NOT as tough as Groups B and D. This group looks set to see Switzerland and 1998 champions France go through with little difficulty. Switzerland and France are European heavyweights and the other two sides - Ecuador and Honduras - will find it tough to get past them. The question is: who will finish top in this group?
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), Stephane Ruffier (Marseille), Mickael Landreau (Bastia);
Defenders: Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Lucas Digne (Paris St-Germain) Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna (both Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Porto), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid);
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye, Blaise Matuidi (both Paris St-Germain), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Rio Mavuba (Lille), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Mathieu Valbuena (Marseille);
Forwards: Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Real Sociedad), Loic Remy (Newastle, on loan from QPR), Remy Cabella (Montpelliar).
To be honest, Ecuador don’t stand a chance against France and Switzerland. They’ve got talented players but not the class of the two European nations in this group. Ecuador may boast of Antonio Valencia from Manchester United but he went through a horrendous time with the Red Devils. Dynamo Moscow’s Christian Noboa is the other key player for Ecuador yet he alone can’t lift the team. Felipe Caicedo used to play for Manchester City and Lokomotiv Moscow but has now joined UAE club Al Jazira. I’m sure that’s a step back for a player of his talent! Coach Reinaldo Rueda will be relying on his seasoned players like Valencia, Noboa and Edison Mendez and at the same time look to expose youngsters like Carlos Gruezo and Renato Ibarra. Ecuador has got flair and pace but that alone will get you nowhere against more disciplined sides. Ecuador just don’t have the big game temperament and it’s going to be tough for them in Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC), Alexander Dominguez (LDU Quito), Adrian Bone (El Nacional);
Defenders: Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua, Oscar Bagui, Gabriel Achilier (all Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona SC);
Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Luis Saritama (Barcelona SC), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Edison Mendez (Independiente Santa Fe), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Michael Arroyo (Atlante);
Forwards: Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca).
I’m expecting this side to qualify to the next round. Ottmar Hitzfeld is an accomplished coach and his composure should rub off on his charges. Switzerland may be a small country but has always had a history of producing great players. After Alexander Frei, Hakan Yakin and Murat Yakin, Switzerland has players like Gokhan Inler, Valentin Stocker and Valon Behrami. Inler for one, is having a great season with Napoli and he will enforced the midfield. Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Granit Xhaka will partner the experienced Inler. Stocker will be the main force in attack and based on his performances with Basel, he looks set to have an impressive World Cup. Xerdan Shaqiri is not a regular with Bayern Munich but he seizes the chance whenever he gets it. Nippy and tricky, the 23-year-old is sure to cause problems for the defenders. Young Fabian Schar looks set to play a key role in defence and will partner with either Philippe Senderos or Johan Djourou. This side is known for their tactical discipline and if everything clicks, teams will find it hard to break them down. History may not be on their side but with a talented squad, expect some impressive performances from the Rossocrociati.
Goalkeepers: Diego Benaglio (Wolfsburg), Roman Buerki (Grasshopper), Yann Sommer (Basel);
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Michael Lang (Grasshopper), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Basel), Philippe Senderos (Valencia), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Reto Ziegler (Sassuolo);
Midfielders: Tranquillo Barnetta (Eintracht Frankfurt), Valon Behrami (Napoli), Blerim Dzemaili (Napoli), Gelson Fernandes (Freiburg), Gokhan Inler (Napoli), Xherdan Shaqiri (Bayern Munich), Valentin Stocker (Basel);
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Nuremberg), Mario Gavranovic (Zurich), Admir Mehmedi (Freiburg), Haris Seferovic (Real Sociedad), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach).
Honduras are surely going home with the wooden spoon. This will be their third World Cup and you can expect them to struggle just as they did before. Most of the players play for North American club sides and the team only have a few players who feature in European and South American leagues. Under coach Luis Fernando Suarez, Honduras impressed in the qualifiers but it’s going to be different on the biggest stage. Celtic’s Emilio Izaguirre and Hull City’s Maynor Figueroa will be the marauding wing-backs for this side while Roger Espinoza will provide the energy in midfield – he is certainly their Duracell Bunny! Jerry Bengtson and Carlos Costly are the forwards to surprise with their goalscoring prowess. Youngsters like Andy Najar and Arnold Peralta will add youth to the squad. Najar plies his trade with Belgian club side Anderlecht and looks set to be a key player for club and country in the near future. Overall, Honduras lack big name players and when compared with the other teams, man for man, the side just don’t have the players capable of achieving something special.
Goalkeepers: Noel Valladares, Donis Escober (both Olimpia), Luis Lopez (Real Espana);
Defenders: Brayan Beckeles (Olimpia), Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic), Juan Carlos Garcia (Wigan), Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes), Osman Chavez (Qingdao Janoon), Juan Pablo Montes (Motagua);
Midfielders: Arnold Peralta (Rangers), Luis Garrido (Olimpia), Roger Espinoza (Wigan), Jorge Claros (Motagua), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Oscar Garcia (Houston Dynamo), Andy Najar (Anderlecht), Mario Martinez (Real Espana), Marvin Chavez (Chivas USA);
Forwards: Jerry Bengtson (New England Revolution), Jerry Palacios (Alajuelense), Carlo Costly (Real Espana), Rony Martinez (Real Sociedad).
