As Fate would have it, Group B of the FIFA World Cup 2014 is laden with European heavyweights Spain and Netherlands along with dark-horse Chile and minnows Australia.
The two European nations literally fought against each other in the 2010 final in South Africa with Spain emerging as eventual champions. Top of the FIFA World Rankings, Spain should progress as group winners without any major hiccups. They already got the better off the Netherlands in the last World Cup whereas a series of friendly matches with Chile have helped Del Bosque devise a plan to tackle the La Roja. Australia should not pose any threat to them at all.
Netherlands are provided a re-match to avenge their final defeat and make an early statement against the World champions. However they face a mammoth task and it’ll be fascinating to see if the squad can recreate the winning mentality they showed in the last World Cup. They already suffered a huge blow as injury has ruled out their midfield talisman Kevin Strootman.
The Chilean squad has shown promise under their new manager Jorge Sampaoli. Having qualified as the third ranked team from Conmebol, they play a very fluid offensive brand of football. They will be looking to improve on their round of 16 exit last year and will rely on Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal to drive them forward in Brazil.
Australia are the lowest ranked team in this group and it is difficult to see them make a mark in this tournament. An ageing squad without any notable stars, the Socceroos have performed miserably in recent friendly matches. They will do well to get a point in this group but even that looks highly improbable.
Performance of each team in previous world cups
Holland: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and co reached the finals in 1974 under the stewardship of legendary Rinus Michels. However sadly they lost against the host nation West Germany. Their revolutionary Total Football once more took them to the final four years later but history repeated itself as they suffered a 3-1 defeat to the host nation Argentina. The Oranje saw their dreams shattered for the third time against Spain in 2010 as Andres Iniesta scored an injury-time winner.
Spain: Spain were plagued by a ‘quarter-final’ jinx before finally lifting the coveted trophy in South Africa. Brazil 2014 will be their tenth consecutive world cup finals and they will be one of the favorites to win the tournament. La Selección’s best performance came in 2010 as they were crowned champions. They finished fourth in Brazil 1950 which was their previous best prior to 2010.
Chile: Chile are on par with Paraguay in fourth place as the South American nation in terms of appearance in FIFA World Cups with eight. Their best performance till date came in 1962 when they finished third as the host nation. On five different occasions they didn’t get past the group section, whereas at France 1998 and South Africa 2010 they reached the round of sixteen, only to be knocked out by Brazil twice.
Australia: Australia departed from the 1974 FIFA World Cup without scoring a single goal in their first ever appearance with their best result being a scoreless draw secured by a team comprising of amateurs against Chile. The Socceroos had a positive tournament in 2006 and qualified for the round of sixteen before controversially losing out to the ultimate champions Italy. They were eliminated on goal difference at South Africa in 2010 as a 4-0 loss against Germany ultimately proved decisive inspite of a brave 1-1 draw against Ghana and a 2-1 win against Serbia.
Favorite to win the group
Spain can face a tough challenge against Netherlands, Chile and Australia and even though they are expected to progress as group winners, the fate of defending champions France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 have taught them that nothing should be taken for granted. Many experts claim that Spain’s cycle of domination is coming back to an end, particularly after their Confederations cup final loss and also the poor season Barcelona endured this term. The spine of the team is ageing (Xavi is thirty four whereas Xabi Alonso is thirty two), Iniesta, Spain’s most dynamic offensive midfielder will be thirty once the tournament begins in June. Their possession based game has seen a decline over the last year (Bayern thrashed Barcelona 7-0 and Brazil defeated Spain 3-0) with opponents finding tactics to stifle their free-flowing passing game. Even Bayern’s 5-0 loss over 2 games against Real Madrid this year after adapting tiki-taka into their system was further proof of this theory. But still there is no reason to believe that Spain won’t progress from this group. The defending champions possess extraordinary depth and have a manager who is aware of the way to get his troops to play at the very best level and win with consistency.
Chances of each team in the group
The World champions had an unsatisfactory final at the Confederations Cup and their possession based style of football has been found out many times in the past couple of years. For an aging cluster of gifted footballers, this might be their last chance to showcase their skills on the world stage.Spain are spoilt for choice with talented young players like Koke making a significant claim to reach the first team. A lot will depend on how Diego Costa fits into the system of the Spanish team.
Holland have been terribly unlucky in World Cups and one major concern is they don’t essentially operate as a team rather they function as a group of individuals. They do have a talented bunch of creative players with Robin Van Persie a major threat in front of goal, while Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are genuine offensive threats. But the decisive factor could be the terribly inexperienced backline which is a major cause for concern.
Chile are the dark horse in this group exhibiting a flashy style of football which can be difficult to contain if the opponents turn up unprepared. On paper Spain and Netherlands have a better chance but Chile have the ammunitions to spring a few surprises. Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal will be the major protagonists and they have to deliver if Chile look to advance from this tough group.
