THE BLOG

World Cup Guide-Group H-Spain, Chile, Switzerland, Honduras

06/12/2010 09:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Here is an introduction to the four teams in Group H, with their FIFA rankings in parentheses.

Group H

Spain (2)
Chile (18)
Switzerland (24)
Honduras (38)

It's a good thing that most Swiss are multi-lingual because Group H is definitely the Spanish-speaking group.

Spain
Spain looks as strong as any team in the World Cup. When the United States upset Spain 2-0 in the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup on June 24, 2009, it marked the end of two extraordinary streaks. Spain had won 25 straight matches and gone 35 without a loss.

They won the 2008 European Championship with six straight victories, culminating in a 1-0 defeat of Germany in the final on a first-half goal by Fernando Torres. They won all ten of their World Cup qualifying matches, outscoring their opponents 28-5. Since then, they beat Argentina 2-1 in Madrid and France 2-0 in Paris. Well, you get the picture.

As for their group opponents, Spain has faced Switzerland 18 times in the last 85 years and never lost. They have played Chile seven times since 1950 and never lost. The only time Spain has played Honduras was at the 1982 World Cup in a match that ended in a draw.

Anything can happen in the world of sport, but it would take a collective collapse for Spain to be eliminated before the knockout round. Keeping that in mind, it is true, however, that only once has Spain advanced beyond the quarter-finals in the World Cup, and that was in 1950. Like England, the Spanish suffer from quarter-final elimination syndrome, having been eliminated in that round four times, most recently in 2002.

In addition, if all goes reasonably to form, Spain's round of 16 foe will be either Portugal or Brazil. One game like the one they played against the U.S. at the Confederations Cup and Spain could find themselves going home early. For his 23-man squad, Spanish coach Vicente del Bosco has chosen eight players from Barcelona and five from Real Madrid, for which he both played and coached.

Chile
Chile qualified for the World Cup by finishing second in the South American tournament, only one point behind Brazil. After a shaky start, the Chileans lost only one of their last nine matches (to Brazil). This will be their eighth World Cup appearance, but they have made it out of group play only twice.

The high point in the history of Chilean soccer came when Chile hosted the 1962 World Cup. In group play, they defeated Switzerland and Italy, before losing to West Germany. The match against Italy has gained notoriety as one of the ugliest in World Cup history, with fistfights between the players and repeated police interventions. Moving on to the quarter-finals, Chile faced the reigning European champions from the Soviet Union. The Chileans took a 2-1 lead in the first half hour and held on for the win. In the semi-finals, they were finally defeated, falling to Brazil 4-2. They did come back to beat Yugoslavia 3-1 in the third-place match.

If 1962 was the highlight of Chile's soccer history, the lowlight surely came on September 3, 1989. To qualify for the 1990 World Cup, Chile needed to defeat Brazil in Rio de Janeiro before an estimated crowd of 160,000. Chile was trailing 1-0 with about 23 minutes to play when a Brazilian female fan shot a firecracker in the direction of Chile's goalkeeper, Roberto Rojas. Rojas fell to the ground, clutching his bleeding forehead. His teammates carried him off the field and refused to return, claiming that their lives were in danger. However, video replays showed that Rojas had not been hit by the firecracker, and a FIFA inquiry determined that his wounds were "self-inflicted." Rojas was banned for life and Chile was not allowed to take part in the qualifications for the 1994 World Cup. They returned to the World Cup in 1998 and made it as far as the round of 16, where they were knocked out 4-1 by Brazil.

This year, Chile appears to have a strong team. If all goes according to form, they should make it out of group play. Unfortunately, their most likely opponent in the round of 16 is...Brazil.

Switzerland
Switzerland got off to a miserable start in World Cup qualifying, blowing a 2-0 lead on their way to a 2-2 draw with Israel. Then, playing at home, they lost 2-1 to Luxembourg, a nation that had not won a World Cup qualifying match in 36 years. The Swiss regrouped after this embarrassment and didn't lose again, finishing first in the group, one point ahead of Greece.

This will be Switzerland's ninth World Cup appearance. They have never advanced past the quarter-finals and haven't even made it that far since 1954. At the last World Cup in 2006, the Swiss did not concede a single goal, yet they were eliminated in the round of 16 anyway, when they lost on penalty kicks to Ukraine, a match which I had the misfortune of attending. You just don't expect a World Cup knockout round match to be as boring as this one was. The Swiss, by the way, missed all of their penalty shots.

Since defeating Luxembourg back in October 2009, the Swiss have played only four matches and did not win any them, being beaten by Norway, Uruguay and Costa Rica, and tying Italy 1-1.

Honduras
Honduras will be competing in the World Cup for only the second time. The first time, in 1982, they were eliminated in group play despite holding the host team, Spain to a 1-1 draw.

This time they eked out a qualification on the final day of the CONCACAF tournament by beating El Salvador on the road 1-0 on a second-half goal by 36-year-old Carlos Pavón. They have a tough team, and they could pick up a win against Switzerland, but a positive result against Spain or Chile would be an upset, although they did beat Chile in a friendly last year in Fort Lauderdale. In their final tune-up match before the World Cup, Honduras was beaten 3-0 by Romania--not a good omen.

Favorites: Spain is a shoo-in, while the second spot is Chile's to lose.

Conclusion

The truth is that is it almost impossible to predict the outcome of the early matches in the World Cup. That's because national teams, unlike club teams, don't play together very often. Recent tune-up matches are interesting, but coaches often use them to try out players and strategies, rather than going all-out to win. Of course this is exactly why the first week of the World Cup is so fascinating. Each match is a revelation, as we learn which teams and which players are in form and which are too disorganized or dispirited to rise to the occasion.

That said, the favorites to go all the way are Spain and Brazil. If Lionel Messi and Diego Milito catch fire, Argentina could be a serious contender. If England plays up to their potential, they could make it to the semi-finals too. The secondary favorites are the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and France...in other words, the usual suspects. If you're looking for spoilers, keep an eye on Mexico and Chile (as long as they don't have to play Brazil).

To view a guide to all the groups, see here.

David Wallechinsky is the author of The Complete Book of the Summer Olympics and The Complete Book of the Winter Olympics. He is the vice-president of the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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