France: Clean break with the past
On May 27 last week, a giant metal claw descended ominously on the team bus of the French national football team. It latched on to the rear end of the vehicle and metal buckled and glass shattered as the jaws closed in. Watching the spectacle were hundreds of French football fans who cheered as the bus was converted to scrap. None of Les Bleus however, were injured in the incident. It was after all a publicity stunt by Adidas ahead of the 2014 World Cup. The bus itself was the real deal if four years old.
The vehicle that was publicly destroyed was the bus that the France team travelled in at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Back then Les Bleus endured a disastrous campaign in which a string of poor performances saw Raymond Domenechs side go out with a whimper in the group stages. That was only part of the horror story for France, though, as then-coach Domenech had to also deal with a player revolt at their training base in Knysna. Two days before they were to play a crucial tie against hosts South Africa, the players refused to take part in a training session, instead withdrawing to the team bus and pulling shut the curtains. The incident was triggered by a row between coach Domenech and player Nicholas Anelka. The latter abused the manager and was later sent home by the French federation when he refused to apologise.
The incident clearly had an impact on Frances current manager Didier Deschamp. Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri was dropped not because of a lack of talent but rather because it was believed that Nasri would cause problems within the team.
Its clear their debacle in the 2010 World Cup continues to haunt the French national football team. However it remains to be seen whether the decision to crush the team bus the French team so memorably argued on will have any impact on the memories of the entire episode.
Switzerland: Making some noise with the immigrants
The Swiss national football team is not short of diversity. Thanks to the nations lenient immigration laws, the side as players whose origins are spread across the world. Defender Philippe Senderos has a Serbian mother, a Spanish father and has married an Iranian. His defensive partner, Johan Djourou was born in Ivory Coast and adopted by a Swiss woman when he was 17 months old. Left-back Ricardo Rodriguez was born in Zurich to a Spanish father and a Chilean mother.
Swiss midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri was born in Yugoslavia. The Bayern Munich star, an ethnic Albanian, emigrated to Switzerland when he was a year old. Captain and midfield Gokhan Inler was born and raised in Switzerland to Turkish Parents. Valon Behrami, who plays for West Ham United, was born to Albanian parents in Yugoslavia. He moved to Switzerland when he was five years old. Left-winger Granit Xhaka was born in Switzerland to Albanian parents. Right-winger Gelson Fernandes, who scored the winner against Spain in the last World Cup, was born in Capde Verde. Versatile midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta was born in Switzerland to parents of Italian descent. He currently holds both Swiss and Italian citizenship.
Striker Joseip Drmic, who was a sensation in the German Bundesliga in the 2013-14 season, is born to Croatian parents. Fellow striker Admir Mehmedi was born in Macedonia and is of Albanian heritage. He moved to Switzerland at the age of two.
The Swiss dressing room speaks six languages including English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Serbian. With the talent at hand, coach Hitzfeld will be unable to use miscommunication as an excuse, should the Swiss side underperform at the world cup.
Ecuador: The other Suarez seeks to add bite
While Ecuador may not consider their Group E rivals Honduras as a potent threat, the coach of the Honduras side Luiz Fernando Suarez must have put in his everything to change the perception of his previous team. Suarez was the same man who had led Ecuador to an astonishing victory against Poland during the 2006 Germany World Cup. It has been more than three years now that he joined Honduras as their mentor and is plotting a surprise shock win against Ecuador. For starters, he made sure his side remains a low profile side as he is making them stay in a comparably less expensive hotel. Also slyly he has regrouped the team and have made the side strong on the counter-attack. Equador beware. If Honduras beat Ecuador, it will be their first win in the finals of the World Cup ever. Ecuadors 2006 win was the highlight of Suarezs career but it soon faded away when the side suffered losses against Brazil (5-0), Peru (5-1) and Venezuela (1-0) during the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and he was forced to leave. The meeting in Brazil may well be just a Group E match but for Suarez, he certainly is there to prove a point.
Honduras: More than a matter of life and death
One of the first things that any travel guide will tell you about Honduras is its intentional homicide rate, which is the highest in the world. Even the nation pastime, football, is not far from the specter of death. After all, it is the same country which, together with El Salvador, gave us the Soccer War of 1969 one that left 6000 dead on both sides.
However, Honduras, in the new century, has been making the football noise mostly for the right reasons. The team have qualified for their second consecutive World Cup, to go with their third-place finish at the 2001 Copa America. Considering the other sides in the group are Switzerland, Ecuador and France they arent likely to advance, but they will do the best they can to spoil others party. As they did to Switzerland in South Africa. The Swiss, having shocked the eventual champions Spain earlier in Group H, needed to beat Honduras by a 2-0 margin to go through to the round of 16. The Hondurans, however, held their ground and fought out for 0-0.
The player to watch is Stoke Citys midfielder Wilson Palacios, Hondurass best-known player, thanks to the Premiership. Palacious himself would prefer anonymity, as his fame and money were perhaps the reasons behind his younger brother Edwins death. In 2007, Palacios was with Birmingham when his Edwin was kidnapped from near their family home in Honduras. Even though the family paid half a million dollar ransom, the teenager wasnt released. His body was found in 2009.
Jonathan Selvraj, Kapil Patwardhan, Siddhartha Sharma, Daksh Panwar contributed to the story.