B for Bestest
After covering Group A in our last post, here comes the Group B preview. Analysis by Debojyoti Chakraborty.
Group B features the last World Cup finalists and a very good Chilean side. So, eventually one of thesetop two teams willhave to cut a sorry face. Apart from the tag of Group of Death, there are other complicated issues in Group B. There is a small incentive for the winner of this group – in all likelihood they would avoid the Seleçãoin the first knock-out stage. So, it seems that the winner of the first match of this group – Spain vs Netherlands, will most likely not only survive the group but also get an easier opponent in the Round of 16.
Spain remained unbeaten throughout their qualification campaign, never had to come back in any of those matches. They dropped occasional points, but nothing to really worry about their qualification.
Spain has been ruling the charts for quite sometime now. They have won virtually everything – 2010 World Cup, 2012 Euro – only to stumble at the final hurdle at Confederations Cup last year. They have to defend their world crown in the same nation. Last time, kinks in the seemingly invincible Spanish armada were found with an ageing squad having to play under the scorching heat of the midday sun. Their task is not any easier this time round.
La Rojawill be playing a familiar high pressing, short passing game with a side boasting stars from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their full-backs Daniel Carvajal and Jordi Alba will play like virtual wingers while they have possession. Centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will also be joining the play near or beyond the halfway line. A midfield line-up featuring Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andreas Iniesta, David Silva and CescFabregas would give nightmares to any opponent. Players of the calibre of Koke, Isco and AsierIllarramendi have not been – or eventually will not be – able to make the squad; such is the plethora of talent in the Spanish midfield. On top of that, Diego Costa will slot in as the centre forward and for years, Vicente Del Bosque just might be relieved of his central striker problem.
Spain lost their opener against Switzerland last time and then went on to win their maiden glory – the first team to lift the cup after starting with a loss. This edition, they can ill afford that kind of warm up time. Spain has been drawn in a difficult group but still should make the next round. Only question is whether they can top the group and get a potentially easier opponent in the round of 16. In all probability, they should.
After losing to Spain in the final of the 2010 World Cup, Netherlands went through a torrid time. They failed to secure a single point at the 2012 EURO – after being drawn in a tough group featuring Germany, Portugal and Demark. But to their credit, Netherlands did perform quite well in the qualifying campaign. They dropped only two points in the 10 matches they played, scored aplenty (34) and achieved the best goal difference in the European qualifiers (+29).
Their opponents during the qualification – none of them featured in the top 30 FIFA ranking – did not put up any fight. But the Dutch are facing an uphill task right from the group stages of this World Cup. Progress to the next round is not guaranteed and there is a surprisingly negative feeling amidst the supporters.
As always, Netherlands has a star-studded squad. Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg) Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), ArjenRobben (Bayern Munich) and Robin van Persie (Manchester United) are stars in their own rightand form an awesome foursome upfront. Van Persiehas even scored 11 goals in the qualifying campaign to go past Patrick Kluivert as the all-time highest goal scorer for the Dutch. The main man, however, will be Robben – swapping positions in a free flowing midfield and suddenly bursting up through either flanks.
But the Oranje have time and again failed to gel as a cohesive unit. This time the pressure will be even more on manager Louis van Gaal as they will have to deal with an inexperienced back line and midfield. Many believe this tournament has come in too soon for many of them. Don’t be surprised if they fail to make the cut.
Making this group even tougher is Chile – another La Roja. Chile’s recent record is quite good – they finished third in South American qualifying, drew with Spain and defeated England in friendlies, and had lost only two of their 15 matches last year. This March they showcased a spirited display of aggressive pressing and fluent passing against the mighty Germans where they finally lost by a solitary goal.
Chile has qualified for two consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history. They had finished their journey in the round of 16 in South Africa last time. This time they have their best side ever in the tournament but as luck would have it, are drawn in the toughest group in the competition. As their manager Jorge Sampaoli put it: “The margin for error is zero.” Even if they do qualify, they face a repeat of their last match from four years back at the same stage of the tournament – they would most likely line up against the hosts.
Chile has ample star power in their ranks in the form of Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez. They also have some young and improving players like Eduardo Vargas, who is enjoying two back-to-back fruitful seasons after being loaned out of Napoli. Chile will never die wondering for sure.They were the second highest scorer in the qualifiers, but also let slip the most number of goals. So one thing is for sure, embrace yourselves for some spicy Chile action.
But having to face the finalists from 2010 – Spain and Netherlands – qualifying for the knockout round itself will be a major success for them. But count them out at your own risk. Also, watch out for the enthusiasm for Sampaoli. He has previously not hesitated to shout instructions from the tree-top after being shown a red card!!!
Australia – now a member of the Asian Football Federation – qualified for the World Cup from their group behind Japan, but the journey has been anything but smooth. They could not get a win in their first three matches, upped the tempo to win their last five matches and got the green signal seven minutes from time in their final match against Iran.
Australia will start the competition with no pressure whatsoever. Nobody expects them to win anything – many back home will not crib if they fail to get even a single point. They are the lowest ranked team to feature this year and are drawn in the toughest group.
New manager Ange Postecoglou took charge of an ageing team as recently as in December, 2013 after they were thrashed in couple of friendlies following a dismal qualifying campaign. His main task would be to induct some fresh blood instead of relying too much on the fading stars like Tim Cahill. Leading this young brigade could be Australia’s Player of the Year, Mile Jedinak. The midfield architect is no stranger to grinding out results, being captain of the struggling Crystal Palace and he would be vital in adding some steel to this team. It will be unfair to expect the Aussies to set the stage on fire. As any other team with limited ambitions, they would just crowd around their own penalty box, shut the door and try to score through quick counter attacks.
The Soccerooshave progressed remarkably over the last decade, but are still no match for any of the teams they would be playing against. But they can play spoilsport and decide the fate of this group.
While the rematch of 2010 World Cup final on the very second day of the 2014 edition sets the stage on fire, one would be really brave to undermine the challenge posed by Chile. If either of the 2010 finalists – or both of them – is caught off-guard,the tiny Latin American nation will be ready to pounce in. Even if this challenge is negotiated, the mighty Brazil awaits them in the next round. Looks like, a winner takes all for this group.
Diego Costa has represented his native country Brazil last year but then decided to turn up for his country of birth, Spain. Those matches being friendlies, Costa was in a position to choose the country he prefers to represent internationally.
Spain had gone past both Chile and Netherlands en route World Cup 2010 victory. But they will have very little knowledge about the Aussies – this will be their first ever international meeting. Similarly this will be the first competitive match between Chile and Netherlands.