The two Group E matches will be played but the big story of this day is Argentina’s first game. The pressure is on La Albiceleste and star player Lionel Messi to win the World Cup. They were handed a gift of a group and play Bosnia in their opening match.
Match: Switzerland vs. Ecuador in Brasilia
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Switzerland defeated Peru 2-0 in on June 3. That match was likely scheduled to prepare for Ecuador. Ecuador drew Netherlands 1-1 and England 2-2 in the last few weeks.
What to watch for: Switzerland is the seeded team from this group but France is the favorite to top the group. Ecuador will have an advantage playing in their continent but might be the weakness South American side on paper. Switzerland have quietly became a regular in the World Cup and Euro. The best is yet to come for the Swiss as their attacking trio of Josip Drmic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are all in their early 20s. Ecuador were successful in their home qualifiers played in altitude. However, they didn’t win a qualifying match away from home.
Players to watch: I highlighted Drmic as a dark horse to win the Golden Boot. He had a successful campaign in the Bundesliga and will be supported by Shaqiri and Xhaka. Ecuador captain Antonio Valencia will be an important player out wide for Ecuador and his service will be key.
Prediction: Switzerland 1 (Drmic), Ecuador 1 (Caicedo)
Both teams might think they can win this group but second place is more realistic. Ecuador will score first through their striker Felipe Caicedo and Drmic will equalize for the Swiss to earn a point.
Match: France vs. Honduras in Porto Alegre
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: France brought in CONCACAF side Jamaica for a home friendly and routed them 8-0. Honduras is much better than Jamaica but I get why France chose to play The Reggae Boyz. Honduras played three European teams in three different American cities. England is the most comparable team to France and they earned a 0-0 draw against England on June 7 in Miami.
What to watch for: France is generating a lot of buzz as a dark horse in this tournament. An easy group helps but there is also talent all over the pitch. Franck Ribery will miss the tournament with an injury so other players will have to elevate their play. Karim Benzema had a great club season for Real Madrid. Midfielder Paul Pogba and defender Raphael Varane are two young players that are set to shine on the big stage. Honduras is a physical team that have a great home field advantage when they take the field in CONCACAF qualifiers. They always seem to be physical team that will often see yellow cards. They will have to stay disciplined throughout the tournament including this match against the favorites in the group.
Players to watch: French midfielder Yohan Cabaye left Newcastle for PSG in the January transfer window. Newcastle struggled mightily after he departed and he will be an interesting player to track this World Cup playing along side Pogba in the center of the midfield. Honduras will try to contain France’s scoring options so a striker like Jerry Bengtson will be an important player to hold the ball away from France.
Prediction: France 4 (Benzema, Cabaye, Sakho, Giroud), Honduras 1 (Costly)
The floodgates will open for France. They will bring their confidence from the Jamaica friendly to Porto Alegre and bully Honduras throughout the match.
Match: Argentina vs. Bosnia in Rio de Janeiro
Results in “similar” pre-World Cup friendlies: Argentina warmed up for Bosnia by defeating Slovenia 2-0 on June 7. Bosnia didn’t play a South American team in 2014 but played Argentina ion November 18 in St. Louis. This game was played before the World Cup draw and Argentina won 2-0.
What to watch for: This is the best game of Group F and the match of this day. Argentina is one of the tournament favorites and Bosnia has become a dark horse to make a significant run in the World Cup. Argentina is strong going forward with Lionel Messi as the main piece of Argentina’s attack. Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain will play in front of Messi with Angel Di Maria also featuring in the midfield. The defense can get shaky for Argentina, which is their big question mark going into the tournament. Bosnia is a disciplined team that defends well. Their best players who play in Europe’s top leagues are Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko and Roma’s Miralem Pjanic.
Players to watch: All the attention is on Argentina’s strikers and midfielders but I think they will need to be creative to score against a well-coached Bosnian side. Right back Pablo Zabaleta is a versatile player that has emerged as a consistent starter at Manchester City. Look for Zabaleta to contribute to Argentina’s attack with crosses and runs. Dzeko will lead the line for Bosnia. He has many doubters because of some inconsistent play at Manchester City but should be at his best playing for his country.
Prediction: Argentina (Aguero, Di Maria) 2, Bosnia (Dzeko) 1
Argentina will do enough to get the job done through Aguero and Di Maria. Messi will have a significant part in both goals. Dzeko will get Bosnia on the board to cut the deficit to one and give Bosnia some momentum for their matches against Nigeria and Iran.