Honduras Team Preview

The Players

Luis López goalkeeper, Real Espana

Osman Chavez defender, Qingdao Janoon

Maynor Figueroa defender, Hull City

Juan Montes defender, Motagua

Victor Bernardez defender, San Jose Earthquakes

Juan Carlos Garcia defender, Wigan

Emilio Izaguirre midfielder, Celtic

Wilson Palacios midfielder, Stoke

Jerry Palacios midfielder, Alajuelense

10 Marvin Chavez midfielder, Chivas USA

11 Jerry Bengtson forward, New England Revolution

12 Edder Delgado midfielder, Real Espana

13 Carlo Costly forward, Real Espana

14 Boniek Garcia midfielder, Houston Dynamo

15 Roger Espinoza midfielder, Wigan

16 Rony Martinez forward, CD Real Sociedad

17 Andy Najar midfielder, Anderlecht

18 Noel Valladares goalkeeper, Olimpia

19 Luis Garrido midfielder, Olimpia

20 Jorge Claros midfielder, Motagua

21 Brayan Beckeles defender, Olimpia

22 Donis Escober goalkeeper, Olimpia

23 Mario Martinez midfielder, Real Espana

Star man


Wilson Palacios, the Claude Makelele of the Potteries, is the heartbeat of the team and one of many squad members from the Garifuna ethnic group but Honduran hopes will be riding on the youngest member of their squad, Andy Najar. The 21-year-old winger has blossomed at Anderlecht, where he was selected by 70% of the fans’ vote as Belgian player of the month in March.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace …
Carlo Costly has failed to settle with nine teams in eight countries – refusing to return to a Polish side because it was “horribly cold” – and took a swipe at the national coach on Facebook after he was left out of one squad. He does, though, have his own signature style of dummy, the Costlynha – a fake dragback followed by sharp acceleration.

The coach

Luis Fernando Suarez. A more stable figure than his Uruguayan namesake, the Colombian – who led Ecuador to the second round in 2006 before losing to England – has taken Honduras to the finals. Anything else is a bonus.

Grudge match

Any match against Costa Rica is always a battle for Central American supremacy – el clásico centroamericano. In qualification, two tight encounters between the sides each finished 1-0 to the home team. Mind you, if both Central American teams make it out of their groups you could probably retire on the payout from bookmakers.

Holed up

Los Catrachos – a name derived from a 19th-century general who fought against William Walker’s US empire-building “filibusters”– will flop at the Hotel Transamérica in Porto Feliz, São Paulo state, and have taken steps against homesickness by asking for six dedicated Spanish-language TV channels, including two from Honduras.

How they qualified
An away win in Mexico and strong home form secured the third automatic qualifying spot behind Costa Rica and the USA.

World Cup high
A 1-1 draw against hosts Spain in Valencia in their first ever World Cup finals match in 1982. They drew their second match against Northern Ireland before losing to Yugoslavia.

World Cup low
Vladimir Petrovic’s 88th-minute penalty for Yugoslavia in that final game in 1982 denied Honduras the glory of a place in the second round and allowed hosts Spain to progress.

Familiar faces
Maynor Figueroa (Hull), Wilson Palacios (Stoke), Roger Espinoza (Wigan).

Title odds: 500/1

The stereotype is …
Win, lose or draw they just want to party, soak up the atmosphere and put themselves in the shop window for a move to Europe.

The reality is …
They desperately want to win a game at a World Cup. By any means possible, even nefarious ones. And maybe party a little. Honduras are expected to line up in a vogueish 4-2-3-1 but the basic facts are that they are physically strong, compact and dangerous from set pieces and on counterattacks where the height and power of Costly, whose father Allan played at the 1982 World Cup, can cause problems. Emilio Izaguirre of Celtic is a marauding threat from left-back while Hull’s Maynor Figueroa may be deployed in central defence. The captain Noel Valladares offers experience in goal (118 caps) if not stature (5ft 10in).

What they’re known for:
Being laid back 40 per cent
Coffee 12 per cent
Wilson Palacios 22 per cent
Macaws 26 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Pigeons waves with their shields, a volcano. Behind the bare summit there is a bright sun shines.

How long does it last?
Seemingly forever. The Bohemian Rhapsody of national anthems.

How to dress like their fans:

A penchant for face paint makes many fans look like a cross between the Blue Man Group and Kiss.

