World Cup preview: Group E

Sports Mole takes a closer look at Group E at this summer's World Cup, with France among those vying to qualify for the second round.

SWITZERLAND

How they qualified: The Swiss were dominant during qualifying as an unbeaten run saw them finish seven points above second-placed Iceland in Group E. They recorded a total of seven wins from 10 games, while three of their fixtures ended in draws. One notable result saw them take part in a remarkable 4-4 draw with Iceland in Bern.

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld: This World Cup is a final bow for the 65-year-old German, who will be retiring from management after the tournament. Hitzfeld enjoyed a long and distinguished coaching career with clubs such as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich before taking charge of Switzerland in 2008. He guided the team to the 2010 World Cup before they were knocked out in the group stage, while a failure to qualify for Euro 2012 represented a rare blemish on his CV. A hugely-respected figure in football, Hitzfeld will be eager to go out with a flourish.

Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld speaks to members of the media after the Final Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 6, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Quarter-finals, 1934, 1938, 1954

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel)

Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo)

Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Goekhan Inler (Napoli)Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel)

Strikers: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

Three Key Players:

Xherdan Shaqiri: The star of Swiss football, big things are expected of the Bayern Munich winger at this summer's tournament. Shaqiri's combination of pace and power has seen him linked with a number of big clubs across Europe in recent years, and the World Cup represents an opportunity to put himself out there amid rumours that he could leave the German champions in the coming months. If the Swiss are going to get out of their group they will need Shaqiri to be at his blistering best.

Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates scoring for Switzerland on October 12, 2012.© Getty Images

Blerim Dzemaili: The Napoli midfielder is a dynamic presence in the centre of the park thanks to his powerful runs and keen eye for goal. Dzemaili chipped in with seven goals for his club last season, and you would not bet against him finding the net out in Brazil. Not only that, but he is also a surprisingly skilful player despite his stocky frame. With 32 caps to his name, Dzemaili also has plenty of experience at international level.

Josip Drmic: Despite having won only five caps for his country, Drmic is one of Swiss football's most promising talents. During his short time in the senior squad, the 21-year-old has scored twice. Drmic netted 21 goals for Nuremberg in the Bundesliga last season - a run of form that saw him earn a move to Bayer Leverkusen ahead of the 2014-15 campaign. Get him inside the penalty box and he becomes lethal.


ECUADOR

How they qualified: The Ecuadorians had a patchy qualifying campaign as seven wins, four draws and five defeats secured them a fourth-placed finish in the CONMEBOL table. One of their most satisfying results was a 1-1 draw against the might of Argentine, while they also beat group runners-up Colombia 1-0. Their goal in that match was scored by the late Christian Benitez, who tragically died during the team's bid to reach the finals. His number 11 shirt was retired following his passing in July 2013.

Manager: Reinaldo Rueda: The 57-year-old is a seasoned manager at international level thanks to spells in charge of Colombia and Honduras. Having taken over Ecuador in 2010, Rueda has received widespread praise in the country for helping to progress the team. With former employers Honduras in the same group as Ecuador, Reuda's presence on the touchline will provide an intriguing sub-plot when those two sides meet.

Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda waves to supporters before a match against Honduras on November 19, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Second round, 2006

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Alexander Dominguez (Liga de Quito), Maximo Banguera (Barcelona, Ecuador), Adrian Bone (El Nacional)

Defenders: Jorge Guagua (Emelec), Gabriel Achilier (Emelec), Oscar Bagui (Emelec), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona, Ecuador), Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Christian Ramirez (Fortuna), John Narvaez (Emelec)

Midfielders: Pedro Quinonez (Emelec), Luis Fernando Saritama (Barcelona, Ecuador), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal), Christian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse), Edison Mendez (Santa Fe), Oswaldo Minda (Barcelona), Michael Arroyo (Atlante), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana)

Strikers: Armando Wila (Universidad Catolica), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Cristian Penilla (Barcelona, Ecuador), Angel Mena (Emelec)

Three Key Players:

Antonio Valencia: The Manchester United winger is a permanent fixture in the Ecuadorian team having won 69 caps since 2005. Viewers of the Premier League will be familiar with his style of play: head down and run. While it has not always been effective in England, his dynamic approach could reap dividends out in Brazil. Valencia's ability to play at full-back is also a big asset for the Ecuadorians.

Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia celebrates scoring for Ecuador on June 27, 2007.© Getty Images

Jefferson Montero: With Antonio Valencia out on the right wing, Ecuador have a player with similar speed down the left in Montero. The 24-year-old endured a tough spell out in Spain with Villarreal a few years ago, but he has been rejuvenated in recent seasons following a move to Mexican outfit Morelia. He is also handy for the occasional goal at international level, scoring eight times in 38 appearances for his country.

Felipe Caicedo: Big and powerful, there is no doubting that Caicedo will be more than a handful for defences at this summer's tournament. He made a big mark in qualifying as his seven goals helped to propel Ecuador towards qualification. He is not always the most consistent performer (just ask Manchester City fans), but he is the type of striker who always has a chance of creating something out of nothing.