Lastly we have Australia who are the minnows of this group. They did well to qualify for the final stages of this tournament but sadly, this is where the luck will run out for them. A win or even a point against opponents of such caliber would be a good return for the Socerroos . Veterans Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano will add some experience to the squad but that wont be enough to help the Aussies advance from this group.
Key matches that will determine the destiny of the group
Spain v Netherlands: A high voltage clash which will determine who takes early control of the group. They faced each other nine teams with four wins each and a draw. On paper Spain look the better prepared side but Louis Van Gaal is expected to envisage a plan to stifle the Iberian outfit.
Spain vs Chile: A battle of contrasting styles as the two Spanish speaking nations go head to head. Chile are anticipated to play a high defensive line with swift counter attacking bursts while Spain will look to drive home their advantage with their customary possession based style of football. The midfield battle of Xavi, Iniesta with Arturo Vidal promises to be a mouth-watering prospect.
Netherlands vs Chile: Looks like this will be a direct clash between Chile and Netherlands for the second position in this group. So this will take the shape of a knockout fixture. Probably this is the most vital game in this group.
Key players who can make a difference
Andres Iniesta(Spain) – The exceptionally talented and consistent Spaniard has time and again shown his class for both club and country and will be the driving force this year as well for the defending champions. He cemented his place in the folklore of Spanish football with the winning goal in the 2010 final against Holland.
Diego Costa(Spain) – One of the hottest strikers in Europe at this moment, Brazil 2014 will be his international debut tournament. Costa caused major controversy by snubbing Brazil and opting to play for his adopted nation Spain. Club managers and coaches will be keeping an eye on him in Brazil as he could be a major player in the upcoming transfer window.
Arjen Robben(Netherlands) – This pacey and agile Dutchman has always been a threat to defenders throughout his career. His ideal position is in the right flank as he likes to cut inside with his lethal left foot. On his day, he can be unplayable. His sole disadvantage – he forgets to pass the ball sometimes.
Van Persie(Netherlands) – Robin Van Persie will play a crucial role for the Oranje as they look to move into the deep end of this tournament. Niggling injuries and issues with the manager saw him endure a disappointing season. But still he managed 16 goals in all competitions this year. Van Persie has himself expressed he is comfortable under the tutelage of Van Gaal and he will be looking to rediscover his deadly form in front of goal.
Arturo Vidal(Chile) – A colossal presence in the midfield for Juventus, Arturo Vidal will be looking to do exactly the same for his country as well. A tenacious box-to-box player having innumerable responsibilities on his shoulders, Vidal also chips in with his fair share of goals (18 goals this season for Juventus).
Alexis Sanchez(Chile)– The versatile forward is capable of covering multiple roles in the final third. Any player in the world would be overshadowed by the presence of Messi in his team yet Sanchez comes on the back of a wonderful season in Spain as he scored 19 goals and had 11 assists to his name. Chile will be counting on Sanchez to deliver the goods in Brazil.
Tim Cahill(Australia)– Tim Cahill remains the major threat for the Socceroos. The former Everton man will be making his final World Cup appearance this summer and he will be looking to make an impact against the heavyweights in Group B. Long-serving skipper and central defender Lucas Neill is an experienced presence in defence who will be looking to provide a calming influence to his inexperienced teammates.
Spain’s pedigree should see them through to the knockout stages for the fourth successive tournament. Netherlands’ defence might prove to be a major weakness, while Chile’s dynamic attack and potential to hit a team on the break might spring a surprise or two. It looks to be a tight contest between Netherlands and Chile with Chile just edging out the Oranje for the second spot. Australia will be happy to get anything out of these three matches.
Predicted Group Finish:
Young Players to watch out for
Koke(Spain): Spain are once again expected to bring a powerful contingent of young players to Brazil, among those Atletico Madrid’s Koke is presently the most promising. The artistic midfielder scored seven times and registered 15 assists to his name this season and was a protagonist in Atletico Madrid’s historic campaign this year.
Memphis Depay(Netherlands): Memphis Depay will be an important player for Holland despite his young age. He had an excellent campaign with PSV scoring 13 times. Van Gaal who is known to have faith in the youth brigade might offer this teenage sensation the stage to shine in Brazil.
Eduardo Vargas (Chile): Napoli’s Eduardo Vargas, presently on loan at Valencia is a guaranteed starter at international level with 28 senior international caps. The 21 yr old bagged five goals and four assists in thirteen appearances for the La Liga side this season. He can be a potential game-changer for Chile this summer.
