Group H

European champions Spain bid for first World Cup against Switzerland, Honduras and Chile.

    Xavi Hernandez could be one of the stars as Spain chase a first World Cup [GALLO/GETTY] 

    The champions of Europe are nearly always strong contenders for the World Cup, and Spain have barely drawn breath since powering to the top of the European Championships two years ago.

    A flawless qualifying campaign means their Group H rivals will be taking extra tactical lessons to try and counter the Spaniards' unquestioned superior ability.

    But with Honduras and Chile back on the big stage after long absences, what looks like an easy group for Spain could still hold a couple of surprises. 

    Spain

    European champions Spain come into the World Cup in ominous form, looking to add a first world title to the maiden continental trophy they won in 2008.

    Xavi Hernandez has proved a playmaker of deadly incision in Barcelona's triumphant Spanish campaign, while Fernando Torres is one of the most feared strikers in the world despite Liverpool's awful season in England.

    With experienced campaigners like goalkeeper Iker Casillas and centre back Carles Puyol throughout the side, perennial underachievers Spain should have the confidence to go all the way to the final in South Africa.

    Switzerland

    The Swiss will never win any awards for cavalier football but former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has forged a ruthless team who won five matches in a row in qualifying to finish top of their group.

    Group H fixtures

    Wednesday June 16

     
    Honduras v Chile 
     Spain v Switzerland 

    Monday June 21

     
    Chile v Switzerland 
     Spain v Honduras 

    Friday June 25

     
    Chile v Spain 
     Switzerland v Honduras 

    Basel striker Alexander Frei is the record scorer for his country, while partner Blaise Nkufo holds the crown for Dutch champs FC Twente – as the English saying goes, these two know where the onion bag is.

    Don't expect 24th-ranked Switzerland to beat Spain, but wins against Honduras and Chile are possible as Hitzfeld's pragmatic side aim for their first quarter-final appearance since 1954.

    Honduras

    The Hondurans have exploded on the international scene in recent years, with a trio of players making it into the big time via the unusual route of English Premier League minnows Wigan Athletic.

    Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas are still plying their trade for the Latics, while midfield kingpin Wilson Palacios has shot into the European Champions League with Tottenham Hotspur.

    But it is the veteran striker Carlos Pavon who is the side's hero, the 36-year-old hitting the winner to qualify against El Salvador.

    Ranked 38th in the world, the Hondurans boast both muscle and flair as they arrive in South Africa in the role of dark horses.

    Chile

    The Chileans go into the World Cup ranked 18th in the world and widely tipped to be one of the teams to watch.

    Coached by master Argentine strategist Marcelo Bielsa, Chile are back in the big time after last appearing at France 1998, where they reached the last 16 only to lose 4-1 to eventual finalists Brazil.

    Chile finished just a point behind the Brazilians in South American qualifying and boast a dangerous strikeforce in the form of Matias Fernandez, Alexis Sanchez and Humberto Suazo.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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