Wednesday, June 9, 2010

World Cup 2010: Group H Preview

Rounding out the opening stages, reigning European Champions Spain like what they find in Group H. Chile, Honduras and Switizerland will serve as mere speed bumps, but those sides are focused on second place and a trip of their own to the knockout round. Who goes through? Let's take a look.

Spain erased their reputation as big tournament chokers by winning Euro 2008. Will the confidence of that win lead them to victory in South Africa? Only West Germany in 1972-74 followed up a European title with a World Cup win. But better than history, Spain has some of the game's top stars on its side, including Fernando Torres and David Villa. What they don't have is a completely healthy squad with Torres, Cesc Fabregas, and Xavi all dealing with injuries. Spain hopes the easy draw affords them an opportunity to get healthy before the second round.

Overshadowed by the bigger names in South America, Chile finished only a point behind Brazil in qualifying, winning 10 of 18 matches. The youthful roster gives La Roja its most competitive squad since hosting the 1962 World Cup. Chile play an attack-oriented style, centered around top scorer Humberto Suazo. Defense and goalkeeping are shaky areas, so look for some high-scoring affairs.

On the flip side, goals may be in short supply where Switzerland is involved. The Swiss didn't concede a goal in 2006, reaching the round of 16. But they scored only four times, bowing out in a shootout loss to Ukraine. Alexander Frei, the nation's all-time leading scorer, is the point man who Switzerland will rely on for goals. Had the Swiss been drawn in a tougher qualifying group, results like their 2-1 loss to Luexembourg would have kept them at home. But now, under Champions League-wining manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, they are eyeing the knockout rounds of the World Cup.

I can't imagine any side more thrilled about qualifying for the World Cup than Honduras. This radio call from the last round of CONCACAF qualifying captures the emotions of a team headed to the tournament for the first time since 1982. Similar broadcasts from South Africa are unlikely. Tottenham's Wilson Palacios and Wigan's Maynor Figueroa bring big game Premier League experience to the roster. Edging Chile and Switzerland for second isn't unthinkable, but Honduras have exceeded expectations just by reaching this stage.

Prediction: Anything less than a 3-0-0 trip for Spain would be surprising, but a tricky fixture against either Portugal or Ivory Coast likely awaits them in the round of 16. Look for Chile's emerging stars to tip the Swiss for the second slot, likely earning them a chance to make history against continental rivals Brazil.

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