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Tactics Board

World Cup 2010, Group H

June 1, 2010
By Kevin Palmer and Nick Bidwell

Group H: Spain | Chile | Switzerland | Honduras

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G

Coach: Vicente Del Bosque
Preferred formation: 4-1-3-2
Key man: David Villa
Wildcard: Fernando Torres
Weak spot: Over-confidence must be avoided

David Villa: Top scorer at Euro 2008
GettyImagesDavid Villa: Top scorer at Euro 2008

There have not been many European sides who have headed into a World Cup finals in a foreign continent with the sort of expectation that Spain are carrying with them to South Africa this summer, so living up to their tag of tournament favourites will carry with it a heavy burden.

The reigning European champions have been hovering around the top two positions in the FIFA rankings for some time now and no wonder, as they are blessed with an array of talent that makes them a formidable superpower on the international stage. From front to back, Spain are a winning machine and coach Vicente Del Bosque dares not allow this glorious World Cup opportunity to slip through his fingers.

France striker Thierry Henry recently lauded Del Bosque's dream machine as the best international side on the planet, suggesting it was all but impossible to reclaim possession when it is surrendered. He is spot on as Spain are fortunate to have a first XI that provides a blueprint for speedy and incisive passing.

The fact that the brilliant Cesc Fabregas cannot even be assured of a place in a first choice Spanish midfield sums up their strength in depth, with the world-class brilliance of Barcelona pair Andres Iniesta and Xavi complimented superbly by Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso and Valencia's David Silva.

One concern up front surrounds the fitness of Fernando Torres, who missed large chunks of the season with Liverpool and underwent knee surgery back in April. Barcelona's new £34 million striker David Villa will be hoping his potent partner returns in time to be at his best for this World Cup.

With world-class goalkeepers in Real Madrid's Iker Casillas and Liverpool's Pepe Reina patrolling behind a back four of Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), the Barcelona duo of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), filling the left-back berth, solidity at the back should be assured.

However, the feeling is that the only weakness in the Spanish armoury is their tendency to leave the door open at the back in their delightful desire to push forward. Some opponents may believe Capdevila and Ramos can be exposed at this World Cup, but they would be trying to find fault where there is very little.

Quite simply, Spain can claim their first world title this summer if the key components in their line-up click when it matters most. Only a fool would bet against them.

Coach: Marcelo Bielsa
Preferred formation: 3-3-1-3
Key man: Humberto Suazo
Wildcard: Matias Fernandez
Weak spot: Hectic build-up may be costly

Humberto Suazo: Key man for Chile
GettyImages / AlfredoEstrellaHumberto Suazo: Key man for Chile

Expectations were modest after Chile secured their position in this World Cup mix, yet the Group H draw has fuelled the belief that La Roja can aim for more than gallant first-round farewells this summer.

Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa has World Cup experience to call upon as he was in charge of his native Argentina in the 2002 finals, with their first-round exit after a defeat against England leaving a stain on his CV that has proved hard to erase. However, he heads to South Africa with realistic hope of making better progress with Chile.

It has often been said that Bielsa is a fan of Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal and his tactical formation is straight from the Dutchman's copybook. Steady at the back, with wide players crucial to an attacking policy that is designed to overwhelm opponents.

The front three in the Chile side will be crucial to their hopes. Lead striker Humberto Suazo topped the scoring in the South American World Cup qualifiers with ten goals and he will have benefited from his spell in Spain with Real Zaragoza in the second half of the European league season.

Supporting him will be Udinese flyer Alexis Sanchez, the wonderkid who is already an established star at the tender age of 21. Jean Beausejour will fill the other attacking berth, with his experience in Europe now being complimented by a stint with the America side in Mexico.

Chile's attacking intent does not stop there. Sporting Lisbon's Matias Fernandez acts as playmaker-in-chief, charged with supplying the decisive passes to spark the attacking trio ahead of him, with Reggina's Carlos Carmona offering the backbone at the heart of the midfield.

If there is a potential weak spot, it may come at the back, where doubts remain over the fitness of first-choice 'keeper Claudio Bravo. Their desire to push forward may well leave them open to attack by sides hitting them on the break and yet the Chile coach will do all he can to convince his troops that he has every base covered.

Bielsa is highly respected by his squad and that powerful relationship is due in part to his willingness to listen to their views. In addition, he is famous for his meticulous preparations, so he will have his opponents' every potential move analysed. After an impressive qualifying push, it may be that Chile's coach is their best hope of glory at this World Cup.