Commentator’s go-to stat
They have yet to win a game in six attempts at World Cup finals.


Ecuador Team Preview

The Players

Máximo Banguera goalkeeper, Barcelona SC

Jorge Guagua defender, Emelec

Frickson Erazo defender, Flamengo

Juan Paredes defender, Barcelona SC

Alex Ibarra midfielder, Vitesse Arnheim

Cristhian Noboa midfielder, Dynamo Moscow

Jefferson Montero midfielder, Monarcas Morelia

Édison Méndez midfielder, Independiente

João Rojas forward, Cruz Azul

10 Walter Ayovi midfielder, Pachuca

11 Felipe Caicedo forward, Al Jazira

12 Adrián Bone goalkeeper, Nacional

13 Enner Valencia forward, Pachuca

14 Segundo Castillo midfielder, Al Hilal

15 Michael Arroyo midfielder, Atlante

16 Antonio Valencia (captain) midfielder, Manchester United

17 Jaime Ayoví forward, Tijuana

18 Oscar Bagui defender, Emelec

19 Luis Saritama midfielder, Barcelona

20 Fidel Martínez midfielder, Tijuana

21 Gabriel Achilier defender, Emelec

22 Alexander Domínguez goalkeeper, Quito

23 Carlos Gruezo midfielder, Stuttgart

Star man


Antonio Valencia was named captain after the death of his friend Christian “Chucho” Benítez – he has a tattoo in his honour – with the coach Reinaldo Rueda reasoning “making him the captain was a way of rallying the group”.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Defender Jorge Guagua, the squad’s self-styled guv’nor – he prefers to be referred to as “El Patron” – is no stranger to controversy. El Nacional of Quito cried foul when Guagua joined the Ecuadorian champions Emelec two days after El Nacional had announced his signing. Guagua was unrepentant: “A national team player has to be at a big club like Emelec.”

The coach

Reinaldo Rueda. Or, more correctly, Professor Reinaldo Rueda. The 56-year-old Colombian used to teach sports science at a university and managed Honduras at the 2010 World Cup.

Grudge match

Several neighbourly spats: putting one over on Colombia, with whom Ecuador briefly severed diplomatic relations in 2008 over a border incursion by their bigger northern neighbours, would be sweet – a meeting of the teams is known as El Clásico Tricolor. There is also a historic rivalry with Peru, developed over a 19th-century border conflict, and there have been a succession of dramatic and often tense recent encounters with Uruguay.

Holed up

The secluded Hotel Vila Ventura in Viamão in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul is a luxury eco resort with its own full-sized football pitch, palm-lined ponds and a vast swimming pool with a rather unnerving prison-campesque watchtower looming over it. The hotel has been asked to provide a basket of Ecuadorian varieties of banana in each room daily.

How they qualified
Edged out Uruguay for the final automatic spot in South America, after overcoming the death of striker Chucho Benítez midway through the qualifying campaign.

World Cup high
Beating Poland and Costa Rica to make the second round in 2006, where they gave England an almighty scare.

World Cup low
Throwing away a 1-0 lead against Mexico and being eliminated from the 2002 tournament.

Familiar faces
Antonio Valencia (Manchester United).

Title odds: 150/1

The stereotype is …
If they had to play at sea level they would never win a match.

The reality is …
Their home fortress helps, but so does their fairly simple approach of keeping it tight at the back, getting it out wide and pinging some crosses in.

Ecuador were unbeaten at home (altitude: 2,800m) but couldn’t buy a win away in qualifying. Benítez’s death last July, at 27, was a huge blow that robbed the side of their star striker. In his absence, the powerful but limited former Manchester City forward Felipe Caicedo will probably lead the line. They’ll aim to get at teams with pacy wide play, with Antonio Valencia on the right and the individualistic Jefferson Montero on the left. The team have experience in defence, in which Walter Ayoví will go into the tournament with more than 90 caps.

What are they known for?
Volcanoes 57 per cent
The Galapagos 28 per cent
That Sash song 15 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
The heat of the lid was heard; victory after the lid flew; freedom after the victory came; and the lion was heard broken

Two fairly painless minutes.

How to dress like their fans

Contrary to popular myth, Panama hats actually hail from Ecuador, and flamboyant headgear is an integral part of the Ecuadorian fan’s garb.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Ecuador have been described as a potential banana skin, which makes sense when you find out that it is the world’s biggest exporter of bananas.