Adam Taggart (Australia) : Newcastle Jets striker Adam Taggart’s form this season has him well-placed for a World Cup spot according to Socceroos Coach Ange Postecoglou who has admitted that the consistent goalscoring exploits of the 20 year old is good enough for him to go to Brazil. He had a fruitful season scoring 11 goals and will be one of the few bright spots for Australia this summer.
Potential Duels to watch out for
Wesley Sneijder vs. Arturo Vidal : Louis Van Gaal recently claimed that Sneijder is in a ‘top, top condition’. Despite having an average season with Galatasaray, Sneijder finished the season on a high scoring the winner in the Turkish Cup final. However, against Arturo Vidal he comes up against a relentless runner who never gives an inch to his opponents to work with in the final third. A fascinating duel awaits as the brains of Sneijder comes up against the power of Vidal.
Diego Costa vs De Vrij: Diego Costa will be leading the line for Spain this summer. The Brazilian born striker has twenty seven goals to his name already this season and has done a brilliant job as a target man so far.The inexperienced defence of the Netherlands is the evident weakness in their squad, however Feyenoord captain Stefan De Vrij will be looking to marshal this young defence. It will be a mammoth task for him against a threat like Costa who is strong in the air as well as with his feet but De Vrij has shown plenty of promise as a center back and this will be a test he is relishing to face.
Alexis Sanchez vs Jordi Alba : Alexis Sanchez is Chile’s primary attacking resource and a battle with club-mate Jordi Alba appears to be a mouth-watering prospect. Both are extremely quick but Alba’s defensive frailties may be a decisive factor here but this encounter between the Camp Nou compatriots looks pretty attractive to say the least.
Del Bosque(Spain): Soft-spoken, modest and completely lacking the arrogance that often accompanies such an accomplished CV, Vicente Del Bosque does not go around boasting the fact that he has won two European Cups.In the summer of 2010, “the quiet man” added the World Cup to his list of trophies- A World Cup, European Championship, two Champions Leagues and two Spanish titles. With players’ new found mental strength in the wake of the Euro 2008 triumph under Luis Aragones, Del Bosque took charge of an already well-oiled machine and made the team even more polished.
Van Gaal: Van Gaal is a vastly experienced man having worked with some of Europe’s elite clubs, winning domestic titles in Netherlands, Spain and Germany as well as a UEFA Champions League title with a very young Ajax side. The move into international football proved ill-fated as Van Gaal oversaw a disastrous FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign that saw the team fail to qualify for the finals for the first time since 1986. Van Gaal’s second spell in charge of the Dutch national team has proved a bit more successful than the first, as he guided them to the 2014 Brazil World Cup in an impressive fashion with 9 wins and a single draw in their 10 qualifying matches to finish nine points clear of second-placed Romania.
Sampaoli: Jorge Sampaoli started out as an youth player and eventually switched to management due to a severe injury. Sampaoli was the head coach of Universidad de Chile in 2011-2012 and led them to three league titles and one Copa Sudamericana championship. This success led him to replace Claudio Borghi and take over the reigns as the head coach of Chile in 2013. A manager from the Marcelo Bielsa school of coaching – he loves his team to play in an aggressive and attacking manner.
Postecoglou : Ange Postecoglou’s playing career was unfortunately cut short and he was forced to retire in 1993. Ange was the manager of South Melbourne when he led them to the title in the 1997-1998 season in his second year only. He repeated the feat the following season and also guided the club to victory in the Oceania Club Championship. Postecoglou then took charge of the Australian youth team. He was relieved of his duties after failing to qualify for the under-20 World Cup in February 2007. In October of 2009, Ange Postecoglou was announced as the new manager of Brisbane Roar in the A-League and totally rebuilt the squad getting rid of established players in favor of young upcoming talents.He built a team in his own image and achieved something amazing. In 2010-2011 season Brisbane left their mark only losing once that season and went on a 28-match unbeaten run including the grand final win against the Central Coast Mariners.Their unbeaten run continued into the next season but ended after 36 games, which is now an Australian sporting record.Along the way they played some of the best football ever witnessed in Australia leading to the nickname, ‘Roarcelona’. Ange departed Brisbane after becoming the most successful manager in Australian domestic football’s history with four titles. He will be looking to carve out a similar path in his international managerial career as well.
Combined best XI
13 JUN 2014 – 16:00 Local time
Arena Fonte Nova
Spain vs Netherlands
13 JUN 2014 – 18:00 Local time
Chile VS Australia
18 JUN 2014 – 13:00 Local time
Australia vs Netherlands
18 JUN 2014 – 16:00 Local time
Maracanã – Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho
Rio De Janeiro
Spain vs Chile
23 JUN 2014 – 13:00 Local time
Arena da Baixada
Australia VS Spain
23 JUN 2014 – 13:00 Local time
Arena de Sao Paulo
Netherlands VS Chile