We’re six days away from the opening match of the 2014 World Cup. For some, it’s been four years of edge-of-your-seat anticipation since Spain slid by the Netherlands to win its first World Cup, while for others you might just be realizing at this moment that you want to catch a match or two because nothing better is on. Either way, WE GOT YOU. We’ll ease you in slowly over the remaining business days with group-by-group breakdowns, which of course, if you follow closely, will lead you to office pool glory. We even covered the bases for you if literacy isn’t your thing, and embedded 10-minute audio clips breaking down the groups at the bottom of each post.

Lastly, if you’re in Austin, Texas during the World Cup, come grab a hearty pint with Bro Jackson’s leading soccer nerds, Ramon Ramirez and Stephen Whiting, co-hosts of the International Player’s Anthem podcast, as we do pre- and postgame shows alongside our friends at OneOfUs.net live from The Mohawk.

Without further ado, let’s get this thing started.

Related: Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D

worldcupimages

It’s Friday baby, and we’re on the downward slide for our World Cup previews with Group E. I’ve gotta be honest here, I don’t like to read or do much on Fridays and Group E is the perfect group for a brisk, quick read.

France is going to maul its way through this group like a bear chasing a steak dinner. Despite technically coming in as a de facto two-seed in this group, and nearly missing out on the World Cup altogether after going down 2-0 to Ukraine in the first leg of the European playoffs, this team is the overwhelming favorite to take care of business against Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras. The roster sheet for the French reads like an all-star team with Juventus star Paul Pogba at the forefront, followed by Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema, Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, Marseille midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, and Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud. There will be goals and there will be blowouts.

Switzerland is the other European squad in this group, and came into this tournament as one of the eight, No. 1 overall seeds. The Swiss are a stout team characterized by their defensive resilience, but make no mistake, this team has plenty of attacking firepower too. Little used Bayern Munich player Xerdan Shaqiri has scored when given opportunities, including in a tune-up victory over Peru, Tuesday. Twenty-one-year-old Josip Drmic has emerged as a monster goal-scoring threat after finishing third in the German Bundesliga by netting 17 goals for club Nurnberg despite his squad finishing 17th out of 18 teams and getting relegated to the German second division. Other stalwarts on this Swiss squad include Napoli playmakers Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzemali, who helped lead their club to third place in Italy’s Serie A and a victory in the 2014 Coppa Italia final.

South American representatives Ecuador are the third team in this group. The Ecuadorians actually finished South American qualifying ahead of powerful Uruguay. Many think this athletic squad has a better shot at getting out of the group than the seeded Swiss. We don’t see it. Qualifying at home in Ecuador is aided by the Andes mountains, with very high elevations two miles above sea level. We think their qualifying record is a bit overblown, and the squad will be attending the finals, tragically, without ace striker Chucho Benitez, who passed away suddenly last July in Qatar. There is still plenty of attacking talent on the roster in Enner Valencia, who finished this past season as top scorer in Mexico’s Liga MX, and scored in the 2-2 draw with England on Wednesday. Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia captains the squad.

The final team in this group is Honduras. The Hondurans finished fourth in North America and expectations are low for their performance at this tournament. Their squad is a solid mixture of youth and experience. Their most well-known player is probably Wilson Palacios, a midfielder playing for Stoke City, that previously played for one of the bigger London clubs, Tottenham, from 2009-2011. MLS fans will recognize 21-year-old Andy Najar, who now plays for Belgian juggernaut Anderlecht, but previously starred for D.C. United, winning the 2010 MLS Rookie of the Year award at the age of 17. Roger Espinoza is another dynamic player that MLS-ers will recognize after starring for Sporting Kansas City, and forward Jerry Bengston will jog some memories as well.

france

France

Capital

Paris

Population

66,616,416

Three fun facts cut and pasted from Wikipedia

1. In 600 BC, Ionian Greeks, originating from Phocaea, founded the colony of Massalia (present-day Marseille), on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. This makes it France’s oldest city.

2. The Storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris, France on the morning of July 14, 1789. The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the center of Paris. The prison only contained seven inmates at the time of its storming but was a symbol of the abuses of the monarchy: its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution.

3. The railway network of France, which as of 2008 stretches 29,473 kilometres (18,314 miles) is the second-most extensive in Western Europe after that of Germany.

Greatest World Cup high

Winners, 1998.

Captain

Tottenham keeper, Hugo Lloris.

Keeper

Lloris, who was born to an upperclass family (banker dad, lawyer mom) in the Mediterranean and plays with an air of privileged confidence. He’s just unafraid of high-power shots to his face and that’s commendable. He also looks like a prince kind of. Not in the sense that he’s particularly dashing, but he’s got that chiseled French bro thing going on and it’s distinct.

