Globe and Mail columnist John Doyle will be covering the World Cup in Brazil. Here is his look at who to watch and what to expect in Group E.
Qualified with ease and unbeaten but a team nobody picks to achieve much. Underrated, probably, with a group of players chosen from top clubs in the German Bundesliga. Key player is Xherdan Shaqiri, a roving, probing midfielder and essential part of the Bayern Munich team.
A team off the radar of many pundits, as it has few stars and tends to be dogged, not delightful, in style. Antonio Valencia of Manchester United is the best known, internationally, but the emerging star is striker Enner Valencia who has shone for his club Pachuca in Mexico. A South America-based World Cup suits a team like Ecuador, but the key is holding firm against two strong European teams in Switzerland and France.
France. After imploding at World Cup 2010 in South Africa, France has clawed its way back to the top. Only in France’s 3-0 defeat of Ukraine in a qualifying play-off did it look formidable. Given the talent available to manager Didier Deschamps, it would be unwise to ignore this team’s ability to reach the Quarterfinals. The late loss of Franck Ribéry is a huge blow, but in Karim Benzema France has one of the best, highly paid goal scorers in the world and youngster Remy Cabella might blossom on the big stage.
Possibly a surprise package, Honduras did surprisingly well at the Olympics in London and much of that young team will be at this World Cup. The best known payer is Wilson Palacios, toiling intermittently for Stoke City in the EPL, but the key player is goalkeeper Noel Valladares, rock-steady always. Honduras hopes to win one game and that, in fairness, would be a major achievement.
Player to Watch: Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland. Sweeping passes and tactical sophistication mean he can change any game.
Game to Watch: Switzerland v France. This will determine the first and second places in the Group.
Predicted Order of Finish: France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras