The final contains Honduras, Chile, Spain and Switzerland. Spain will win the group, and Switzerland and Chile will fight for second place with Chile pulling a mild upset and knocking the Swiss out of the World Cup
Group H Teams
Manager: Vicente del Bosque
Key player: Xavi
Best: Fourth (1950)
World ranking: 1
Spain matched the feats of England and the Netherlands, qualifying for the 2010 World Cup with two qualifying group matches to spare thanks to a workmanlike 3-0 defeat of Estonia in Merida. Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata got the goals to make it eight straight wins, with a 1-1 draw between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey ensuring the European champions’ smooth progress to the finals for the ninth straight time.
That Brazil are no longer the number one ranked side in the world is a testimony to the progress made by Spain over the last few years, and the Euro 2008 winners will be a major contender in South Africa. Picking out individuals to praise is not only difficult but very unfair to the rest of the side, but it could be argued the key to their side is Barcelona midfield duo Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Doubters and pessimists may legitimately point to the 2-0 defeat by the USA in the semi-final of the Confederations Cup in June as proof of chinks in the Spanish armour, but with that being their first loss in 35 matches – a run that equals Brazil’s world record – teams will have to employ expert aim if they are to penetrate such flaws.
Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Key player: Tranquillo Barnetta
Best: Quarter-final (1934, 1938, 1954)
World ranking: 18
Switzerland got the point they needed to qualify in their final match against Israel but not without a struggle – Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side were hanging on even after their hosts had Avihay Yadin sent off after 59 minutes. The Swiss went on an eight-match unbeaten run after a surprise defeat by Luxembourg to reach the finals.
The Swiss impressed at the last World Cup, where they did not concede a single goal prior to a second-round penalty shoot-out loss against Ukraine, and the experience that will come from co-hosting Euro 2008 should put them in good shape for South Africa. The side lacks any true world superstars but Bayer Leverkusen’s Tranquillo Barnetta and Udinese’s Gokhan Inler are a capable midfield duo and, if fit, Alexander Frei is a capable goalscorer. However, if they are to progress beyond the group stages Hitzfeld will have to weave his magic and hope all his players are on the top of their game.
Manager: Reinaldo Rueda
Key player: Wilson Palacios
Best: Round one (1982)
World ranking: 38
A 1-0 victory over El Salvador and a crucial last-minute goal by the United States against Costa Rica clinched Honduras’ place in South Africa next year. It was a close call though as they only secured their third-place finish in the group thanks to a superior goal difference to the Costa Ricans. It is only the second time they have qualified for the finals, the other being in 1982 – and it has all happened while Honduras has been in turmoil following a military coup in June.
Honduras are a rapidly improving side, boasting a number of players who ply their trade in Europe, including Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios and Wigan duo Hendry Thomas and Maynor Figueroa. Reaching the finals was a major feat for the side in the circumstances but it would be a monumental achievement for them to progress beyond the first round in South Africa.
Manager: Marcelo Biesla
Key player: Alexis Sanchez
Best: Third place (1962)
World ranking: 17
To be labelled the most attractive South American team when Brazil are included in the competition is some testimony to the strides Chile have made as a side. Unfortunately, they appear to lack the defensive strength to match, demonstrated through the conceding of 22 goals in qualifying, seven of which came in their two encounters with Brazil. They reached South Africa courtesy of a 4-2 victory over Colombia, with substitute Jorge Valdivia scoring one goal and creating the other three. It is Chile’s first appearance at the World Cup finals since 1998.
Argentine coach Marcelo Biesla has instilled a confidence in his side they have rarely demonstrated on the world stage, and his favouring of attacking play is admirable, if not sometimes a touch naive. The squad is an extremely young one, averaging around 23, and is forged around the creative skills of of players like Sporting Lisbon’s Matias Fernandez and Al Ain’s Jorge Valdivia and the goalscoring prowess of striker’s Alexis Sanchez of Udinese and Monterrey’s Humberto Suazo. Chile could well be one to keep an eye on and could well upset a few