Edit June 16th: ESPN.com gave me a bum steer on the schedule. The second set of games actually starts this afternoon, with South Africa v. Uruguay. It's a little late for a full preview, but we'll go on record with a prediction of 1-1.
Back down to two games tomorrow, as the first set of group matches wrap up. The second set are usually the best, as they feature the highest percentage of games where both teams are playing for the win, so look for things to pick up starting Thursday.
Honduras v. Chile (Group H, 7:30 AM ET)
One-sentence preview: A game unlikely to mark the turning point in what has been a lackluster first round to date.
Honduras might be the most forgettable team in this year’s World Cup. New Zealand are worse but cuter; North Korea are worse but are North Korea. Honduras are merely the third qualifying team from a region that only goes two teams deep (Mexico and the US). They come in on the back of an 0-2-2 warm up campaign, with draws against Belarus and Azerbaijan (really) and losses to Venezuela and Romania. None of those four teams were good enough to make the Cup. So…yeah. Oddly, their strength is probably up front, where Carlos Pavon and David Suazo are both grizzled vets with experience playing in the trenches of the Italian Serie A.
Chile, on the other hand, were picked by ZonalMarking.net as maybe the most tactically interesting team in the tournament. They play a moderately wacky 3-3-1-3 formation that is designed to spread the field and put unusual pressure on their opponents as they try to bring the ball out of their own half. A talented team can take advantage of this by finding space in behind the pressure. Fortunately for Chile, they’re not playing a talented team; they’re playing Honduras. The team impressed during South American qualifying, finishing second behind Brazil, and played OK in warm-up matches (0-1 at Mexico’s impregnable Azteca Stadium; 3-0 and 1-0 over minnows Zambia and Ulster). One thing to keep an eye on is set pieces, because this is not a very big team.
Prediction: Chile 1-0 Honduras
Spain v. Switzerland (Group H, 10AM ET)
Spain are all kinds of fun. No matter how they structure their side, they’re going to end up leaving at least one world-class player on the bench (for this match, probably either the banged-up Andres Iniesta of Barcelona or Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal). They have great strikers up front in David Villa and Francisco Torres, and maybe the world’s most accurate passer in Xavi. They have multiple solid keepers. They go 5 deep on defense. And, most impressively, they have lost exactly once in the past three years (to the USA at last year’s Confederations Cup). If you’re looking for flaws, they were a little underwhelming in warm-up matches against Saudi Arabia (3-2) and South Korea (1-0), and also have a bunch of guys at about 80% health. Doesn’t matter; they’re still fun.
Switzerland, well, who knows. Last year was probably the best year in Swiss soccer history, as they breezed through World Cup qualifying and won the Youth World Cup, beating Nigeria in the final. But they’ve looked very, very mediocre this year, losing 1-3 to Uruguay, 0-1 to Costa Rica, and drawing a tired Italy team 1-1 at home. Keep an eye on striker Hakan Yakin because, well, come on. That’s an awesome name.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Switzerland. Spain aren’t quite at their best yet, but don’t need to be.