Many wonder why Switzerland are a seeded side, but they have the opportunity to prove their worth in a favourable group which has thrown them against their first opponents Ecuador, Honduras and sleeping giants France. Their reputation of being a defensive side precedes them, but they have developed some strong attacking players who will give them an extra edge in Brazil.
But neither Honduras nor Ecuador are pushovers, having proved themselves by taking draws off England in Miami. They will see an opportunity against the two favourites for the group; both undoubtedly have the capability to get out of the group with ease, but neither have been particularly strong in recent tournaments and Ecuador in particular will fancy their chances having previously made the second round and beating both Poland and Costa Rica on the way.
Ecuador showed their attacking intent against England, and won’t fear Switzerland going into the game. Hitzfeld’s side are likely to want to settle into the game and use their creative midfield options to exploit the weaknesses in the Ecuadorian defence, but Reinaldo Rueda will have his side to attack with pace and width and cause issues from the off and not allowing the Swiss to establish rhythm and control.
As a result we can expect excitement from Ecuador, with a 4-5-1 when being oppressed quickly becoming a 4-3-3 on the break and attacks instigated by national hero and captain Antonio Valencia. Switzerland will have to soak up the pressure and avoid conceding careless chances, before getting the ball to a lively midfield and hitting hard on the counter. If they can grab a couple of goals in the first half, Ecuador are likely to be more subdued and it will allow Switzerland to see the game out with ease.
However an early goal for Ecuador could cause problems for the Swiss, whose relatively young side could capitulate under the pressure of conceding early on. The aim has to be to avoid mistakes and make the most of their own opportunities to hopefully see out a relatively comfortable game before the big clash with France
Ecuador’s key man is inevitably Antonio Valencia, whose powerful running from out wide make him a deadly threat. His pace and skill perfectly compliment his country’s attacking style and make him one to watch for the Swiss and Ottmar Hitzfeld. Another danger man is his namesake Enner Valencia, who scored a headed goal against England in the pre-tournament friendly; a winger converted to play up front after the unfortunate passing of Christian Benitez, the other Valencia will be keen to have as much of an impact as the man who shares his name and score the goals to guide Ecuador to the next round.
Switzerland’s pride and joy is there midfield, and Xherdan Shaqiri is key to that; in spite of largely playing as understudy to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at Bayern Munich, his very presence in their squad is proof of his talent and he will be the creative key on the right side of play. The Swiss have lacked goals for a number of years but will be hoping they have unearthed a gem in Josp Drmic, whose free-scoring season with Nurnberg has earned him a move to Bayer Leverkusen. Hitzfeld will be hoping he can replicate his goalscoring form on the international stage and guide Switzerland out of the group.
Ecuador are likely to fly out the traps and have a go at Switzerland, who will set up to contain the opposition and counter to effect. Their defence may be prone to the pace of Ecuador and so could prompt the selection of a youthful group including Fabian Schar and Ricardo Rodriguez to try and keep things fresh and keep pace with the attackers they are against. However Hitzfeld won’t feel the need to ask his midfield to cover extensively, and so they are free to do damage on the attack.
Of the midfield, captain Gokhan Inler is the tough tackler but his role allows the others to play with freedom and get forward. Stocker brings pace and skill, Xhaka elegant in the centre and Shaqiri explosive and powerful, three players who will support Hitzfeld’s choice of main striker and are all capable of scoring, especially from distance. Ecuador may just get caught out one too many times and that will inevitably be to their detriment.
Switzerland will have a good start, with a win likely, but it won’t be for the want of trying from an Ecuador team who aren’t here to make up the numbers. A nice attacking game will force Switzerland to play well and that only improves the spectacle as Switzerland will have to attack well as well as defend well. As a result the Swiss will probably be able to win the game eventually by a comfortable score, while Ecuador gradually fade out of the game.
Prediction: Switzerland 2-0 Ecuador