Rounding out the group stage we have Group H featuring the likes of Chile, Honduras, Spain and Switzerland in what could turn out to be one of the most exciting and competitive groups of the tournament; one the goes down to the very last minutes.
Known as La Roja (The Red One) or El Equipo de Todos (Everybody’s Team) the Chilean’s qualified for the tournament in highly impressive style finishing 2nd during the CONMEBOL qualifiers, only just behind the mighty Brazil, by a solitary point. Their most recent outing saw them simply go through the motions with an easy 3-0 victory over Israel. Tonight they take on New Zealand in their last warm-up game, with the Webmaster suggesting another simple win.
The Red One’s have been a revelation under the guidance of former Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa (known as Loco Bielsa, “Madman” Bielsa) Since being appointed there has been significant change to the Chilean line-up, with the Madman fast tracking many younger players and instilling a more attacking mindset. It is his influence that has seen the team rise to number 18 in the current rankings meaning they’re not a side to take lightly.
For Chile to qualify they will be looking to the likes of their Monterrey man, Humberto Suazo who spent much of last season on loan to Spanish side Real Zaragoza. He is the complete striker, known for his lethal ability inside the box and deft touch and is no stranger to getting on the score sheet (holds a Chilean record for the most goals in a season, 51, not bad.. see below for his top 10 of 2008, some are just ridiculous!). However over the course of his career he has had various problems with ill discipline and if Chile are to progress they will need him not only to be scoring but to stay away from any cards. He is also nursing a hamstring injury (adding to the stupidly long list of injured stars going into the WC) and Chile will be desperate for him to recover in time. Chile will also be looking to their captain, Clauido Bravo, for inspiration. The man from Real Sociedad took over as captain after Chilean legend Marcelo Salas retired in 2008 and was an influential figure for Chile in the qualifying stages, playing in all 18 qualifiers. Bielsa and the Chilean hopeful will be looking for much of the same from the man between the sticks. (PS. he scored a direct free kick earlier this year – see below – not the most impressive ever but still… also his save of a Ronaldinho’s penalty wasn’t bad – again see below)
The humble opinion of the Webmaster has Chile scraping through just ahead of Switzerland. Getting 4 points after beating Honduras, drawing with Switzerland and a loss in their final game against Spain. This will see them tied with Switzerland on 4 points but ahead on goal difference, sending them through to the round of 16 where they’ll be sent home by Brazil after topping group G. This is all based on the assumption Suazo manages to play at least 2 of the group games.
Known as Los Catrachos the Hondurans qualified for the World Cup Finals for just the second time in their history by winning their final match of qualification 1-0 against El Salvador allowing them to claim 3rd position in the CONCACAF qualifiers, narrowly going ahead of Costa Rica (only by goal difference). They are without a win in their last 5 games, including a 3-0 loss to Romania and a 0-0 draw with Azerbaijan in the last week which doesn’t suggest too much can be expected from them over the next couple of weeks.
Reinaldo Rueda took control of the Catrachos in early 2007 and has been widely regarded as a huge success for the nation, ultimately resulting in their qualification for this year’s World Cup Finals. He has had previous experience having been in charge of the Colombian national and U-20 sides.
Unfortunately for the Honduran’s two of their most influential players are.. (wait for it.. yes you guessed it..) under injury clouds. Wilson Palacios has become an influential man in the middle of the park for Tottenham since joining in 2009, he is known for his tireless work rate and physical presence (see video below). The rest of his Honduran side will surely be looking to Palacios to use all of his experience gained in the EPL (with both Tottenham and Wigan) and his form could prove vital if the Catrachos are to cause any upsets and progress through to the top 16. The other player the Catrachos are looking to is Inter man, David Suazo (known as La Pantera, the Panther – no relation to Humberto Suazo) who is currently on loan at Genoa. Suazo is known for his speed and strength as well as his eye for goal, having bagged 16 international goals and over 100 goals during his time in Italy (some goals from 05/06 below). He too is under an injury cloud but is expected to be alright for the first game, again positive news for the Hondurans, who are looking to prove that they can be an international force.
The lack of exposure of the majority of their players to the major footballing leagues around the world is going to make the 2010 World Cup a rather tough task for the Hondurans. Unfortunately they will finish in last place in the group after losing all 3 games; although if Palacios and Suazo manage to find the kind of form that they are capable of the Hondurans might be able to spice things up, making life difficult for both Chile and Switzerland as they fight it out for the 2nd spot.
Known as La Furia Roja (The Red Fury), the Spanish side qualified for the world cup barely raising a sweat, winning 10 out 10 qualifying games scoring 28 goals and only conceding a measly 5 goals. After a less than impressive 1-0 victory over South Korea last week, Spain routed Poland 6-0 over night in their last warm up game to put them in a good position before the first game against Switzerland. Spain have recently been overtaken in the FIFA rankings by Brazil moving them down to 2nd but still remain one of the favourites to take out the World Cup.
Vincente del Bosque took over the Spanish national side from Luis Arangones after the success of Euro 2008. Del Bosque brings to the team the experience of is his playing days, during which he won 18 caps for Spain, as well as the experience gained from his various coaching roles including two separate stints at Real Madrid. Since taking over, Del Bosque has stuck to a squad largely similar to the winning Euro 2008 squad, although he has handed caps to 5 new players including 2 Barcelona emerging talents in Bojan and Sergio Busquets.
