When Brazil comes around, we will undoubtedly see a few teams in the knockout stage that we didn’t expect to be there.
While Group E isn’t necessarily the least talented group of the eight, it could easily provide one or two of those underdogs advancing from the group stage.
France may have the reputation here as the clear leader of an interesting set of teams, but Switzerland comes in with the highest FIFA world ranking at No. 6.
This may be shocking to just about everyone who hasn’t been paying close attention to the Swiss, a team that has never won a major trophy and hasn’t even been to a World Cup quarterfinal since 1954. Honestly, this is probably even shocking to the people of Switzerland.
Their high ranking might be the result of an easier schedule, especially in their World Cup Qualifying group which put them against the likes of Iceland, Slovenia and Norway. However, no team reaches a top-10 world ranking without having at least some talent.
There are two players in particular that the world will be watching when this side opens play up against Ecuador on June 15, the first being Napoli’s Gokhan Inler. The 29-year-old will have many responsibilities in the midfield, both offensively and defensively, but he is going to need a lot of help.
The second is Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri. Coming in with a career total of eight international goals at the age of 22, Shaqiri has shown much promise on the wing for Germany’s most dominant club. If the Swiss can get solid contributions from the rest of their offense and their aging defense, they will be a strong candidate to make it out of the first round.
Personally, I believe that France is going to flat-out dominate this group. With the sour taste of South Africa’s hugely disappointing early exit, this resurgent squad will be sure to come out firing on all cylinders in an effort to redeem itself.
They may not be the superpower they once were, but coming in at No. 18 in the world, the French will definitely have a chip on their shoulder as they try to re-establish their dominance.
Franck Ribery finished right behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for last year’s Ballon d’Or, and at the ripe age of 30 he will definitely be looking to make his long awaited mark on the world’s biggest stage.
The sturdy, reliable goalscoring abilities of Karim Benzema will need to be present for France as well. While many Real Madrid fans would have rather had him gone than Gonzalo Higuain, the departure of Higuain has made Benzema the clear number one target at his club, just as he is for his country, and he has played excellently this last year.
You will find talent wherever you look on this team, but the young midfield of Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi is one of my favorite combinations in the world. With a near unstoppable mixture of power and grace both offensively and defensively, these two rising stars will see their popularity rise greatly once in Brazil, as well as their stock.
On the defensive side, nearly all of France’s key players come from the English Premier League, the world’s most competitive soccer league.
Hugo Lloris has had some struggles this year at Tottenham, but he is the captain of an experienced back four that will likely consist of Man U’s Patrice Evra, Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane, Man City’s Gael Clichy and either Mamadou Sakho or Laurent Koscielny at the other center back.
Every one of these players has a key role on an expensive club outside of their home country. At least if they disappoint once again, they can go back to England or Spain and won’t have to go back to their own fans in shame.
To round out Group E, we have No. 24 Ecuador and No. 40 Honduras. Ecuador’s Edison Mendez and Antonio Valencia will be a threat against any defense they face in Brazil, but they will have to play well beyond their expectations in order to have any chance of really making a mark on the tournament.
For Honduras, one of the least talented sides in the tournament, they will need to rely on a strong defense if they’re going to have any hopes of advancing. Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios will be the key figure for a team hoping to come away with an upset or two in the group stages.
France and Switzerland should be the two teams advancing out of this group, but don’t be surprised if Ecuador sneaks away with an upset that knocks Switzerland out.