It’s simple – Switzerland and France to qualify from this group! Ecuador and Honduras will find it tough to beat those two sides, much less hold their own against them. This is one of the easiest groups to call. France looks set to finish first while Switzerland should bag the second spot.
THIS is an easy group for South American giants Argentina. La Albiceleste will have the upperhand in this group as they have many world class players in their squad. In the last two World Cups, Argentina were knocked out during the quarter-final stage and this time, they will be hoping to better that. The iconic Lionel Messi will want to win the big one to cement himself as one of the legends of the game. Argentina looks set to finish first but what about the others?
Captained by Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, Argentina looks set to win this group easily. Alejandro Sabella will want to win all the games and they have the ammunition to do so. According to Sabella, the team is built around Messi and with him there, there will be goals! Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain are two of the most in-form strikers around and Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria will be the man tasked to provide the goods for the strikers. With all of them there, you’ve got flair, pace and most importantly goals. However, they look weak defensively. They don’t possess the swagger of the Italians and the determination of the English lads. Gone are the days of Roberto Ayala, Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorin who formed a strong backline in the late 90s. Sabella will rely on defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano to protect the backline. Benfica’s Ezequiel Garay and Napoli’s Federico Fernandez looks set to become the first choice centre-back partnership while Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo will be the wing-backs.
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors);
Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Jose Basanta (Monterrey);
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys), Enzo Perez (Benfica);
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St-Germain).
Bosnia & Herzegovina
They used to play in Pestabola Merdeka and now they’re on the big stage. Led by Safet Susic, Bosnia & Herzogovina will be no pushovers in this group. They have talented players in their squad and I’m expecting them to go all out for the second spot. Their star player will undoubtedly be Manchester City’S Edin Dzeko and he will be the man to lead the attack. He will be partnered with VfB Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic. Ibisevic scored the winning goal against Lithuania in the qualifying group stages to send them to Brazil and he will also play a key role for the Bosnians. Bayer Leverkusen’s Emir Spahic will be captain and he will be partnered with Ermin Bicakcic. Miralem Pjanic, who is having a great season with AS Roma, will be the string puller for the Bosnians and expect him to provide the ammunition for Dzeko and Ibisevic. All of them are playing in the European league but the lack of international exposure might affect their progress in the world cup. However, with their tactical discipline and determination to succeed, the Zmajevi (Dragons) might spring a surprise!
Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen);
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic (Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg);
Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk);
Strikers: Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB).
Under Carlos Quieroz, Iran has improved a lot. They were top in their group and even beat Asian heavyweights South Korea during the qualifiers. They looked disciplined and showed why they’re one of the best teams in Asia. The likes of Ali Karimi, Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Daei may be out of the scene but players like Ashkan Dejageh, Masoud Shojaei and veteran midfielder Javed Nekounam have taken the responsibility pretty well. Nekounam who played in the Spanish League for many years will be the key man in midfield and the 33-year-old is known for his consistency and hard work. Shojaei plays for Las Palmas in the Segunda Division and he will be providing ammunition together with Fulham’s Ashkan Dejageh for the strikers. All these players are big in Iran but when it comes to the world, they’re not well known. The element of surprise is there but facing the likes of Messi, Dzeko and John Obi Mikel can be very intimidating. They will surely rely on Queiroz’s magic to bring them to the next round but they will have to be at their best to beat Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha, on loan from Rubin Kazan), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan);
Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis);
Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Haddadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan);
Forwards: Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Saz, on loan from Persepolis), Khosro Heydari (Esteghlal).
They won the African Nations Cup last year and should to be buoyed by that success. Many will be expecting them to finish second behind Argentina but Stephen Keshi knows it’s not going to be easy. The current Nigeria group looks strong and most of their players play regular football in Europe. FC Lille’s Vincent Enyeama will lead this side and I’m looking forward to his performances this time. In 2010, he was one of the best African keepers during the tournament and he single-handedly denied Messi when Nigeria lost to Argentina 1-0 in the group stages of that tournament. Joseph Yobo is an experienced centre-back and I’m sure he will be an inspirational figure for the younger players in Brazil. John Obi Mikel will protect the backline while Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa will be the wingers for Nigeria. Super Eagles are known for their hardwork and skills but when they lose their discipline, they can become fowls! Keshi has to remind his players that shouldn't happen if they want to do well in Brazil.
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United);
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Norwich, on loan from Fenerbahce), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars);
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk);
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Victor Moses (Liverpool, on loan from Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).
The top spot is for Argentina’s to lose. They are the hot favourites and with Messi hellbent on impressing, teams will find it hard to beat them. It’s hard to predict who will finish second place. Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina have what it takes to be second but based on experience, I have to say Nigeria will nick the second spot and go to the next round. This will be one interesting group to watch because of the second place competition!