss in the group stage of qualification. Drawn against Ukraine in the playoff round, Les Bleus dropped the opening game away 0-2, meaning they would need to win by three goals without conceding to ensure a spot in Brazil. In the return leg at the Stade de France, Mamadou Sakho's 72nd minute goal, his second of the match, put France ahead 3-0 and France would close out the match, clinching a spot at the World Cup in dramatic fashion.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Karim Benzema, FWD, Real Madrid (SPA) - Surprisingly, there's not a lot of players on this roster with a lot of goals at the international level, so Benzema's 24 goals in 68 caps is the leader on the roster by far.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Hugo Lloris, GK, Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) - There are a lot of people who say he's the best keeper in the world, and at age 27 it hard to argue against the Spurs keeper. He has 59 international caps and will be playing in his second World Cup.
SEND OFF MATCHES
France on paper has a dangerous squad capable of getting very far in this tournament, but it's also well documented that France is a bit unpredictable in major tournaments. They followed up their 1998 title with a 28th overall place in Korea-Japan, 2nd place at Germany in 2006 and of course the dumpster fire that was their 2010 tournament in South Africa where they finished 29th. If that pattern holds, they're due for a big comeback at the World Cup.
AFTER THEIR FIRST GAME (3-0 Win vs. HON)
Very solid, but that probably what you should expect from a top team versus a group minnow. If they come out like they did against Switzerland and Ecuador, they'll be a serious threat in the knockout stages.
Nickname: Los Catrachos
FIFA Ranking: 33 / Elo Ranking: 44
Qualified: CONCACAF (N. America) 3rd Place
Appearance: 3rd - Best Finish: Group Stage (1982, 2010)
Head Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez (COL)
It was an up and down qualifying campaign for Honduras, who started the competition by defeating the United States 2-0 and tying Mexico at 2-2 at San Pedro Sula. Honduras didn't have a problem scoring goals, but they conceded 12 goals defensively, the most of any CONCACAF team who qualified for the World Cup.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Roger Espinoza, MID, Wigan (ENG) - The former Sporting Kansas City man is going to have to do it all from the left midfield spot, being tasked with not only starting the attack but also shutting down the flank defensively. With a back line that isn't considered a strength, keeping and generating chances from possession will be key for Espinoza and Honduras.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Carlo Costly, FWD, Real Espana (HON) - The veteran striker has 71 caps and 31 international goals and along with Bengtson lead the team with four goals in The Hex. If Honduras has any chance of staying a few of these games, Costly and the rest of the Catrachos attack will have to convert their chances.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Loss 0-2 vs. Turkey, Loss 2-4 vs. Israel, Draw 0-0 vs. England
This is not a team that is coming into the World Cup in good form. They looked awful against Turkey and Israel in the send-off series and their defense continues to be suspect. Even the Catrachos vaunted midfield of Espinoza, Najar and Wilson Palacios looked pedestrian at times, struggling to generate possession and service for their strikers.
AFTER THEIR FIRST GAME (Loss 0-3 vs. FRA)
Yikes, that was bad. Only one shot on goal and most of the other shots were from well outside the area. Palacios got a red card late in the first half and forced Honduras to play the entire second half a man down. All things considered, a 0-3 loss could have been a lot worse, but it does mean that two results (a win and a draw) against Ecuador and Switzerland will be needed to get out of the group.
Nickname: La Nati
FIFA Ranking: 6 / Elo Ranking: 14
Qualified: UEFA (Europe) Group E, 1st Place
Appearance: 9th - Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954 as hosts)
Head Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld (GER)
ROSTER BREAKDOWN: 4 Domestic, 12 Germany, 5 Italy, 1 England, 1 Spain
It wasn't exactly a murderer's row of European giants in Group I, but Iceland, Slovenia and Norway aren't exactly bad. The Swiss went unbeaten with a 7-0-3 record, with draws against Slovenia and Norway at home and shockingly, Cyprus away.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Gokhan Inler, MID, Napoli (ITA) - The Serie A midfielder impressed the heck out of me four years ago, when he captained Switzerland to a 1-0 shock win over Spain in the group stage at South Africa. He's still got the captain's armband and he's still a vital part of everything the Swiss will have to do to advance to the knockout stages.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Diego Benaglio, GK, Wolfsburg (GER) - There's not a lot of experience for the Swiss in net, Benaglio's 59 caps internationally make backups Yann Sommer (6 caps) and Roman Burki (0 caps) look like rookies. If Benaglio can make a few big stops, Switzerland can make some noise in this group and maybe the Round of 16.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Win 1-0 vs. Jamaica, Win 2-0 vs. Peru
This is a county that didn't qualify for the World Cup from 1970-1990, but since USA 1994, the Swiss have qualified three times and made it out of the group twice. They shocked Spain in the group stage last tournament but finished third in the group and were eliminated. They probably aren't worthy of being the 8th seeded team, but while I'm not picking them to get out of the group, they could finish second.
AFTER THEIR FIRST GAME
Well if that's not stealing three points, I don't know what is. That was the swing game I had the Swiss losing but they stole it at the death, setting themselves up to get out of the group if they can get a win against Honduras in their final game.
June 15: Switzerland 2, Ecuador 1
June 15: France 3, Honduras 0
June 20: Switzerland vs. France, 3PM, ESPN, Salvador
June 20: Honduras vs. Ecuador, 6PM, ESPN, Curitiba
June 25: Honduras vs. Switzerland, 4PM, ESPN2, Manaus
June 25: Ecuador vs. France, 4PM, ESPN, Rio de Janeiro
PREDICTIONS: 1) Ecuador 2) France 3) Switzerland 4) Honduras
Since the World Cup is in South America, home continent advantage is huge so we'll give the edge to Ecuador in this group as we wait so see if this France team is for real. The Swiss are the likely third place finishers and Honduras will be lucky to just earn a result with their current form.