Drawn alongside Spain, Chile and Honduras, Switzerland are the odd men out in a Group H with a distinctly Hispanic feel. The favourites to take top spot are unquestionably the European champions although the Spanish cannot afford to be complacent with the ambitious Chileans around. The South Americans will have designs on winning the group themselves, and despite a 12-year spell in the wilderness, Marcelo Bielsa’s troops are being widely tipped to cause a sensation or two. Honduras and Switzerland may have slightly lower profiles but, as everyone knows, there are no pushovers at this level.
Spain: The tag of European champions is no guarantee of success, as La Roja know only too well after fluffing their lines at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009. The Spanish were absolutely flawless in reaching South Africa 2010, however, winning all ten of their qualifying matches. And given the fact that they have never lost to any of their three pool rivals, Vicente del Bosque’s men have every reason to be confident about their hopes of progressing.
Chile: Under the tutelage of Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa, the Chileans were the revelations of the ever-demanding South American qualification group, finishing second overall, just a point behind Brazil, and well clear of the continent’s other superpower, Argentina. Humberto Chupete Suazo ended the competition as top scorer and is now aiming to impress the rest of the world with his finishing skills.
Switzerland: Eliminated in the last 16 at Germany 2006, the Helvetians had to work hard on their way to South Africa, topping Greece by one point in a taxing group. German tactician Ottmar Hitzfeld has restored the faith of the Swiss support following the team’s disappointing display on home soil at UEFA EURO 2008. With a posse of exciting youngsters set to burst on to the scene, this could be Switzerland’s time.
Honduras: Catracho fans think the world of Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda after he steered the Central Americans to only their second-ever FIFA World Cup finals appearance. The Hondurans claimed their place after a heart-stopping end to the qualification race, helping the country’s people put their political problems momentarily to one side. The talented Wilson Palacios is just one of the players the fans will be banking on to impress, while veteran Carlos Pavon is intent on ending an exceptional international career in style. Winless at Spain 1982, Honduras have their sights set on putting the record straight.
The players to watch
Xavi (ESP), Andres Iniesta (ESP), David Villa (ESP), Humberto Suazo (CHI), Matias Fernandez (CHI), Alexis Sanchez (CHI), Wilson Palacios (HON), Carlos Pavon (HON), Alexandre Frei (SUI), Blaise Nkufo (SUI), Tranquillo Bernetta (SUI).
The crunch match
Chile-Honduras: This Latin American duel marks the return of both sides to the biggest stage of all and provides them with a chance to see if they can match the expectations their recent exploits have generated.
A look back
Spain 1-1 Honduras, 16 June 1982, Valencia.
Fate has thrown Honduras and Spain together again some 28 years after their first FIFA World Cup finals meeting. Spain 1982 was Los Catrachos’ finals debut and the newcomers almost kicked off with a shock win against the tournament hosts. Hector Zelaya put the Central Americans into the lead after just seven minutes and it was not until well into the second half that Lopez Ufarte pulled the Spanish level from the penalty spot.
Did you know?
Switzerland’s stars of tomorrow won the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 last month, the first time that the central European nation has ever lifted a FIFA title. Just a few days after that historic achievement, the Swiss beach soccer team claimed the runners-up spot at Dubai 2009, continuing the country’s amazing run of success. Will coach Hitzfeld turn to the nation’s young heroes when he selects his squad for South Africa 2010?
0 - The number of times that Spain have lost to their Group H rivals. The Spaniards have recorded 15 wins and three draws against Switzerland, six wins and a draw against Chile and a solitary draw against Honduras.