Every World Cup throws up an eponymous ‘Group of Death’ and while Group H is certainly not that group, it is not without its share of intrigue.
Spain are the obvious attraction of the group – the reigning European Champions who swept into the competition on the back of eight consecutive group wins, finishing eight points clear of their nearest challengers, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Before this, they were on an all conquering run of 15 straight victories which I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, came to an end against the USA at the 2009 Confederations Cup.
The squad is littered with international star names which could and do command multi-million dollar transfer fees. Starting from the back, they have a choice of three world class goalkeepers – Iniesta of Madrid, Valdes of Barcelona and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina. Any one of these would walk into England’s goal so it’s a strong position for them.
The defense includes Arbeloa, Albiol and Ramos of Madrid, Pique and Puyol of Barca and Carlos Marchena of Valencia. Experience abounds but a question mark remains against their susceptibility to pace. Midfield is packed with exciting talent – Xavi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Iniesta of Barca. The fact that Iniesta and Fabregas are injured, as is talisman Fernando Torres, should be no comfort to their opponents as there are equally dangerous replacements ready to stand by.
Up front will see Torres if fit and David Villa spearhead the attack with back-up from Pedro Rodrigues of Barca and Jesus Navas of Sevilla. This squad is so strong it could afford to leave out Raul and Marcos Senna, from the 2008 winning team.
Honduras have qualified for their first World Cup since 1982. The football providing a welcome distraction from the political turmoil at home as the President was forced into exile but then sought to return. If there wasn’t a World Cup to look forward to then the country could well be in the middle of a civil war. An expensive injury has cost striker Carlos Costly a place in the final 23 which was ‘Welcome’ news for Georgie Welcome who has replaced him. Several of the squad are based in Europe including Bernandez of Anderlecht, De Leon and Alvarez of Torino and Bari, Wilson Palacios of Spurs and Wigan duo Figueroa and Thomas. Roger Espinoza, Kansas City Midfielder also makes the squad.
Chile are the bridesmaids of South American football – possessing all the flair and steel of their illustrious neighbours but without ever sharing any of the glory or recognition beyond their continent. Some pundits however make them dark horses to be the most dangerous of the South American contingent in these Championships. Their first World Cup since 1998, the Rojas are built with attack in mind. A rigid 3-3-1-3 formation pushes the opposition back as far as they can to allow their tricky wide midfielders/strikers the channels to create chances for Humberto Soazo of Real Zaragoza who was the top South American scorer in their qualifiers. Chile themselves scored more goals away from home than the other teams so a lot will rest on Alexis Sanchez of Udinese and Mati Fernandez of Sporting Lisbon to keep supplying him with the bullets. Real Sociedad’s Claudio Bravo is the first choice goalkeeper and a smattering of South American and European based players will be looking to make a name for themselves and give Chile their first World Cup match victory since 1950.
Switzerland are something of a sleeper European team. No great worldwide stars, names or systems but never to be taken lightly. Experienced European Cup winning Coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld has assembled a squad with a good mix of youth and experience although he has recently lost stalwart defender Christoph Spycher to retirement. Xherden Shaqiri is the most recent call-up, a teenage winger who has previously only played 45 minutes for the national team. Phillipe Senderos is the mainstay of the defence but fellow English-based defender Johan Djourou of Arsenal misses out through injury. Valon Behrami of West Ham makes the squad as do veteran strikers Alex Frei and Hakan Yakin. Other names to watch out for are Stephan Lichsteiner of Lazio, Reto Ziegler and Marco Padalino of Sampdoria and Blaise Nkufo of Dutch Champions Twente.
Group H begins on June 16 with Honduras against Chile; Spain v Switzerland. The next round is on June 21 when Spain play Honduras and Chile face Switzerland with the final encounters taking place on June 25 with Chile v Spain and Switzerland v Honduras.
I see Spain emerging as group winners with Chile edging the Swiss for second. This permutation would probably see Spain playing either neighbours Portugal or the Ivory Coast in the second round whilst the reward for coming second is the routine matter of a second round match against Brazil. Of course, one slip from either side could see Spain v Brazil in the second round which would be worth anybodies money.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.