2014 World Cup: Breaking down Group E

The Sports NetworkJune 8, 2014 

(SportsNetwork.com) - When it comes to France and the past four World Cups, it has been very much a hit or miss situation.

The team won the tournament as hosts in 1998, and followed it up with a miserable performance in 2002 by failing to advance beyond the group stage.

Les Bleus surprised many around the world by reaching the 2006 World Cup final before falling to Italy on penalty kicks, and true to form, four years later was another disaster as France was once again bounced in the group stage and suffered the embarrassment of having its players revolt after Nicolas Anelka was left out of a group-stage game.

So if recent history is any indication, France is due for a deep run this summer.

After finishing second in its qualifying group to Spain, France fell behind 2-0 after the first leg of its qualifying playoff with Ukraine, but was able to rebound with a 3-0 win in the second leg to reach Brazil.

And now that the team is at the World Cup, head coach Didier Deschamps will hope his side comes together and plays up to its potential, which could mean a run to the quarterfinals and beyond.

The French have easily the most talented roster in Group E despite the absence of star winger Franck Ribery because of a back injury.

Karim Benzema will be the biggest scoring threat for France while Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy offer Deschamps additional options up top.

Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, and Yohan Cabaye make the French formidable in the center of the pitch as they each bring a different skill set to the team to give France some diversity in that area of the field.

No other side in Group E has the kind of balance the French possess, and it should be enough to carry them to the top of the table.

Switzerland and Ecuador will present the biggest threats to France because of their stout defenses, but both teams struggle to score consistently.

The Swiss have yielded just one goal in their last seven World Cup matches, but in order for Ottmar Hitzfeld's side to advance past the group stage, offensive production from the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Valentin Stocker and Josip Drmic will be required.

Ecuador enjoyed some great results at home in qualifying in the altitude of Quito, winning seven of eight games. However, the team failed to win any of its eight away games, leaving questions about Reinaldo Rueda's men.

Most of Ecuador's attack runs through wingers Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero, while Felipe Caicedo must take the place of forward Cristian Benitez, who died tragically last July.

Honduras is making its third appearance at the World Cup and the team will be searching for its first tournament win.

It may not get that elusive victory in Brazil this summer, but expect head coach Luis Fernando Suarez to lead his side to at least a point, which could play a big role in which sides reach the knockout round.

Game of the Group: Ecuador vs. Switzerland (June 15)

France will be favored to emerge as the winners of Group E, so this meeting between Ecuador and Switzerland to open group play will be pivotal in determining who joins Les Bleus in the next round. Neither of these two teams is known for its scoring punch, so goals could be at a premium in this contest. But if there is a winner from this match, that team will take a huge step toward reaching the knockout round, while a loss in this fixture could be too much to overcome.

Player to Watch: Paul Pogba (France)

Pogba may be just 21 years of age and playing in his first major tournament for France, but the Juventus standout will play a key role in how far France goes at the World Cup. Ribery's absence means that Pogba's offensive output is even more important for the French as he will need to help Karim Benzema shoulder some of the scoring load.

Head coach Didier Deschamps decided to leave home midfielder Samir Nasri, in the belief that Pogba will give Les Bleus more from his midfield position.

Physically Pogba is the total package as he is a lethal combination of size, speed and power. He can score with long-distance rockets and also has the ability to set up a teammate with a deft touch.

The former Manchester United man tallied seven goals with seven assists for Serie A champions Juventus this past season, and his skill set will give France some diversity in its attack.

Breakout Player: Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)

Switzerland may have one of the most impressive defensive records at the past two World Cups, but the Swiss must get more production in the offensive third to have any chance at making an extended run in Brazil.

And that is where Shaqiri comes into play.

The 22-year-old will be one of the main pieces in a Swiss attack that must do better than the one goal it scored four years ago in South Africa.

Shaqiri was a standout at FC Basel before moving to Bayern Munich two years ago, and although he has failed to become a regular with the German giants, he is playing with some of the top players in the world on a regular basis, which can only enhance his development.

He notched six goals in 17 Bundesliga appearances this season, but he will play a much bigger role with the Swiss in Brazil, where he must score goals and play provider for teammates Valentin Stocker and Josip Drmic.

Predictions:

Group Winner: France

France has been one of the most unpredictable sides at the World Cup in recent years, but an infusion of some new talent like Pogba and defender Raphael Varane should freshen up the side and give it a needed injection of youth. France will have plenty of incentive to top the group as finishing in second place would likely mean a meeting with Argentina in the second round.

Second Place: Switzerland

Switzerland doesn't need to score a ton of goals, but it needs to score enough. The Swiss have plenty of talent in the back and they don't figure to give away many goals. But the question is whether or not they can score one or two when needed. The bet is that they do just enough to edge out Ecuador and finish second before heading home after a loss to Argentina in the next round.

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