Thu, Jun 12, 2014 - Page 18 News List

WORLD CUP: French and Swiss the teams to beat in Group E

AFP, RIO DE JANEIRO

France coach Didier Deschamps is under pressure after federation finance chiefs said they have budgeted for a quarter-final spot in their annual report.

The 45-year-old — who captained France to their only triumph in the World Cup in 1998 — has been blessed in comparison with other European heavyweights in drawing an improving if unspectacular Switzerland, Ecuador, probably the weakest of the South American representatives, and minnows Honduras.

The French first face Honduras, who are looking for their first win at a finals after failing to achieve that in their previous two appearances, but Deschamps is mindful that a France riven by internal discord failed to progress from a similarly simple looking group in 2010.

With his key winger Franck Ribery ruled out for the tournament on Friday, it served as a reminder to the former Monaco, Marseille and Juventus coach that the fickle finger of fortune could disrupt his plans right up till the last minute.

Deschamps, though, is looking no further than the first match.

“I have to say that my first target is to win the first match,” he told Le Monde last month. “Because the last match we won in the group stage of a World Cup finals was in 2006. And even given all the respect that I have for this country, it was against Togo. It is imperative to win the first match in order to get yourself right into the competition.”

France though, are notoriously slow starters — they have not won their opening game at a World Cup finals since the 1998 edition — which gives Honduras a reason to be optimistic of pulling off a shock.

Switzerland, coached by veteran German Ottmar Hitzfeld, are the top seeds in the group and should be favorites to join their trans-Alpine neighbors in the second round to make up for the disappointment of four years ago where, despite opening with a victory over eventual champions Spain, they failed to reach the knockout stage.

Hitzfeld, who will bring down the curtain on his stellar coaching career after the finals, said his squad is a lot more talented than the one that went to South Africa and whose first test will come against Ecuador.

“If I say to you that we are better than we were four years ago then everyone is going to expect us to qualify for the last 16,” the 65-year-old said. “I am, however, by nature an optimist and I say that we are better.”

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