FRANCE

How they qualified: Despite being drawn in the same group as holders Spain, the French had no problems navigating their way through qualifying. Five wins from eight matches saw them finish in second place in Group I, while their only defeat came against the reigning champions. While a large bulk of their goals were shared out among a handful of players, it was Franck Ribery who came out as their top scorer after finding the net five times. Their biggest victory was a 3-0 victory over Finland in Paris.

Manager: Didier Deschamps: The 45-year-old, who captained France to World Cup glory in 1998, has been credited with bringing back a sense of discipline to the international setup following the managerial spells of Raymond Domenech and Laurent Blanc. A man who is not afraid to do what he feels is right, Deschamps caused a stir by leaving Samir Nasri out of his squad for the World Cup. While Nasri will be missing in Brazil, Deschamps has a group of players at his disposal that are more then capable of reaching the latter stages of the tournament.

France head coach Didier Deschamps during a press conference on November 11, 2013© AFP

Previous World Cup best: Winners, 1998

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mickaël Landreau (Bastia)

Defenders: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle United), Lucas Digne (Paris Saint-Germain) Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-Germain), Clement Grenier (Lyon), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille)

Strikers: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Loic Remy (Newcastle), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)

Three Key Players:

Laurent Koscielny: For all of their world-class attacking talent, Les Bleus have an exceptional defender at the heart of their backline in the form of Koscielny. The 28-year-old was an important presence for the Gunners in the Premier League last season, and his committed style of play provides a good balance to the flair of those in front of him for France. Having already won 16 caps for the national team, expect the centre-back to be a mainstay in the French side for years to come.

Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in action for France against Ukraine on November 15, 2013.© Getty Images

Paul Pogba: One of the most exciting talents in European football, Pogba is the type of modern midfielder that makes you go weak at the knees. Big, powerful, and possessing superb control of the ball, the 21-year-old has it all. He has also made a big impact at international level during a relatively short time, scoring three goals in 10 games for France following his debut last year.

Franck Ribery: The Bayern Munich forward remains one of the most enthralling players in world football thanks to a blend of tenacity, blistering pace and deadly finishing. Now 31, Ribery recently suggested that this would be his last World Cup. If that is the case, expect him to be giving his all out on the pitch in Brazil. With all of that said, Ribery is also something of a divisive figure. Not always one to embrace team unity, his petulance could land him in trouble both on and off the pitch this summer.


HONDURAS

How they qualified: The Hondurans performed solidly in CONCACAF qualifying as four wins, three draws and three defeats put them through to Brazil. The opened their campaign with an impressive 2-1 win over eventual group winners the USA before victories against Jamaica, Mexico and Peru helped guide them into the finals.

Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez: The 54-year-old heads to the World Cup for the second time as manager after taking Ecuador to the 2006 finals. In Germany, Suarez led the Ecuadorians to the second round before they were beaten 1-0 by England thanks to a David Beckham free kick. Suarez was appointed manager of Honduras in 2011 following a brief spell in charge of Peruvian side Juan Aurich.

Honduras head coach Luis Fernando Suarez stands on the touchline on March 05, 2014.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Group stage, 1982, 2010

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Noel Valladares (Olimpia), Donis Escober (Olimpia), Luis Lopez (Real Espana)

Defenders: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia), Arnold Peralta (Rangers), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Juan Carlos Garcia (Wigan), Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Qingdao Jonoon), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua)

Midfielders: Luis Garrido (Olimpia), Roger Espinoza (Wigan), Jorge Claros (Motagua), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Oscar Boniek Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Chavez (Colorado Rapids)

Strikers: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense), Carlo Costly (Real Espana), Rony Martinez (Real Sociedad)

Three Key Players:

Maynor Figueroa: The Hull City defender is a key member of the Honduran squad thanks to his wealth of experience at international level. With over 100 caps under his belt, the 31-year-old's versatility is also going to be of importance to the team. A composed figure both at full-back and centre-back, Figuero's seven years in the Premier League will should count for a lot when he and his teammates get out to Brazil.

Hull City defender Maynor Figueroa in action for Honduras against Ecuador on November 19, 2013.© Getty Images

Emilio Izaguirre: An impressive talent at full-back, Izaguirre's determination and sheer force of will is exactly what Honduras will need in Brazil when they come up against the likes of France. Having helped Celtic claim their third consecutive Scottish Premiership title last season, the 28-year-old is sure to arrive at the tournament full of confidence. Dogged while performing his defensive duties, Izaguirre is also capable of terrorising opposition defences with his marauding runs.

Carlo Costly: The 31-year-old striker has a strong goal-scoring record for his country with 30 goals in 68 games. There is no question that Costly is lethal when it comes to putting the ball in the net, but there are plenty of doubts over how committed he is to the cause. In a career that has seen him switch clubs about once every 30 seconds, Costly's enigmatic persona could see him unexpectedly explode on the world stage.


Group E fixtures (KO UK time)

Sunday, June 15
Switzerland vs. Ecuador, 5pm
France vs. Honduras, 8pm

Friday, June 20
Switzerland vs. France, 8pm
Honduras vs. Ecuador, 11pm

Wednesday, June 25
Ecuador vs. France, 9pm
Honduras vs. Switzerland, 9pm

Sports Mole says: 1. France 2. Switzerland 3. Ecuador 4. Honduras

Carlo Costly celebrates scoring for Honduras against Ecuador on November 19, 2013.
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