Switzerland Team Preview

The Players

Diego Benaglio goalkeeper, Wolfsburg

Stephan Lichtsteiner defender, Juventus

Reto Ziegler defender, Sassuolo

Philippe Senderos defender, Aston Villa

Steve von Bergen defender, Young Boys

Michael Lang defender, Grasshoppers

Tranquillo Barnetta midfielder, Eintracht Frankfurt

Gökhan Inler midfielder, Napoli

Haris Seferovic forward, Real Sociedad

10 Granit Xhaka midfielder, Borussia Mönchengladbach

11 Valon Behrami midfielder, Napoli

12 Yann Sommer goalkeeper, Basel

13 Ricardo Rodríguez defender, Wolfsburg

14 Valentin Stocker midfielder, Basel

15 Blerim Dzemaili midfielder, Napoli

16 Gelson Fernandes midfielder, Freiburg

17 Mario Gavranovic forward, Zurich

18 Admir Mehmedi forward, Freiburg

19 Josip Drmic forward, Nuremberg

20 Johan Djourou defender, Hamburg

21 Roman Bürki goalkeeper, Grasshoppers

22 Fabian Schär defender, Basel

23 Xherdan Shaqiri midfielder, Bayern Munich

Star man

Xherdan Shaqiri is only 22 but will grace his second World Cup finals after another season spent in the shadows of Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben et al at Bayern Munich. The forward has excelled when given a chance but Pep Guardiola considers him his “most important bench player”, a forward to fling on to stretch the play with his pace and trickery. The Swiss have come to rely on his surging runs..

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Tranquillo Barnetta was sent off against Slovenia for two fouls and along with Philippe Senderos is a survivor of the epic punch-up they had with Turkey following victory in a World Cup play-off in 2005.

The coach

One of the great managers of the modern era bows out after the finals when the German Ottmar Hitzfeld calls time on a 31-year coaching career garlanded with medals and one slightly tenuous comparison with spaghetti-sharing Disney mongrel Tramp.

Grudge match

Oh, come on. What about Swiss neutrality? (It would probably have been Turkey – had they qualified). Perhaps, at a push Austria. As hosts in 1954 Switzerland were 3-0 up against Austria but went on to lose 7-5 in 40C heat.

Holed up

The Swiss have requested high-speed internet and French and German language television channels in their hotel, La Torre in Porto Seguro. Other guests staying at the resort – to include some members of the German delegation, whose team are based 20 minutes’ drive away – will be able to mix with the players freely by the pool or on the private beach. The team’s arrival is bad news for local insects, with the hotel promising a massive fumigation programme. “We guarantee that no mosquitos will disturb the players’ sleep,” says the manager.

How they qualified
Unbeaten in Europe’s cakewalk group with seven wins and three draws, finishing seven points ahead of runners-up Iceland.

World Cup high
Quarter-finalists three times, most recently as hosts in 1954 when they were knocked out by Austria in a 7-5 thriller having been 3-0 up. The match was played in 40C heat and remains the highest scoring in any tournament yet.

World Cup low
Lost all three group games in 1962 and again four years later where the nadir was a 5-0 shellacking by West Germany at Hillsborough.

Familiar faces
Philippe Senderos (Fulham), Johan Djourou (Arsenal, on loan at Hamburg).

Title odds: 150/1

The stereotype is … 
An 11-man recruitment drive for Dignitas.

The reality is …
Generously seeded but they do have promising, hard-working and surprisingly subtle midfield skill allied to good organisation and positional discipline. Very light up front – a striker of Rickie Lambert standards would improve them.

Hitzfeld’s glittering career has seen him send out sides in everything from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, though he has become more cautious with the Swiss and tends to like a numerical advantage in midfield. So expect variations on 4-2-3-1 and all that high-press, energetic stuff.

What they’re known for?
Secret banking 31 per cent
Cuckoo clocks 47 per cent
Heidi 8 per cent
Lava-hot liquid cheese 14 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
God wants the citizen, citizen of God, God does.

One minute and five seconds, apparently of torture for the Swiss government which considers it so old and boring that they are holding a competition to choose a new one in 2014.

How to dress like their fans


Head to Toe in Red!

Commentator’s go-to stat
Seven billion triangular chunks of Toblerone are manufactured each year in the city of Bern.

