OK last one.
Chile are now managed by Marcelo Bielsa, an Argentinian who had a bad run as national manager of his own country, dropping out at the group stage 8 years ago. This time he has almost hero status in Chile after guiding them to the World Cup in South Africa. He likes to play fast, attacking football and will rely upon Matias Fernandez and wonder-kid Alexis Sanchez to provide the assists and the top scorer in qualifying, Humberto Suazo, to deliver the goals. They qualified in second place in a tough group and will expect to get out of this group. They play group favourites Spain last, and could have already guaranteed qualification before this game as they certainly have the ability to beat the other two teams in the group. Beating Honduras in the first game will be key.
Honduras qualified in third place after the USA beat Costa Rica in the dying minutes. Really Costa Rica should have had qualification sown up well before then. The beginning of the end was when Honduras played them off the park in a 4-0 victory last year. Led by Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios and striker Carlos Pavon they will push Chile close for the second qualifying spot. Colombian manager Reinaldo Rueda has got them playing cautiously but well as they approach only their second finals appearance.
European champions Spain have been criticised for reportedly being promised a €600,000 bonus if they win the World Cup in July. Whether they need any more motivation is debatable. Spain will go into the tournament as close second favourites after Brazil but this surely represents their best chance to win their first World Cup after going out at the quarter-finals 3 times previously. It is hard to find a more complete team than Spain as they boast quality in every part of the pitch, and real strength in depth on the bench. With a midfield containing Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas and may be not even finding room for Xabi Alonso, plus a strike force of new Barcelona striker David Villa and probably the best striker playing in world football Fernando Torres (not that I am biased or anything). It will be considered a failure if they don’t make it to the final this year. They won Euro 2008 by playing football the right way, the complete opposite of previous winners Greece, and as such they won supporters across the world. In fact they have only lost one game since Vicente del Bosque took over and that was after they won the European Championship. Spain will make it out of this group and really can go all the way.
Switzerland qualified top of their group but that may be as far as their success goes in this World Cup. Managed by the incredibly successful German Ottmar Hitzfeld, they lack the strength in depth and attacking verve of their group rivals. Benjamin Huggel from Basel scored one of the goals of this season and Switzerland recently won the under-17 World Cup last year, although this tournament comes too soon for most of those talented young players. They won’t qualify from this group.
Completing the list of who I think will make it to the knock-out stage are Spain and Chile, leaving Honduras and Switzerland waiting for next time.