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Group E is still wide open with all teams technically able to qualify

Wednesday 25th June 2014
The frantic and nerve-shredding race to progress through to the knockout stages of the 2014 World Cup continues on Wednesday when eight teams, spanning two groups, take to the field in the penultimate day of the group stage section of the tournament. Tensions will be high as the countries bid to pick up valuable points that could see them either clinch top spot, or sneak into second and thus progress through to the business end of Brazil 2014.

At 9pm (BST) the focus will be on Group E, with the fifth group still wide open as all four teams can still qualify. However, having won both their games so far league leaders France are all but mathematically through, and they need just a point to secure top spot. In fact, it would take a shock big defeat by Ecuador, combined with a similarly sizeable win for Switzerland over Honduras, to prevent the French from reaching the last-16.

Realistically the real fight in Group E is for second spot, between Ecuador and Switzerland, who are both level on three points after two matches. As things stand the Swiss are the 4/9 favourites to progress, with Ecuador priced at 9/4, while fourth-placed Honduras are a 66/1 long-shot.

Ecuador v France will lock horns at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, which will be screened live on BBC at 9pm. Les Bleus head into the match as the 9/10 favourites to continue their fine form, whereas Ecuador can be backed at 18/5 to conjure up a surprise win in the southeast of Brazil. Meanwhile a draw, at 11/4 with Bet365, will not only guarantee the French top spot, but it could also be enough for Ecuador to grab second, providing Switzerland lose to Honduras.

France are bidding to win all three group games for the first time since 1998, which is the year they famously won the trophy on home soil. Expectations have risen rapidly over the last week, with the 1998 World Cup winners subsequently sliced down to just 8/1 in the betting. Their strong position at the top of Group E means they could lose and still qualify, although that would obviously be a big blow to their confidence heading into the knockout stages.

Didier Deschamps' men will be determined to keep the momentum going and in the process maintain their 100% record in Brazil, following comprehensive victories against Honduras (3-0) and Switzerland (5-2). Les Bleus will now be expected to beat Ecuador, as they did in the only previous meeting back in 2008, which was a 2-0 friendly victory in Grenoble.

The pressure is firmly planted on La Tri who will have to conjure up an extraordinary display in order to topple the fearsome French. The South American outfit suffered a last-gasp defeat to Switzerland in their opening match, although they managed to produce a comeback of their own against Honduras. Reinaldo Rueda's men are currently level on three points with the Swiss heading into the final round of games, but it is the European side who are expected to qualify, given that their last match is against Honduras, who are rock-bottom and empty handed.

France are flourishing in front of goal at the moment having smashed home 39 goals in 11 games, while 16 of those have come in their last three matches. With this in mind they are worth backing at 11/4 with Sky Bet to score three or more goals for the fourth game in a row, with a another 3-0 scoreline priced at 16/1.

Key to their potent attack is Karim Benzema who has set the World Cup alight after bagging three goals to date, and in truth it could and should be at least five. The 26-year-old, who has six goals in his last four games for his country, will be looking to improve that tally on Wednesday (evens to score in 90 minutes), although the Real Madrid star may be rested by Deschamps. If that is the case then Olivier Giroud is available at 11/2 to score first for the second game in a row, and 29/10 to net anytime, while Loic Remy can be found at 9/5 to get his name on the scoresheet.

Benzema may be winning all the plaudits in Group E and beyond, but it is worth remembering that Valencia's Enner Valencia also has three goals to his name, including a brace against Honduras last week, which took his impressive tally to seven goals in his last six appearances for La Tri. The 24-year-old is therefore looks a tempting bet at 9/1 to open the scoring, and 3/1 to net anytime (both with Bet Victor). Meanwhile Ecuador's best bet could be a score draw at 7/2, although they can be found at 5/1 to sneak the win by exactly one goal (both with Paddy Power).

Ecuador v France Tips

Tip #1: France to win and BTTS @ 13/5 with Bet Victor

Tip #2: France to score 3 or more goals @ 11/4 with Sky Bet

Tip #3: Over 2.5 goals @ 4/5 with Paddy Power
Jack Kitson
Massive Southampton fan, loving being back in the Premier League but cannot get enough football to feed my addiction.

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