Difference-maker

With Franck Ribery ruled out Friday to a nagging back injury, it’s on Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and have a big, high-scoring tournament. He’s a great dark horse candidate for the Golden Boot.

Xhaka of Switzerland celebrates scoring a goal with team mates Shaqiri and Behrami during their World Cup 2014 qualifying soccer match against Slovenia in Ljubljana

Switzerland

Capital

Bern

Population

8,014,000

Three fun facts cut and pasted from Wikipedia

1. Switzerland has existed as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of Switzerland established a protective alliance at the end of the 13th century (1291), forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.

2. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy.

3. Switzerland has four official languages: principally German (65.3 percent total population share, with foreign residents; 73.2 percent of residents with Swiss citizenship, in 2011); French (22.4 percent; 23.1 percent) in the west; Italian (8.4 percent; 6.1 percent) in the south. Romansh (0.6 percent; 0.7 percent), a Romance language spoken locally in the southeastern trilingual canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French, and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language.

Greatest World Cup high

Quarters, 1934, 1938, 1954. More recently, the team reached third in FIFA’s world rankings in 1993.

Captain

Napoli midfielder, Gökhan Inler.

Keeper

Thirty-year-old Wolfsburg keeper, Diego Benaglio.

Difference-maker

It’s funny, Italy is a traditionally defensive-minded team but lately it’s been about the attack. Taking the reigns as the leading choppy, pace-conscious global team is a Swiss side that plugs its defense and midfield with Serie A-trained assassins: Three Napoli players and Juventus’ Stephan Lichtsteiner. Lichsteiner is a big bruiser that changes games with his running on the wings. He’s also got two great nicknames, “Forrest Gump” and “The Swiss Express.”

ecuador

Ecuador

Capital

Quito

Population

15,223,680

Three fun facts cut and pasted from Wikipedia

1. Before the arrival of the Incas, it became the world of Native American people settled in Ecuador. They had developed different languages while emerging as unique ethnic groups. Some likely sailed to Ecuador on rafts from Central America, others came to Ecuador via the Amazon tributaries, others descended from northern South America, and others ascended from the southern part of South America through the Andes or by sailing on rafts . . .

2. These communities developed similar cultures, even though their languages were unrelated, because they lived in the same environment. The people of the coast developed a fishing, hunting, and gathering culture; the people of the highland Andes developed a sedentary agricultural way of life; and the people of the Amazon basin developed a nomadic hunting and gathering way of life . . .

3. Over time these groups began to interact and intermingle with each other so that groups of families in one area became one community or tribe, with a similar language and culture. Many civilizations rose throughout Ecuador, such as the Valdivia Culture and Machalilla Culture on the coast, the Quitus (near present-day Quito), and the Cañari (near present-day Cuenca). Each civilization developed its own distinctive architecture, pottery, and religious interests.

Greatest World Cup high

Sweet 16, 2006.

Captain

Man U’s Antonio Valencia.

Keeper

Máximo Banguera, who holds it down in Ecuador’s domestic league.

Difference-maker

Enner Valencia, a scoring machine that comes into this tournament on fire.

honduras

Honduras

Capital

Tegucigalpa

Population

8,249,574

Three fun facts cut and pasted from Wikipedia

1. Honduras became independent from Spain in 1821 and was for a time part of the First Mexican Empire until 1823 when it became part of the United Provinces of Central America federation. After 1838 it was an independent republic and held regular elections.

2. In the late nineteenth century United States-based infrastructure and fruit growing companies were granted substantial land and exemptions to develop the northern regions. As a result, thousands of workers came to the north coast to work in the banana plantations and the other industries that grew up around the export industry.

3. The 2008 Honduran floods were severe and around half the country’s roads were damaged or destroyed as a result.

Greatest World Cup high

This marks the third World Cup appearance for Honduras, it is yet to survive a group stage.

Captain

Thirty-seven-year-old keeper, Noel Valladares, who still gets work in the Honduran domestic league.

Keeper

Valladares, who is reportedly really shy in real life and that’s why his nickname is “The Secret.”

Difference-maker

Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios is a fine midfielder, and though he’s coming off an injury-plagued season he’s fresh and healthy. And as Mexico and the United States learned in qualifying, the MLS isn’t a dog and pony show these days–that surging-in-terms-of-competitive-and-professional-play league runs on Central Americans and they don’t come into these tournaments as shaky dogs.

Top 10 players in Group E

10. Josip Drmic, Switzerland

The 21-year-old seemed to come out of nowhere for lowly German squad Nurnberg and was really the only bright spot to a season that saw them demoted from the top league in that country. Drmic’s 17 goals were good enough to earn him the three spot in the goal scoring tables behind superstars Robert Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic.