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Tranquillo Barnetta
Wildcard: Alex Frei
Weak spot: Philippe Senderos has barely played this year

Swiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta
GettyImages / BrynLennonSwiss midfielder Tranquillo Barnetta

Group H features a couple of teams who like to go at their opponents with joyous abandon in Spain and Chile, yet they will come up against an opponent waiting for them to fall into their traps as they face Ottmar Hitzfeld's more cautious Swiss side.

Few would have backed the Swiss to top their group after they slumped to a shocking home defeat against the minnows of Luxembourg early in their qualification programme, but their brand of steady and cautious football reaped rewards in the end as they edged ahead of Greece in the final analysis.

They achieved that feat despite a catalogue of obstacles that would have tripped up a coach lacking the experience of two-time Champions League winner Hitzfeld, yet the reality remains that most of the players he will rely on this summer are far from being first choice for their club sides.

Take Senderos, the much maligned Arsenal defender, who has barely kicked a ball in anger for the Gunners in two years and then spent much of his time during a loan spell at Everton watching from the stands. His inactivity is a major concern, but the big defender will still start at centre back due to lack of alternatives open to Hitzfeld. At least defensive partner Stephane Grichting (Auxerre) is a safe bet alongside him.

Lazio's Stephan Lichtsteiner is a good performer at right back, but the player in front of him in the Swiss line-up, winger Marco Padalino, has been short of match action for club side Sampdoria this season. Benjamin Huggel (FC Basel) and Gokhan Inler (Udinese) provide the defensive cover in midfield, with the veteran Hakan Yakin included in the squad despite the fact he is a fading force.

The worries continue up front where all-time record Switzerland scorer Alex Frei is battling to recover from breaking his arm while playing for FC Basel last February and Hitzfeld will have to hope he can regain his match sharpness in good time for the World Cup.

Joining Frei in attack should be Congo-born Blaise Nkufo, who has agreed to join MLS side Seattle Sounders once this World Cup adventure is concluded. He may be a veteran at this stage, but Nkufo should be in buoyant mood after helping FC Twente to their unlikely Dutch title triumph this season.

In truth, there are more questions than answers hanging over the Swiss national side as they prepare for World Cup battle. It falls to experienced coach Hitzfeld to defy the odds once again and find a route to success this summer.

Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
Preferred formation: 4-4-2
Key man: Wilson Palacios
Wildcard: Carlos Pavon
Weak spot: Bulky defenders lack pace

Wilson Palacios and Carlos Pavon
GettyImagesHonduras kick off their World Cup campaign against Chile.

Colombian coach Reinaldo Rueda has already been afforded hero status in Honduras after guiding the nation to the World Cup finals, but only those in his own dressing room have any faith that their fairy tale has any longevity.

Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios is the shining star at the heart of their midfield and while the powerhouse engine room of this Honduran side lacks nothing in class, it will be interesting to see how the always strict World Cup officials deal with his feisty tackling style. He tends to pick up bookings galore in the rough and tumble Premier League, so he will have to temper his aggression somewhat this summer.

Palacios' midfield partner is an interesting character, with the veteran Amado Guevara realising a long-term ambition by making his World Cup bow at last. El Lobo, as he is known, has amassed a stunning total of caps approaching the 150 mark since making his international debut 16 years ago and his brand of creative play remains crucial to the Honduras masterplan.

The striking options open to coach Rueda look promising with the Internazionale striker David Suazo a potent threat so long as he regains full fitness after recent injury concerns. He has been on loan at Genoa this season and is an automatic pick if fit and firing.

Alongside him should be Honduras icon Carlos Pavon, whose legendary status back home is comparable to that of David Beckham in England or Pele in Brazil. Indeed, his links with Beckham do not end with his celebrity status as the duo played together at LA Galaxy back in 2007 and the Real Espana forward will be looking to cement his place in folklore with some starring displays in South Africa.

The danger must be that the attacking talent in this Honduras side will fail to cover for the flaws that may well be exposed at the back. Keeper Noel Valladares (Olimpia) is extremely shaky when dealing with high balls into his box, so expect Chile and Switzerland, in particular, to try and exploit that weakness in the Group H battles.

Wigan Athletic's Maynor Figueroa will be expected to shore up much of the traffic coming towards the Honduran goal, but defensive partner Osman Chavez is known to struggle when up against speedy forwards. Wilson's brother Johnny Palacios (Olimpia) is another option at the heart of the defence.

Two men to watch out for in this Honduras side will be wingers Julio Cesar De Leon (Torino) and Danilo Turcios (Olimpia), as both are free-kick experts capable of converting efforts from a variety of angles around the box. They could just be the stars who transform Honduran dreams into World Cup success this summer.