With the World Cup rapidly approaching, we here at footyblog continue our preview of the upcoming festivities by turning our attention to Group B, featuring Australia, Chile, and both of 2010′s finalists in The Netherlands and current holders Spain.
Group B features a clear divide between the true contenders in Brazil and those who should simply be happy to be there. Australia falls into the latter’s group as the Socceroos are unfortunately overmatched in every way, shape, and form against their powerful European and South American opponents. The remaining 3 nations all have the talent worthy of winning a World Cup group in their own right, yet only 2 can advance from this one as both the Netherlands and Spain will hope to repeat their successes from South Africa while the Chileans are a quick and sneaky group who are being overlooked in many quarters.
To be frank, Australia have a snowball’s chance in Hell when it comes to advancing out of this group. They are pitted against teams who have exponentially better attacking, defending, and facilitating skills than the Aussies do, and they don’t even hold a goalkeeping advantage thanks to the lack of the experienced Mark Schwarzer in the squad. Overall, Ange Postecoglou‘s side are very green with only 2 players (Tim Cahill of New York Red Bulls and Mark Bresciano of Qatar’s Al-Gharafa) having more than 50 caps internationally and 2 players (Preston North End’s Bailey Wright and Fortuna Dusseldorf’s Ben Halloran) actually having NONE prior to World Cup tune-up friendlies. The Aussies will be relying heavily on Cahill and Bresciano throughout the tournament, and that is simply too much to heap onto the shoulders of two very decent players at best. Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace will provide some much needed help in the midfield, but Australia would need a Herculean effort to advance. (An effort NOT helped by the fact that defender Jason Davidson plays for Heracles Almelo of the Dutch Eredivisie.)
Prediction: 4th in Group - 0 Points
The Chileans come into the tournament flying somewhat under the radar, yet boast an impressive veteran squad, although all conversations involving Chile’s chances both starts and ends with star striker Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona. Sanchez is THE KEY for Chile’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages, as their defense should fair well with ‘keeper Claudio Bravo (78 Caps) of Real Sociedad a stalwart in goal and their backline a virtual brick wall as Cardiff City’s Gary Medel, Nottingham Forest’s Gonzalo Jara, and Juventus’ Mauricio Isla all have 45+ Caps to their name. The midfield as well is chock full of experience and class in the form of Wigan’s Jean Beausejour and Juventus’ Arturo Vidal, while Atalanta’s Carlos Carmona has shown glimpses of promise and could have a coming out party in Brazil. But again, as mentioned above, talk surrounding Chile always comes back to Sanchez and whether or not the Barcelona man can carry his nation to the next round. I believe he can, and especially if Chile get some help up front from Valencia’s Eduardo Vargas or Colo-Colo’s Esteban Paredes, then Chile have an excellent shot of making the knockout stages.
Prediction: 2nd in Group – 6 Points
The Netherlands come into Brazil looking to avenge their dismal performance at Euro 2012, when they went out in the group stages after faltering in the “Group of Death”, losing every game to Denmark, Germany, and Portugal respectively. The time around, the Dutch will look to achieve more in a similar “Group of Death” scenario, with midfield maestro Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray expected to be the mastermind of it all. Along with Sneijder (who is set to collect Cap #100 during the tournament), the Dutch are pinning their hopes on a fierce attacking front that features Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, Schalke 04′s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Fenerbahce’s Dirk Kuyt, who leads all Dutch players set to take part in Brazil with 98 Caps. However, The Orange also appear weak and inexperienced in defense (no defender has above 22 Caps), with Louis van Gaal set to implement a 5-man defense for their first group match against Spain. And speaking of van Gaal, who knows if his head is 100% committed to the activities in Brazil as he has already accepted the job at Manchester United following the World Cup. All of this combined with the Netherlands’ lack of balance beyond Sneijder and Nigel de Jong in the midfield could prove troublesome for them in a group where at least 2 other sides have lethal attacks born from strong midfields.
Prediction: 3rd in Group – 4 PTS
The defending World and European champions come into the tournament on a bit of a downswing following their hammering at the hands of Brazil in last year’s Confederations Cup Final, yet they still bring potentially the strongest squad in the competition to Brazil. Vicente del Bosque returns for yet another tournament at the helm of La Roja and his selections for the 23 man team look menacing to any and all opponents, with Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, Juan Mata, and David Villa just a handful of the star power that del Bosque intends to unleash upon the rest of Group B. The tactical machine that is the Spanish midfield should have an absolute field day against the overmatched Australians and inexperienced Dutch, while their stiffest test should come against the Chileans. Overall though, you should expect Spain to be Spain and remain the class of Group B despite their heavy defeat to Brazil last year, as no one in this group is comparable to the quality of the hosts, who may yet again be on a collision course with the Spanish.
Prediction: 1st in Group – 7 PTS
Spain – 7 PTS
Chile – 6 PTS
The Netherlands – 4 PTS
Australia – 0 PTS
(Credit to ESPN and Brazilian graphic artist Cristiano Siqueira for the seriously awesome posters)