9. Enner Valencia, Ecuador

It might be a bit controversial that I’m including Enner Valencia on this list and not his elder namesake Antonio Valencia. Enner Valencia has been scoring goals at an unbelievable clip since moving to Mexico earlier this season, putting away 18 in only 22 appearances, and leading club team Pachuca to the 2014 Clausura final where they would finish as runners-up. Valencia continued his scoring streak on Wednesday, scoring the opening goal in Ecuador’s 2-2 draw with England.

8. Xerdhan Shaqiri, Switzerland

Another bright prospect for the future, the 22-year-old, has only been used sparingly for world power Bayern Munich, but has shown glimpses of promise when given the option. Noted for his blazing speed and dribbling ability, Shaqiri scored six times in 17 league appearances for the Bavarian club, and further bolstered his inclusion with a goal against Peru on Tuesday.

7. Gokhan Inler, Switzerland

The 29-year-old Inler captained Switzerland to a win over eventual World Cup champion Spain in that nation’s opening match at the 2010 World Cup. Inler is the playmaker that will make the Swiss go, and has a habit of scoring big goals when the moment calls for it, scoring a monster goal in the 2012 Champions League Sweet 16 against Chelsea to send the match to extra time for club team Napoli, before they eventually fell in extra time.

6. Olivier Giroud, France

Here’s where things get Blue. Very blue. The next six spots are all Frenchman, and indicate just how overwhelming a favorite Les Bleus are in this group. We’ll start with Olivier Giroud. Giroud was the lone pillar of the Arsenal attack all season, and helped the English club run through the first three quarters of the English Premier League season and into the Champions League Sweet 16 before the wear and tear of so many miles on one man finally took its toll. Giroud appears to still be in good form though, scoring twice in France’s victory over Norway last week.

5. Mathieu Valbuena, France

The architect of both of Giroud’s goals in that match with Norway was the diminuive Mathieu Valbuena. The 5’6” playmaker typically plays in central midfield, but will also be found on the right wing where he likes to take players on with his world-class dribbling ability. Valbuena was a surprising selection to France’s 2010 World Cup team, but has been a mainstay ever since.

4. Karim Benzema, France

Benzema is a player fans love to hate, especially at his current club, European Champions Real Madrid. The 26-year-old seems like he’s been around forever, and maybe that’s because he has, making his professional debut for Lyon at the age of 16, in the middle of the club’s seven-year run of dominance in the French league. The big, bulky Benzema is quick and is a bit of a poacher. He can score out of the air or from anywhere within the box. Benzema has often received criticism from French and Real Madrid fans for essentially “not being good enough” despite a stellar track record over the last four seasons where he has averaged 25 goals and 14 assists a season.

3. Hugo Lloris, France

When you’ve got the top six players on the list and one of those is a goalkeeper, you know your team may be poised for a deep run in the tournament. Perhaps it’s because Lloris grew up playing tennis that he’s such a tremendous force between the posts for Les Blues. Like an angry octopus, he seems to be everywhere, with extremely quick reflexes and tremendous hands.

2. Franck Ribery, France

Well shit. Now we have a problem. France’s beating heart is a late World Cup scratch as of Friday. France should suffocate Group E, but without Ribery around to add a second head to its attack, the absence could mean trouble after the group stage.

1. Paul Pogba, France

Many would have selected Bayern Munich leader Franck Ribery for this spot, but we’ve decided to give the edge to 21-year-old midfielder Paul Pogba. Pogba has been an absolute revelation over the last two seasons for three-time defending Italian champions Juventus. Pogba is a big, strong presence in midfield who isn’t afraid to put the ball in the back of the net from anywhere on the field. Check out this goal against Udinese in 2013.

Biggest, baddest game of the group

Ecuador v. Honduras

This is tough because France is much better than everyone else, and Switzerland is much better than Honduras and Ecuador. We’re going to go out on a limb here and choose Ecuador vs. Honduras. These two countries played to a spectacular 2-2 draw in Houston in November, we expect more of the same.

Let’s chat about Group E

How they’ll finish

France – 9 points

Switzerland – 4 points

Ecuador – 2 points

Honduras – 1 point

France, in a bloodbath, should manhandle each opponent it faces in this group, however the French are a bit tricky sometimes when they get on the big stage as there is typically no middle ground; they impress or they disappoint, period. Switzerland is much better than Ecuador and Honduras, but the Swiss are a bit laborious in their approach and Ecuador can score quickly. We like a draw there, with the Swiss getting by Honduras and Ecuador faltering there with a draw.