Used to tiring teams out in the oxygen starved environment of Quito, Ecuador become a different team when playing abroad, failing to win away from home in qualifying. With a large proportion of their squad playing in the Ecuadorian league, the team will be well conditioned and capable of running all game, something which influences their play style with quick, pacey attacks making them an entertaining side. They will, however, be partly let down by a defence which has had little playing time of late at their clubs due to injuries and poor form, causing Rueda to draft in the 19 year old Cristian Ramirez of Fortuna Dusseldorf. Favouring a 4-3-3, Ecuador will look to get forward, but should one of their key players - Valencia, Caicedo, Montero - get injured then there is little back up to fill in successfully.
I predict Ecuador to be exciting and have the potential for a shock. Whilst this group should be dominated by the European teams I can see Ecuador getting a point or two which could influence the later stages with the winner of this group likely avoiding Argentina in the next round.
Best Finish - Round of 16 - Germany 2006
Ecuador's 30 man provisional squad
Goalkeepers: Maximo Banguera (Barcelona SC), Alexander Dominguez (LDU Quito), Adrian Bone (El Nacional).
Defenders: Frickson Erazo (Flamengo), Jorge Guagua, Jhon Narvaez, Oscar Bagui, Gabriel Achilier (all Emelec), Walter Ayovi (Pachuca), Juan Carlos Paredes (Barcelona SC), Cristian Ramirez (Fortuna Duesseldorf).
Midfielders: Segundo Castillo (Al-Hilal), Carlos Gruezo (Stuttgart), Renato Ibarra (Vitesse Arnhem), Cristian Noboa (Dynamo Moscow), Pedro Quinonez (Emelec), Luis Saritama (Barcelona SC), Antonio Valencia (Manchester United), Edison Mendez (Independiente Santa Fe), Fidel Martinez (Tijuana), Oswaldo Minda (Chivas USA), Michael Arroyo (Atlante).
Forwards: Felipe Caicedo (Al-Jazira), Jefferson Montero (Morelia), Joao Rojas (Cruz Azul), Armando Wila (Universidad Catolica, Ecuador), Jaime Ayovi (Tijuana), Enner Valencia (Pachuca), Cristian Penilla (Barcelona SC), Angel Mena (Emelec).
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda - Colombian, specialist in youth development
Last line up (Nether regions 1 - 1 Ecuador):
Paredes - Guagua - Erazo - Bagui
Valencia - Noboa - Castillo - Montero
Rojas - Caicedo
One To Watch: Cristian Ramirez (LB, Fortuna Dusseldorf)
France represent Newcastle's best hope at the World Cup with current players Moussa Sissoko and Mathieu Debuchy being joined by this season's saviours Loic Remy and the beautiful Yohan Cabaye. Playing a pragmatic 4-3-3 featuring a strong midfield trio of Cabaye, Matuidi and Pogba, France seem to be looking for results in this World Cup. The disappointment of South Africa seems to have kickstarted a project to remove the diva elements of the squad, with Deschamps noting that he has built 'the best squad, I did not pick the 23 best French players.' History suggests that France manage to bounce back from failure with the win in 1998 coming after failure to qualify for the previous two tournaments and then the second place finish in 2006 following a poor showing in South Korea/Japan when they went out in the group stages. With a young, physically powerful team, France should be able to match any other team in the tournament, although their defence may be found lacking with favourites Varane and Sakho finding playing time hard to come by at their respective clubs this season.
I predict France to easily win the group with 3 wins and go on to at least the semis. They're my outside bet to win.
Best Finish - Winners - France 1998
France's 23 man squad
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), 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), Clement Grenier (Lyon), 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 (Newcastle, on loan from QPR), Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich).
Manager: Didier Deschamps - Led Juventus to promotion back to Serie A, favours results over style.
Last line up (France 2 - 0 Nether regions):
Debuchy - Varane - Mangala - Evra
Pogba - Cabaye - Matuidi
Valbuena - Benzema - Griezmann
One To Watch: Paul Pogba (CM, Juventus)
Honduras are yet to win a World Cup match, something which seems unlikely to change this year with a fairly strong group to contend with. However, with an ordered 4-4-2 and, in Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly two strikers who scored 16 goals between them in qualifying, Honduras could be able to shock a couple of teams in their group. Los Catrachos beat both the USA and Mexico in qualifying in resilient performances. Manager, Luis Fernando Suarez says that 'bringing down France is the objective.' Whilst this will definitely be a hell of a task for Honduras, with pacey wingers like Marvin Chavez and Oscar Boniek Garcia as well as the prolific strike duo, they may just be able to nick something in this group.
I predict Honduras to finish bottom of the group. I'll be willing them on to get their first win in the World Cup though, as I'm sure many neutrals will be.
Best Finish - Group Stages - Spain 1982, South Africa 2010
Honduras' 23 man squad
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).
Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez - favours a simple, ordered 4-4-2.
Last line up (Honduras 2 - 1 Venezuela):
Figueroa - Williams - Bernandez - Izaguirre
Garcia - Claros - Peralta - Najar
Palacios - Bengtson
Surprisingly seeded following a storming qualifying campaign, Switzerland will be looking to perform better than last time round where they scored a single goal, albeit in a win over eventual winner Spain. With a host of young attacking players having come through and, crucially, a strong focal point up front with Josip Drmic having a brilliant campaign at struggling Nuremburg, Switzerland will be likely to be far better going forward. As solid as ever in defence, and with players such as Xhaka and Inler capable of scoring spectacular goals, this could prove to be Switzerland's best ever World Cup performance. Generally setting up with a single striker and players lining up behind him depending on the opposition, they should be able to challenge all of the teams in their group, hoping especially to improve on their 0 - 0 draw with Honduras in South Africa.
I predict them to get out of the group and, should they avoid Argentina in the Round of 16, probably go on to at least the quarters.
Best Finish - Quarter Finals - Italy 1934, France 1938, Switzerland 1954
Switzerland's 23 man squad
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).
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld - aging German, potential last hurrah.
Last line up (Switzerland 2 - 2 Croatia):
Lichsteiner - Djourou - von Bergen - Rodriguez
Behrami - Inler
Shaqiri - Xhaka - Stocker