By Ken Boehlke
Switzerland vs. Ecuador (Group E)
2 way line – Switzerland PK (-145) Ecuador PK (+125)
3 way line – Switzerland (+145) Ecuador (+220) Draw (+205)
Total – Over 2 (-105) Under 2 (-115)
Side: The Swiss play soccer like they approach politics, safely. In their opener in 2010 they shocked the eventual champions Spain with a 1-0 win in which they seemed to have Spain in a trance. It’ll be a much different story against Ecuador when they open this World Cup. The Nati won’t even have to look for scoring chances and they’ll still present themselves. 21-year-old Josip Drmić and 22-year-old Xherdan Shaqiri will have to finish said chances if they want to beat the sneakily dangerous Ecuador. The Swiss will be the more organized and tactically sound team, but if they aren’t their normal careful selves at the back, disaster could strike.
Ecuador play from the outside-in. They look to utilize their star player Antonio Valencia in wide areas to create chances inside the box for Felipe Caicedo and Jefferson Montero. The problem is that they usually send too many players forward when they sniff an opportunity and it leaves them vulnerable defensively. Their back four is spotty at best and they seem to be content with the understanding that games will be played in the three to four goal range rather than one or two. The tragic death of Christian Benitez has changed the look of the team, but his passing will give Ecuador an added reason to play the tournament of their lives to honor his. They’ll have a hard time unlocking the sturdy Swiss defense, and frustration may set in, which will leave them even more open to the counter. Pick: Switzerland (+145)
Total: A stark contrast in styles makes the total one of the most difficult to handicap. On one hand Ecuador look like a squad primed and ready to not only score but to allow multiple goals per game, but on the other Switzerland seem like they have no interest in scoring. The difference between this match being 2-2 and 0-0 will come down to how patient Ecuador can remain. The moment they start pressing the game will open up and the Swiss will pick them apart. In an opening match, Ecuador might just be content with trying to secure the single point with the understanding that three points against Honduras awaits them. Pick: Under 2 goals (-115)
France vs. Honduras (Group E)
2 way line – France -1.5 (+110) Honduras +1.5 (-130)
3 way line – France (-310) Honduras (+1050) Draw (+375)
Total – Over 2.5 (+110) Under 2.5 (-130)
Les Bleus are a popular dark horse candidate to not only dominate group play but also impose their will in the knockout stages. Obviously the loss of Frank Ribery hurts, but the French are still chock full of attacking threats. They’ll run out a 4-3-3 in which Kareem Benzema and Olivier Giroud will be expected to do a majority of the scoring. In matches against lesser opponents, France will maintain possession for most of the match. Honduras will be seen as just that, and the French should spend most of the match on the Honduran side of the field. France has been excellent in their send-off friendlies and haven’t missed a beat since losing Ribery. His absence will show up at some point in the tournament, just don’t expect it to happen against Honduras.
Honduras have a sneakily dangerous pair of strikers in Jerry Bengston and Carlo Costly. The problem however is proper service from the midfield to the attacking third is often lacking. Los Catrachos come in to the game off a weird friendly match in Florida against England in which a player was sent off and there was an extended lightning delay. More stock should be taken from their previous two games where they were blasted by Turkey and Israel. Counter, counter, and more counter will be the game plan against the much better France side. They’ll hope Bengston or Costly can provide that touch of magic, but odds are they’ll never be afforded the space to do so. Pick: 2 way bet – France -1.5 (+110)
Total: The French have been on a goal scoring tear leading into their trip to Brazil and they would love to erase the memories of 2010 as quickly as possible by putting a whooping on Honduras. Aside from the 0-0 draw Honduras had with England, their previous six matches have all resulted in at least three goals. Honduras will likely be overwhelmed on the defensive end as France will keep throwing numbers at them for the entire 90 minutes. It’s never easy to get three goals from an opening match, but the motivation of the French to not only erase the demons of the last World Cup but also to jump ahead in goal differential could see this one get out of hand. Pick: Over 2.5 (+110)
Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina (Group F)
2 way line – Argentina -1.5 (+120) Bosnia and Herzegovina +1.5 (-140)
3 way line – Argentina (-250) Bosnia and Herzegovina +700 Draw +375
Total – Over 2.5 (-120) Under 2.5 (+100)
The second favorite in the tournament, Argentina will be awfully difficult to beat on their home continent. Pressure will be the number one factor that could interfere with Alejandro Sabella’s team’s chances. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe their potent attack led by the best player in the world Lionel Messi, but the defense can break down at times. Bosnia and Herzegovina are not the ideal opening opponent as they have the ability to control possession and have an elite striker in Edin Džeko that could slip through and rattle the cage. The Argentinians will bang the ball around the midfield for most of the match until they find the right spot to slot the ball through to Messi, Sergio Agüero, or Gonzalo Higuaín. Bosnia and Herzegovina will attempt a compact, organized shape that might make life a little more difficult on Argentina than most believe. However, over time world-class strikers almost always find a way.
Don’t fear Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the long name and the fact that they’ve only been an independent country since 1992. They are a break-off of the former Yugoslavia, which was a mainstay in international soccer. Plus, they’ve got one of the most efficient strikers in the tournament in Džeko. However, because they are such a new soccer federation, depth is not a strong suit. Obviously that shouldn’t be as much of an issue in the opening match, but it may come in to play late as their substitutes simply don’t belong on the same field as Argentina. When the Dragons have the ball, they are always a threat to score, but in their most recent match with Mexico they only possessed it for 38% of the match. Also, just seven months ago this same matchup was played out in St. Louis and Argentina dominated to the tune of a 2-0 win. Pick: 3 way line – Argentina (-250)
Total: One could reasonably expect with the attacking prowess of Argentina. and the sometimes suspect defense of the Dragons, that this one could wind up with a lot of Argentinian offense. But this is a match that could see first match jitters affect the flow of play. Bosnia and Herzegovina are making their first ever World Cup appearance as a sovereign nation while Argentina’s expectations may hamper their ability to play the beautiful free-flowing style we’ve grown accustomed to. Bosnia and Herzegovina are a lot better than most will give them credit for, and they won’t be overwhelmed by coming up against a world power in their opening match. The ball will spend a lot of time in the middle third and chances may be limited. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (+100)