No alarms and no surprises please

  • By: Ian Ogg and Matt Brocklebank
  • Last Updated: June 15 2014, 22:32 BST

Ian Ogg and Matt Brocklebank preview Sunday's ties in the World Cup and they're not expecting the underdogs to bite back.

Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero could have plenty of opportunities
Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero could have plenty of opportunities

Switzerland began their last World Cup game with a surprise defeat of Spain but the onus will very much be on them this time around as they play Ecuador in the opening match of Group E.

France are comfortably expected to top that group and Matt Brocklebank doesn't foresee any problems for the favourites when they face Honduras while Group F favourites, Argentina, will also be expected to see off Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Bosnians are playing in their first World Cup and should be fired up for their clash with one of the tournament favourites in what could be a game to savour.

Switzerland v Ecuador (Group E, Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha, 1700 BST)

Ecuador finished fourth in South American qualifying with all seven victories coming on home soil at Quito. That does raise obvious questions about their effectiveness on foreign soil but they will be more accustomed to the conditions than the Swiss who topped a group consisting of Iceland, Cyprus, Slovenia, Albania and Norway.

The Swiss won seven of their matches to nil and it's reasonable to expect this to be a cagey affair with the likelihood that this first game could decide who qualifies in second behind France.

It is, therefore, no surprise to see under 1.5 and 2.5 goals hovering around the 6/4 and 1/2 mark and those odds really don't seem too unreasonable for the big hitters in a game that could revert to the sort of close encounter that is more readily associated with the group stages of a World Cup.

There have been under 2.5 goals scored in 12 of Switzerland's last 14 World Cup games to add further grist to the mill with the draw and no goalscorer other options to consider.

They are all priced accordingly, however, and there is the possibility that this game could open up if one side takes the lead given the perceived importance of the match.

Ecuador certainly didn't hold anything back in their friendly with England where Michael Arrayo equalised with a fine strike to show a glimpse of the quality that they possess but Reinaldo Rueda's side are beset by injury problems that they can ill afford.

That may hand the edge to the Swiss in what is expected to be a tight encounter but I wouldn't be prepared to bet on it.

Verdict: Switzerland 1 Ecuador 0 (IO)

Opta facts:

Switzerland have only conceded one goal in their last seven World Cup games combined.

Ottmar Hitzfeld's side were unbeaten in World Cup qualification, winning seven and drawing three of their 10 qualifiers.

Ecuador have never drawn a game at a World Cup, winning three and losing four so far.

Indeed, la Tri have won all three games in which they have kept a clean sheet in the competition, but lost all four they have conceded in.

France v Honduras (Group E, Estadio Beira-Rio, 2000)

Didier Deschamps' decision to leave Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri at home raised a few eyebrows but, given how so many of France's major campaigns have resulted in fall-outs off the pitch, the manager's determination to instil unity in the ranks could see Les Bleus go a long way this summer.

They head into their World Cup opener with Honduras on the back of a very dicey qualification campaign, in which they had to endure a two-legged play off with Ukraine, as well as a major injury blow to star man Franck Ribery.

However, results have been good since their place in Brazil was sealed, winning three of four friendlies (including a 2-0 defeat of Holland) and drawing the other, so odds of 4/11 to make a perfect start in Group E can't be considered too short.

The Hondurans did really well to finish third in their final CONCACAF qualification group behind USA and Costa Rica, and it's worth noting they numbered a 2-1 away win over Mexico among their victories.

Many of their players will be well known to fans of English and Scottish football, including Maynor Figueroa of Hull, Wilson Palacios at Stoke, Emilio Izaguirre from Celtic and Arnold Peralta at Rangers.

But they simply lack the raw ability of a France side which includes Patrice Evra, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema, and Deschamps' men have become very hard to peg back once getting their noses in front.

Another standout aspect from France's qualification games is that they are slow burners; of their 18 goals scored, they only managed a solitary strike inside the opening 15 minutes of games and failed to find the net in a third of their matches in total.

The physical strength of the Hondurans was there for all to see in the 0-0 warm-up with England and they will be more accustomed to the Brazilian climate than their European counterparts.

A cagey first half would come as no surprise, with both sides looking to find their feet in the competition, but France will ultimately show their class and odds of 3/1 on draw/France in the half-time/full-time market rates a generous price.

Verdict: France 2 Honduras 0 (MB)

Opta facts:

France have only won one of their last nine games in the World Cup group stages (2-0 v Togo in 2006).

Les Bleus have only scored one goal from open play in their last six games in this competition.

Honduras have failed to score in their last four World Cup games and bowed out of the 2010 edition without finding the net.

Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina (Group F, Estadio do Maracana, 2300)

Argentina are long odds-on to win Group F and Bosnia-Herzegovina are equally clear as second favourites to finish second at the expense of Nigeria and Iran.

Projecting scenarios is a dangerous game to play but it wouldn't be beyond belief for Bosnia-Herzegovina to take their foot off the pedal slightly in the knowledge that their other two matches are the contests that are likely to decide their tournament.

However, that could be doing a disservice to the European outfit who can boast a number of players that are housed within top sides in their squad and it's an equally plausible scenario that they will be fully fired up for their first World Cup match.

Regardless of their approach, they could have their work cut out against the two-time winners of the World Cup who topped South American qualifying and have tremendous strength in depth even before you consider the talents of Lionel Messi.

There are injury concerns regarding the prolific Gonzalo Higuain but they have a more than ample replacement in Ezequiel Lavezzi who could come in to partner Sergio Aguero.

The Argentine defence is a potential weak point in their attempt to hold aloft the trophy and both teams arrive in free-scoring mode

Both teams have scored in five of Argentina's last seven competitive fixtures and Bosnia's strike duo of Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic - who managed 18 goals between them during qualifying - will fancy their chances.

Only one attacking combination was more productive, however, and that was that of Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain (19).

That's without factoring in the goals of Sergio Aguero who can be backed at 7/5 to score at anytime and that's a price well worth taking in the expected absence of the Napoli hitman.

Verdict: Argentina 3 Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 (IO)

Opta facts:

Argentina have won nine and lost just one of their last 12 World Cup group games (D2), scoring 24 and conceding just four in total in this run.

La Albiceleste have only mustered two wins in their last nine World Cup games against European sides, drawing four and losing three.

No player was involved in more goals than Edin Dzeko in the European qualifiers (14 - 10 goals, 4 assists).

  • Posted at 1630 BST on 13/06/2014.