France Team Preview

The Players

Hugo Lloris (captain) goalkeeper, Tottenham

Mathieu Debuchy defender, Newcastle

Patrice Evra defender, Manchester United

Raphaël Varane defender, Real Madrid

Mamadou Sakho defender, Liverpool

Yohan Cabaye midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain

Franck Ribéry midfielder, Bayern Munich (to be replaced by Morgan Schneiderlin)

Mathieu Valbuena midfielder, Marseille

Olivier Giroud forward, Arsenal

10 Karim Benzema forward, Real Madrid

11 Antoine Griezmann forward, Real Sociedad

12 Rio Mavuba midfielder, Lille

13 Eliaquim Mangala defender, Porto

14 Blaise Matuidi midfielder, Paris Saint-Germain

15 Bacary Sagna defender, Arsenal

16 Stéphane Ruffier goalkeeper, Saint-Etienne

17 Lucas Digne defender, Paris Saint-Germain

18 Moussa Sissoko midfielder, Newcastle

19 Paul Pogba midfielder, Juventus

20 Loïc Rémy forward, Queens Park Rangers

21 Laurent Koscielny defender, Arsenal

22 Clément Grenier midfielder, Lyon (to be replaced by Rémy Cabella)

23 Mickael Landreau goalkeeper, Bastia

Star man


Karim Benzema has enjoyed the most productive campaign of his career with the Real Madrid forward’s form now transferred more consistently to the national team, for whom he scored three goals on the way to Brazil. Now a father, he finally looks to have come of age and is on Arsenal’s transfer wishlist..

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace

Réunion-born striker Dimitri Payet was dumped by Le Havre as a 16-year-old because of his lack of discipline and focus, and several years later headbutted his Saint–Étienne team-mate Blaise Matuidi mid-match before going on strike to force a move to Paris Saint-Germain. He failed, and having admitted his “lifestyle and attitude were no good” is thriving at Marseille.

The coach

Not a great deal is expected of Didier Deschamps this time round. The long-term priority is Euro 2016 on home soil, and he has recently had his contract extended until then. Clearly not afraid to rattle a few cages, as the excluded Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy have found to their cost. “Samir’s performances with the France team were not at the level of his performances with his club,” Deschamps said.

Grudge match

Belgium, if only for geographical reasons. Or the fact the Belgians are blessed with such enviable talent and have actually beaten France more often than they have lost since the fixture was first staged in the Brussels suburb of Uccle, where Tintin creator Hergé is buried and the marvelously-monikered mathematician Jacques Tits was born in 1904.

Holed up

All staff at the JP hotel in Ribeirão Preto have been taking French lessons since news broke that Les Bleus would be staying here. The team have requested that shower gel be placed in all bathrooms as players are “not used to blocks of soap” (and some goalkeepers might struggle to pick them up).

How they qualified
By le peau de leurs dents. Understandably finished second to Spain in their group; less understandably lost 2-0 to Ukraine in the play-off, before storming back to win 3-0 in Paris.

World Cup high
Winning at home in 1998, single-handedly converting a nation that up until that point secretly preferred rugby.

World Cup low
Going out in the first round without a win four years later was one of the all-time great World Cup shocks.

Familiar faces
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Gaël Clichy (Manchester City), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) and most of the Newcastle team.

Title odds: 25/1

The stereotype is …
Perennial underachievers given their enviable depth of talent, but somehow manage to fluke their way through courtesy of luck or Fifa.

The reality is …
A bunch of quite good players, but few great ones. Still suffering a certain identity crisis, and bearing the scars of four years ago. Deschamps has gone with the recent trend for 4-2-3-1, though he tweaked it to 4-3-3 for the second leg of the play-off against Ukraine when seeking to recover a two-goal deficit. Tactics go out of the window if the tantrums set in.

What are they known for?
Saucy actresses 48 per cent
High taxes 22 per cent
Fine dining 19 per cent
Calais hypermarkets 11 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
But the bloodthirsty despot, but the accomplices of Bouille. All these tigers who pitilessly ripped out their mothers.

Barely a minute, and not a second wasted.

How to dress like their fans

French fans have perfected the art of dressing as colourfully and extravagantly as they can whilst maintaining an expression of perfect glumness.

Commentator’s go-to stat
The 13 goals that Just Fontaine scored in 1958, still the record for a single tournament.