By Kevin Koczwara
This will be the final entry into what was suppose to be a four part series on the group stage of the World Cup, but it has turned into a drawn out 6 part series. After this post I will write up a quick post with all of my predictions for winners of the group stages and let anyone disagree with me.
For this final entry I will talk about Group H — the last group. This may be the easiest group to predict. Group H has FIFA’s top ranked team, a team whose country has been in political turmoil for the better part of last year, a neutral side that showed up during qualifying but should be outmatched in this tournament, and a South American squad with a ton of potential. For sure one team to come out of this bracket will be Spain (barring a catastrophe) and the second spot should be a dog-fight between Switzerland and Chile, with Honduras looking in from the cold.
And with no further ado, let’s get to breaking this down.
Spain- Spain is loaded from top to bottom. They have two World class strikers in David Villa and Fernando Torres. Torres is the fastest player in Liverpool history to 50 league goals, and Villa is a goal scoring machine (he has 25 goals in 33 total games this year, and had 48 goals in 65 games last year in all competitions). And if that isn’t enough, Spain has a dominant midfield that doesn’t give the ball away and runs circles around any opponent. The likes of Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Albert Reira, Juan Mata and a very underrated Santi Cazorla. With all of that creativity and attack power in the middle and attacking half of the field it is up to Xabi Alonso and Sergi Busquets to break down the attacks of Spain’s opponents, and both due it with deadly proficiency. Alonso may be the most underrated player on this squad, he is a deadly passer who can make a game changing pass from end of the field to the other and spur on a counter attack that will crush an opponent (just look at Liverpool this year form last, they can’t break out the same way they use to without the Spaniard). And Spain’s right and left backs are attack minded and dangerous. Sergio Ramos looks like a playboy, but he has a devastating cross and pace. He flies up and down the right flank with deadly efficiency and skill. On Spain’s left is the creative and shifty Joan Capdevila. Those two wingers can roam so freely because they have two gritty and skilled center backs behind them in captain Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. Behind them, one of the world’s best keepers, Iker Casillas (or Pepe Reina or Deigo Lopez, both world class). So, unless something terrible happens, Spain will be on through this stage and probably to the later knock-out stages–they are a favorite to win it all. (By the way, Spain during qualification had a +23 Goal differential, they scored 28 goals and only conceded 5 in 10 games, that’s less than one goal given up a game and 2.8 goals scored.)
Honduras- Honduras will have to depend on Wilson Palacios and the rest of their powerful midfield if they hope to make some headway in this group. The team is easily the weakest team coming into the tournament, but they could make a magical run if they get a few boosts. This is Honduras’s second World Cup final appearance–the other in 1982– and they hope they can at least repeat that showing in Spain. They tied Spain, the host country, 1-1 in 1982 and they tied Northern Ireland. They were beaten on the final match in penalty kicks 1-0 by Yugoslavia knocking them out. But it was an impressive showing, and they hope they can come up with a miracle result against Spain again. Striker David Suaza will have to stay healthy and Palacios will have to get some help in the midfield because he is a ball hawk and strong tackler, not a creator or goal-scorer. Honduras won’t roll over for anyone, but I don’t see them moving out of this group.
Chile- Chile is ranked 15 in the World by FIFA, and they 8 in ESPN’s SPI ranking system, a major jump, but definitely not a fluke. They have a prolific striker in Humberto Suazo– a player a lot of people have not seen– an up-and-coming forward in Fabian Orellana, another young striker in Alexis Sanchez, and a young but talented midfield with Gary Medel, and this should be Matias Ariel Fernandez Fernandez’s coming out part. Matias has other-worldly skill, but he needs to put it together for 90 minutes and show why he is seen as David Pizzano’s replacement as the ext great Chilean player. This team is young, but they have enough elder statesmen that they should have that perfect mix. They are also relatively unknown squad outside of soccer circles, so watch out for them. It shouldn’t be a surprise they make it through to the knock-out stages.
Switzerland- The Swiss finished ahead of Greece in UEFA qualifying, finishing 1 point ahead of the Greeks. The Swiss didn’t blow anyone away during qualifying, but they were steady, and they did what needed to be done match after match. They only lost once in 9 qualifying matches and only conceded 8 goals in 10 matches. The Swiss squad is old and doesn’t have the flashes of clash or skill that Chile or Spain have, they will have to grind out results and rely on their tactical scorers Alexander Frei and Blaise Nkufo to finish when their chances arise. I don’t see them getting enough points or scoring enough goals to move through this group into the knock-out stages. They will probably come in third and miss moving on due to goal differential. A player to watch for the Swiss is youngster Johan Djourou, the Arsenal defender has a lot of upside and could make his way onto plenty of teams wish lists come the summer transfer window after the tournament. Fernandes Gelson could also find himself on plenty of teams watch lists after the tournament if he can show some of the quality he has to offer on the pitch as a holding midfielder.
Don’t miss the other 5 parts to this Group by Group breakdown of the World Cup : Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @kkoczwara and follow The Soccer Guys for all your updates @TheSoccerGuys.