Where to start with the leading men in the Spanish side..? There are numerous match winners in the current Spanish line up (not to mention the ones that could be on the bench – which other team has the luxury of the class of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes on the sidelines – just to mention the keepers! As well Cesc Fabregas, who could also find himself along side them – although the webmaster hopes not!). The recently signed Barcelona man, (having just left cash strapped Valencia for just 40 million euros) David Villa who is known as El Guaje (The Kid in Asturian – whatever that is?), was in absolutely breathtaking form during the Euro 08 Championships in which he won the Golden boot for his 4 goals in 4 games, which didn’t even include the final. Del Bosque will be looking to Villa to recapture this form and to link up with his striking partner in Fernando Torres, particularly after they progress from the group stages (check video below for some of Villa’s best – the song isn’t bad either). Another influential man will be Barcelona star, Xavi. Xavi is up there with the best midfielders in the world and is known for his sublime technique, vision and work rate. Like Villa, Xavi will look to emulate his achievements during Euro 08 where he was awarded player of the tournament. He has vast experience in the big games that he can rely on, from previous situations for both Spain and Barcelona having won the Spanish Primeira 5 times, Champions League twice, U-20 World Cup and of course being instrumental in the Euro 2008 achievements. With his Barcelona team mate Andres Iniesta alongside him the Spanish midfield will be a force to be reckoned with. The defence isn’t bad either, boasting the likes of Puyol, Ramos and Pique.
If we are to believe the FIFA 10 World Cup game simulation based on current FIFA rankings Spain should overcome Brazil in the final of the World Cup on penalties (wouldn’t that be interesting). It could however be not too far from the truth, only time will tell. The webmaster suggests that like their qualification Spain will breeze through the group stage of the competition with 9 points, with wins over Chile, Honduras and Switzerland. After progressing they could have a tough draw facing the likes of Portugal or Ivory Coast in the 16, then Italy in the Quarters before, Argentina or Germany in a difficult semi. Whoever it turns out to the webmaster feels will not matter as Spain should progress through to the final and from there who knows?!
Known as the Schweizer Nati the Swiss team qualified for the World Cup by impressively topping group 2 of the UEFA qualifiers. After a disappointing 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, they bounced back to get a 1-1 draw with Italy to round up their preparations before the tournament. Switzerland are the perennial mediocre side, who are always neither terrible, but never great. They will by no means be the most attacking side around and wont share the flair of the beautiful game we might get to see from their first game opponents, Spain. In 2006 they achieved the novel feat of being the first side to not concede a goal throughout their campaign. That kind of form at the back in 2010, could see them succeed.
Under the guidance of Ottmar Hitzfeld, (known as der General “the general”) the Swiss side favour a dull style that supports a compact defence matched with an efficient and hard working midfield. Hitzfeld has had experience playing as a striker for various European teams and Western Germany. He also brings to the field his vast experience in the managerial arena having managed Bayern Munich twice and Borussia Dortmund. He has a total of 18 major titles during his managerial career and has twice been elected World Coach of the Year. He is also one of three managers to have won the UEFA Champions League/European Cup with two different clubs. This kind of experience could prove to be important for Swiss prospects.
One of the leading men for the Schweizer Nati will be Alexander Frei (funny free kick of his below) of FC Basel. Frei is not only the influential Swiss captain but is also Switzerland’s leading goal scorer with 40 international goals in 73 games. The former Borussia Dortmund man proved his worth by scoring 5 goals during the qualifiers. Frei will look to link up with Blaise Nkufo (formerly of FC Twente, having just joined Seattle Sounders FC), the 35 year old has vast experience and showed he still has a knack for goal by scoring 5 goals during qualification. Another important man for the Swiss side will be Valon Behrami. The 25 year old West Ham man has suffered due to injury over the last 18 months but will no doubt be influential if the Schweizer Nati are to progress from the group, that is, if he’s fit (he’s the token player who is under injury cloud for the Swiss, how surprising!). He is a very versatile player who can play on the wing, full back or his preferred role of central midfield. His experience in the EPL and Serie A are of significant value to the Swiss midfield. Other Swiss players to look out for are Bayern Leverkusen star Tranquillo Barnetta, who will line up along side Behrami in the midfield and Philippe Senderos (who apparently today signed a 3 year deal with Fulham..?). Senderos will be one of the tough men at the back known for his ability to header the ball (see his two goals below) and ability to position himself well to make up for his lack of pace. He too, has vast experience from his days at Arsenal and brief loan spells at Milan and Everton and Hitzfeld will look to Senderos to provide a solid defense hoping to repeat the feat of not conceding a goal as they did 4 years ago.
In the view of the webmaster the Swiss match against Chile shapes as their defining game, if they can pull of a victory a place in the round of 16 awaits them. A second round appearance in ’06 is probably a fair reflection of their standing in the pecking order, but they’ll look to go one better after losing out to a relatively poor Ukrainian side. However the webmaster suggests they will lose the first game to Spain, then draw with Chile before winning their last game against Honduras. This will see them tied on points with Chile but losing out on going through on their goal difference.
Webmaster over and out.