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World Cup Group E Preview: Redemption time for France

By Evan Hilbert | CBSSports.com

Midfielder Franck Ribery leads a resurgent France squad. (Getty Images)

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Here's one thing you can say about the French side: it's fortunate. After floundering and eventually failing at the 2010 World Cup -- complete with a player dismissal and team boycott during the tournament -- France needed a playoff with Ukraine to even reach this year's field. And the French promptly dropped the first leg 2-0 before winning the return match 3-0, and thus advancing on aggregate goals. And now, after barely qualifying, France lands in a favorable group and is a trendy pick to make a run in the knockout stage.

Joining the French will be a Switzerland squad expected to move through, as well, plus Ecuador and Honduras. The latter is in search of its first ever World Cup victory.

The teams

Switzerland: The youthful Swiss side walked through its qualifying round and expects to reach the knockout stage of this year's Cup -- something they failed to do in 2010 World Cup despite beating the eventual champions from Spain. One major concern for Switzerland will be its lack of a proven goal-scorer, which plagued the Swiss in South Africa. In all, its a side that should move through based on ability alone, but it wouldn't be much of a surprise to see them back home after the group stage.

France: Since winning the Cup in 1998, Les Blues has been as hit-or-miss as can be. They failed to win a match in ‘02, reached the final in ‘06, and again went winless in the disaster that was the ‘10 Cup. So predicting France as a shoo-in to move to the Round of 16 is risky, though an experienced side led by midfielder Franck Ribery shouldn't have too much trouble getting out of the group stage. But, given France's recent history, nothing is certain. New manager Didier Deschamps, however, has been molding the unit in hopes to avoid a repeat of 2010.

Ecuador: The dark-horse of the group, Ecuador is primed to move through if an unpredictable French side or offensively-challenged Swiss side stumble. That is to say, Ecuador is in fine shape to reach the Round of 16. They will need to shore up a defense that surrendered three goals to Australia during a friendly in March, though the talent is there to spring an upset over either France or Switzerland. If they can pull that off, there's a good chance they move through. Of course that's quite an 'if.'

Honduras: In three World Cup appearances, Honduras has never won a match. At the 2010 tournament they failed to even score a goal. There is something to build on, however, as this Honduras squad tied Switzerland 0-0 at the ‘10 Cup. That could give manager Luis Fernando Suarez's squad at least a modicum of confidence, though that won't be enough to push the Hondurans through. It will be hard enough for Honduras to just get on the board, let alone win a match in Brazil.

The key players

Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland: A surprise call-up on the 2010 Switzerland National Team, Shaqiri is expected to be the offensive spark to push the Swiss over the hump. The 22-year-old is fast becoming a star for a Switzerland team in desperate need of offense. The Swiss have managed just five goals in its last seven World Cup matches. Switzerland's hopes in this year's Cup may rely on just how effective Shaqiri is offensively.

Paul Pogba, France: The French side has plenty of talent and experience, but the X-factor will be Pogba, an enormously talented midfielder making his first World Cup appearance. The 21-year-old possesses a skill-set that -- actually, it may just be easier to watch this.

Alongside mainstay Franck Ribery, Pogba has the potential to not only push France through to the Round of 16, but perhaps make a legitimate run at the Cup.

Jefferson Montero, Ecuador: With Manchester United striker Antonio Valencia trolling one side of the field, Montero will be the second fist in a one-two punch anchoring a potent Ecuador offense. And without the benefit of an experienced defense -- something Ecuador has had in the past -- Montero may be key in determining his country's success.

Carlo Costly, Honduras: After missing the 2010 World Cup with an injury, Costly has been a reliable goal-scorer for Honduras in the lead up to this year's Cup. And if Honduras needs anything, it's a reliable goal-scorer. Costly, with the help of the Palacios brothers Jerry and Wilson, should provide more of an offensive threat than the ‘10 squad did. But, to be fair, that won't be much of a challenge.

How the group should play out

Group E is simple: If France plays to its potential, Les Blues is through easily, except France hasn't played to its potential in like eight years, so that really opens the door for Switzerland, a strong side that walked through its qualifying matches, though those qualifiers were quite breezy. But Switzerland can't score, though Ecuador can, but the Ecuadorians will struggle defensively, especially with France, who never plays to its potential.

So it's easy: Either France or Switzerland. Or Ecuador. Probably not Honduras, though.

Okay, Group E isn't so easy. The safe bet is some order of France and Switzerland with the others lagging behind. But maybe Ecuador.

Our predictions

Group E Predictions
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