Previews for Group B of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil have largely favored returning champions Spain and 14th-ranked Chile as the two teams to advance out of group play. The capacity of the 15th-ranked Netherlands squad to perform has been called into question, and the Socceroos have a tough road ahead of them, as they are the lowest ranked team to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil. As June 13 draws near, there is much excitement regarding the performance of some of the most favored—and least favored—teams in the 2014 World Cup.
The Spanish team arrived to Brazil on Sunday. Much of the buzz around the squad has been about Diego Costa. Costa, who was born in Brazil, chose to play for Spain in the World Cup, despite playing two friendly matches with the Brazilian squad in 2013. Spain won warm-up matches against Bolivia (2-0) and El Salvador (2-0), and the defending champions have Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué to rely on defensively. Spain remains confident as its opening match against the Netherlands approaches. The match this Friday will undoubtedly bring up some hard feelings regarding the upset Spain dealt to the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup finals.
Some overviews have doomed the Netherlands to not make it out of group play. Even so, the team boasts a strong front line with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, of Bayern Munich and Manchester United, respectively. There has been some worry expressed regarding the average age of the Dutch squad, however the injuries of Kevin Strootman and Rafael van der Vaart are the more pressing concern. In the absence of Strootman in the midfield, the Dutch have opted for a 3-5-2 formation. According to manager Louis van Gaal, the additional central midfielder will be an aid to the Dutch defense. Daryl Janmaat may provide a necessary response in his ability to be an attacking threat out of the defensive third. Known for his tactical prowess in the football world, and a man of brutal honesty, van Gaal said that the chances of his team making it to the quarterfinals are at “20 percent.” The Dutch are ranked 15 overall.
Chile is set to face off against Australia this Friday in their opening match of the FIFA World Cup. The Chileans have some of the most anticipated players to watch in Group B, including Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal. Unfortunately, Vidal may not be present for the opening match against Australia. Vidal had knee surgery recently, and despite having made a brief appearance in the friendly match against Northern Ireland, he is not expected to play against the Socceroos. The 14th-ranked Chileans finished third in the South American qualifiers behind Argentina and Colombia, but some overviews of the team claim the current setup is the best Chilean squad “of all time.” There are some gaps in this reasoning as it has been pointed out that Chile’s go-to goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is “merely adequate.” Other concerns are fostered among the Chilean back line and their ability to shutdown aggressors such as Spain, who rarely turnover the ball when in possession.
The Socceroos will be making their third FIFA World Cup appearance in Brazil this year. They have been in the country for two weeks already, so they are arguably more eager to get the proverbial ball rolling. Though the team is the lowest ranked team in the tournament and got rid of most of its experienced players, the team’s poor reviews are not fazing new coach, Ange Postecoglou. The fire that Australia can boast up top comes from its striker, Tim Cahill. Although the Socceroos lost to Croatia in their final warm-up match before the World Cup, Postecoglou remains confident that the team is still moving in the right direction. The new direction under Postecoglou should be interesting to see unfold, as it is reported to differ from the team’s previous style of play by bringing back “the open style of football.”
Despite the general sentiment that Spain and Chile will be the teams that make it out of FIFA World Cup group stages, the remaining two teams do not show signs of rolling on their backs anytime soon. The Dutch squad has had to make some formation changes in response to the absence of some key players, however, they have a respectable amount of firepower in Robben and Persie up top, and in Janmaat from defense. The Socceroos may be the least favored and the least experienced, however Cahill is expected to be a nuisance for opposing teams’ defense.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson