Group H contains the European Champions and World Cup favourites Spain, and, if all goes to form, battling for the second qualifying spot would be Switzerland, followed by Chile and Honduras.
Spain are a formidable force, and should comfortably reach the knockout phases. They have put to bed the under-achievers mantle which they held for so long, after their European Championship success of 2008. The squad exudes strength and depth, and it's hard to see a weak link.
The squad is made up of mainly Real Madrid and Barcelona players, plus the talent of Reina, Fabregas and Torres from the Premier League. Febregas and Torres, along with Andreas Iniesta, were included in the squad despite all three not completing their club seasons due to injury. This gamble could be where the Spanish weakness lie, but they still have solid players to cover if these three are not 100%
Coach Vincente Del Bosque may even feel that, as long as they are back for the business end of the tournament, he has the squad to cope without them for the Group games.
A protracted move by Barcelona for Fabregas could also have an effect. Arsenal fans would be desperate for the midfielder to commit himself to the club before the Finals start, but Barcelona seem determined to get their man. And will Real Madrid try and get in on the act now that Mourinho is in charge ? He would love to take Cesc to the Bernabau under the noses of their fierce rivals. What a coup that would be…
In what is likely to be a battle for the runners up spot in this Group, I think Switzerland may have enough strength to make it through to the knockout stages. They comfortably qualified for the Finals, despite a blip which saw them lose to Luxembourg in Zurich. A repeat would almost certainly see them knocked out, but they have enough big game players to not make the same mistake again.
They have players scattered across big sides in all of Europe’s top leagues, and in Captain Alex Frei and Hakan Yakin they have experience and firepower when it comes to scoring goals. Familiar Premier League stars in the Swiss squad are Arsenal’s Philippe Senderos and Valon Behrami of West Ham. Another ex-Premier League player is Gelson Fernandes, who was doing quite well at Manchester City and looked a good prospect, but was sold to St.Etienne in France amid the upheaval at Eastlands.
Of the two Latin American sides in the group, Honduras are making only their second appearance in the Final (after Spain in 1982, where they gained respectable draws against the hosts, and Group winners Northern Ireland). They narrowly qualified from the CONCAF Group on goal difference from Costa Rica, but have since beaten the USA in a friendly, having lost to them twice in the qualifying stages. Signs of an improving side perhaps.
Honduras also have three Premier League players in their ranks, with Wigan’s Maynor Figueroa and Hendry Thomas lining up along side ex-latic Wilson Palacios, now of Spurs. They also have a smattering of European experience, but their squad is generally made up of domestic league players. They will be targeting the Switzerland and Chile games as winnable, and Honduras will be a determined, enthusiastic and powerful adversary in this Group. I think they may well fall short, but it won’t be for lack of endeavour.
Chile qualified easily from the South American group of death, finishing a mere point behind the winners Brazil. But Chile can no longer call upon the stars they once had. Gone are the likes of Marcelo Salas, Ivan Zamorano, and Clarence Acuna, with very few household names replacing them, and no stars from the big European leagues.
West Brom fans will find their defender Gonzalo Jara the lone English Club representative, although Liverpool fans will be keen to see how Mark Gonzalez has progressed since he left Anfield in 2007.
Chile are FIFA ranked 15th at the moment, and the ease in which they qualified reinforces the fact that they will be worthy opponents. They also have a formidable manager and tactician in Marcelo Biesla, who has been hailed as the main reason for this Chilean team’s success. They beat Argentina for the first time in their history during the qualifying rounds, and Biesla has been credited with bringing through a new, hungry, youthful side which he will lead in South Africa.
Warm up and friendly games now approach in the lead-up to the Finals, and it will be interesting to see how the teams perform. They will be looking to impress, and these matches will give everyone a better insight into some unknown talent in what could be a fascinating Group. I will be following them throughout the lead up and the Finals campaign, and will bring you news of each team’s progression.