Not many teams will be more happy with their draw than La Furia Roja, who have every right to feel they will saunter through this group, with all the ease they exhibited in qualifying. There is definite talent in the other teams, but Espanola are in a league of their own here.
Even if Spain managed to pull out that old ‘under achiever’ trick of theirs, which has seen none of their captains hoist Jules Rimes, expect them to win this group. The other teams strengths all lie in their set up and passion, more often not in the talent of the individuals, and I think only one player from the three other nations could challenge for a seat on the plane from Spain, were that his nationality.
Torres, Villa, Iniesta, Xavi et al will rip through the first two matches against Switzerland and Honduras, and if Del Bosque gets lucky he might even feel free to award his stars a siesta for the third game.
As with so many World Cup groups, it is the second spot that is most interesting; an event caused by the existence of a world elite and FIFA’s seeding system. All three sets of fans are shouting out their case, but who is shouting the loudest?
Chile are the bookies favorites, and certainly they are the ones with the most on paper. ‘La Loco’ means the mad man, and he is in charge. Marcelo Bielsa is another manager in the vein of Maradona and Domenech, with just two differences. He is proven, and he is liked in the nation he leads. He led them to second place in the South American qualifying group (beating two nations with tournament wins to their name), with just one point less than Brazil, who they beat in Rio.
The reason for this is Bielsa’s innovative and exciting formation; a 3-4-3, designed to score a lot of goals. The strike force contains one of the most exciting prospects in world football in Alexis Sanchez, and they can even play two games in one day, a trick that probably won’t be too useful in South Africa.
Switzerland don’t weigh in far behind Chile at all, and there are figures to prove it. FIFA’s latest fabrication world ranking puts the Swiss literally one place behind Chile – in 18th to Chile’s 17th. They are built around a solid defence and would be difficult to break into (just like the country). Problem is that (like the country) they aren’t much for the offensive, and that could hold them back to some extent.
Honduras are similar in that they are biased to the back of the XI. Palacios is the highlight, but there is some other talent in the team (Costly) as well. They pulled a 3-1 over Mexico in qualifying, and that could be seen again in this group.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Honduras quite cutting the grade, although it is unfair to call a team of their class ‘outsiders’ as such. Problem is, that if they don’t start with a bang against Chile, I see little hope for the third CONCAF team.
My table is:
Honduras have experience of dealing with free flowing attacking sides, and will benefit from a slow start for Chile. The decisive result happens on June 21st in Port Elizabeth when Chile’s true class shines over the game and they put in one of the most exciting performances of the group stages to overturn Switzerland by several goals, with Sanchez staring.
Spain cruise it, and even beat Chile on the final day with their reserves. Honduras struggle to replicate their initial success against Switzerland, who are more prepared than Chile, and take it cooly and calmly.
The major problem for any team here is the next round against Group G. It’s going to be very, very hard for Chile. I think they are one of the most exciting young teams in the game, but it’ll be either Brazil or a team who beat Brazil in Group G. Whatever, it’ll be a great game, so make some free time at 19:30 on 28th June.
Spain will also have a tough game, against the Ivory Coast or Portugal (Ivory Coast take it for me) and if they can win that they deserve the tag of ‘favorites’.