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The Clean Sheets: Discussing Group E

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird, a four-time FSWA Award finalist, is RotoWire's Senior Soccer Editor and an editor for the site's NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, CBB and DFS content.

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 9, 2014 2:09pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: Cleaning the Sheets - Group E

Along with Switzerland and Honduras, who are grouped together for the second straight World Cup, Group E in Brazil will also include France and Ecuador.

Switzerland has climbed to sixth in FIFA's latest rankings and opened 2010's tournament with a shocking 1-0 defeat of eventual champions Spain. Although they didn't advance past the group stage in South Africa, the Swiss carry a 10-game undefeated record from qualifying into this summer's competition. Seven clean sheets over that span evidence Switzerland's defensive capabilities, while they also offer some cutting edge going forward, with four players scoring double-digit goals for their respective clubs this season. That doesn't include Gokhan Inler or Xherdan Shaqiri, possibly Swizterland's two best players.

France figures to be Switzerland's rivals to win the group, but if recent history is any indication, it's very hard to predict the faith of Les Bleus. An embarrassing team mutiny left France winless in 2010, just four years after Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in 2006's runners-up effort. Going back even further, France also went winless in 2002, but hoisted the trophy at home in 1998. Looking at that pattern, France seems to do well in every-other World Cup, so they actually could be due for a successful summer this time around.

My view on France's squad reflects this healthy projection, as I am very intrigued by their setup. Ballon d'Or finalist Franck Ribery recently being ruled out is a bombshell and leaves the team very inexperienced, but France still has more than enough quality to advance in a highly manageable Group E.

I love the midfield partnership of Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba, both of whom are rapidly emerging as world-class box-to-box players. Then, Antoine Griezmann looks a ready-made replacement for Ribery on the left wing, while both Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud embody unique striking options with something to prove.

Currently ranked 17th in the world, expectations of France are generally low at the moment - too low if you ask me.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, June 9, 2014 3:24pm
To: Nick Pitner
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group E

Anyone who says they know how France will do in the World Cup is lying. With so much talent, they can be so amazingly frustrating when they don't perform (kind of like my Knicks, but let's not go down that road today). Losing Ribery is big, but it shouldn't prevent them from getting out of the group.

Honduras is winless in its World Cup history, although they had a few decent results in CONCACAF qualifying (where they finished third), beating the USA at home, Costa Rica at home, Mexico on the road, and drawing with the Mexicans at home. However, getting by France, Switzerland and Ecuador will be a tougher task.

Switzerland's calling card is defense, although you have to imagine there are plenty of teams that could look like defensive specialists playing in a qualifying group against Norway, Cyprus, Solvenia and Albania. But as you point out, they do have four players who reached double-digit goals in their respective leagues.

Ecuador has enough talent to score on the other teams in the group, but they give up far too many on a consistent basis. They weren't great in qualifying, although they went unbeaten in all of their games at home, so you figure the Brazilian weather won't be negative to their chances. Antonio Valencia is the key to their success, and he's shown in the Premier League that he can play with anyone. Edison Mendez is another one to watch out for; while he's not a prolific goal scorer, he's very solid from set pieces, which makes him dangerous.

If the Ecuadorians beat Honduras and maybe catch France on one of their down days, could they draw with Switzerland to make it out of the group? Crazier things have happened in this tournament.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 9, 2014 8:04pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group E

Ecuador could be a dangerous matchup in this group. They just played to a 2-2 draw against England (who I'm starting to regret picking already) in a tune-up and can't be overlooked by France or Switzerland.

Group E is one of the more unpredictable pools entering the tournament. I'd be surprised if Ecuador won the group, but not if they pushed either the French or Swiss out by finishing second. Obviously, I don't see Honduras making much of an impact.