PARIS (AP) — France will head to the World Cup as the favorite in Group E despite strong competition from a well-organized Switzerland coached by Ottmar Hitzfeld.
The French and Swiss have been here before, drawing 0-0 in their opening group game at the 2006 World Cup, where France went on to lose the final on penalty kicks to Italy.
Ecuador and Honduras are unlikely to challenge for group supremacy. Winning the group is crucial, however, to avoid a likely meeting with Argentina in the second round.
Switzerland faces Ecuador in the first game on June 15 in Brasilia.
Here are five things to know about Group E:
PLAYING DOWN EXPECTATION
France coach Didier Deschamps is reluctant to talk up his team's chances at the World Cup because he still thinks his players lack consistency.
The traumatic exit from the last World Cup — where the players went on strike and failed to even win a game — is still etched in their memories.
"What's a successful World Cup? It's hard to answer, but you know just as well as me what a failed World Cup is," said Deschamps, who was captain when France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship. "We can't count ourselves among the favorites because there are teams who have more experience, whose results over the past four or five years are much better than ours."
The way France qualified through the playoffs sums up the inconsistency. France trailed Ukraine 2-0 after a pitiful performance in the first leg in Kiev, only to turn the situation around in spectacular style with a 3-0 win.
"We have a competitive team capable of doing great things but also capable of alternating with much less good things," Deschamps said. "We'll find out the truth in our first match."
THE PRESSURE'S ALL YOURS
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is happy for France to have the pressure of being group favorite.
The Swiss and French will meet on June 20 in Salvador in a match that is likely to decide the Group E winner — and possibly avoiding Argentina in the second round.
"We have a mature team now. I can say that it's become 'adult,' it's grown up. We had a superb qualifying campaign, we didn't lose a single game and we've developed a great team spirit," Hitzfeld told RMC radio. "I hope to beat France so that we can finish first. But beating France will be an enormous surprise because, for me, France remains the group favorite."
So was European champion Spain, however, when it faced Switzerland in their opening group game at the last World Cup. With Hitzfeld in charge, Switzerland won 1-0 — Spain's last defeat in a tournament.
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