Something of a Group of Death, Group B in the 2014 World Cup has the two previous finalists in Spain and the Netherlands, but also a very good team like Chile with plenty of expectations and an Australian side that isn’t really likely to qualify, but will probably be a very difficult outing for all three opponents.
There’s no doubt that Spain are the favorites, being the defending World champions, to finish first in the group, but the Dutch are never shy of aspirations and expectations, although their side is weaker than the one from four years ago, while Chile are hoping to get some sort of boost from playing on South American soil that helps them upset and take the place of either of the two European teams.
There is no team with this kind of quality in the middle of the park, with veterans like Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Xavi along with younger talent like Koke and Sergio Busquets, despite the latter’s impressive experience. Spain, a side used to playing without a true striker, suddenly has a lot of expectations from Diego Costa, a player who has only two caps for them. Strange days indeed.
Spain won the previous World Cup thanks to excellent defense, usually the most important thing in a tournament. Somehow, that unit seems a bit weaker, despite Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique in the middle. It seems like the tiki-taka has gotten a bit tired. Not just among fans who suddenly think of it as the most boring playing system on the planet, but also as a means to success, with Spain possibly needing something a little bit different this time to go all the way.
There are those who feel that Chile – not Uruguay or Colombia, are the third best South American team in this tournament after an excellent qualifying side and possibly the deepest and most solid all-around team they’ve had in the last 20 years. Alexis Sanchez is the star in this one, playing in a more central and freer role than the one he has at Barcelona, but with midfielders like Arutro Vidal it’s clear that it’s not just about Sanchez.
Chile can come away as the leading team after the first batch of matches, hoping that Spain and Netherlands draw blood from each other early on. While Chile can be a very exciting to watch with their passing and movement, defense is the most important thing in a tournament, and with players like Claudio Bravo in goal, Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla, Chile might not be the best team out there but certainly capable of not looking like Swiss cheese.
Four years since that embarrassing performance in the 2010 World Cup final, and the Dutch side might not be “ugly” in its style anymore, but it is probably weaker. If Euro 2012 wasn’t enough of a warning, a simple review of their squad compared to those of the past shows us there has been some downgrading, while the key players have gotten older or didn’t have the greatest of seasons.
The defense isn’t special and the goalkeeping situation is abysmal. A very tough opening match which might create a problem like two years ago, and the usual dependency on Arjen Robben with the same old tricks next to a declined Wesley Sneijder and without the talented Kevin Strootman. Robin van Persie will try to play like it’s not Manchester United, while the Dutch side will be hoping for a big breakout from one of their young players who are quite stars yet.
Australia nearly made it out of the 2010 World Cup group which was a tough one, including Germany, Serbia and Ghana. However, it’s hard to see them even coming close to advancing considering the players they have at their disposal, with Tim Cahill, 34 years old and playing in the MLS, being one of the only two who has scored more than 10 goals for the national team and being too important for them to be considered a serious threat.
Only one player in the Premier League, only one in the Bundesliga. Quality is scarce in this squad, and experience from the 2010 and 2006 squads have been dispersed. It’ll probably be more about the cliches of fighting spirit, unity and being aggressive than anything else, because when it comes to playing football against three superior teams, the Socceroos don’t really stand a chance.