New-look Swiss open World Cup campaign vs Ecuador

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2014 at 8:14 am •  Published: June 13, 2014

Casual football fans scrolling down the FIFA rankings will no doubt pause when they reach No. 6.

Switzerland. Really?

Yet, the Swiss — with just one defeat in 18 matches over two years — are there on merit and will bid to justify their top-seed status when they open their World Cup campaign against Ecuador in Brasilia on Sunday.

Coached by wily and experienced German Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland has been transformed into a bold European power driven on by blossoming players who shone at youth tournaments since 2009.

Hitzfeld's lineup is favored — along with France — to advance from Group E that also contains Honduras.

"We do have the potential to qualify for the round of 16," Hitzfeld said. "That is our goal. Then there are no limits."

Ecuador, ranked No. 26, has some deficiencies in defense — long-time center-half rocks Ivan Hurtado and Giovanny Espinoza are no longer around — and has a big hole in its forward line after the sudden death of star striker Christian Benitez last year.

The 27-year-old Benitez died of heart failure in Qatar in July, only three weeks after joining local team El Jaish. He was Ecuador's star forward with 24 goals in 58 appearances.

The desire to honor Benitez — previously described as "practically irreplaceable" by Ecuador coach Reinaldo Rueda — will drive the national team, but that may not be enough to help them progress beyond the group stage.

Another of Rueda's top players will be missing in Brazil, too, after experienced defensive midfielder Segundo Castillo was ruled out of the tournament on Monday with a knee injury sustained in a warm-up match against Mexico. Osvaldo Minda was called up as his replacement.

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