World Cup Previews – Group B

Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

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The Perception

A group with 2010’s finalists who are expected to progress, a South American team with a host of stars who play in Europe and a country who no one gives a chance.

Fixtures

13 June 2014

Spain v Netherlands, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 20:00 (BBC)

13 June 2014

Chile v Australia, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, 23:00 (ITV)

18 June 2014

Spain v Chile, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 20:00 (BBC)

18 June 2014

Australia v Netherlands, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 17:00 (ITV)

23 June 2014

Australia v Spain, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 17:00 (ITV)

23 June 2014

Netherlands v Chile, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 17:00 (ITV)

Spain

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  • World Ranking: 1 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Winners (2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 14 (first in 1934)
  • Manager: Vincente del Bosque
  • Captain: Iker Casillas

Star Man – Andres Iniesta

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Often one to excel at major tournaments, Andres Iniesta scored the only goal of the 2010 final to send his country into hysteria, and was chosen as the player of the tournament as Spain lifted their third major tournament in a row at Euro 2012. He will no doubt light up the tournament again in Brazil, with his unerring ability to dazzle opponents with his array of passing and get into the kind of positions where he can hurt them going forward.

One to Watch – Diego Costa

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Striker Diego Costa chose adopted nation Spain over Brazil, the country of his birth, and can expect a hostile reception from Brazilians if selected. He has had a blistering season with Atletico Madrid, helping them to first in La Liga and the Champions League final. There are concerns about his fitness though, but if he plays, he may be one of the most controversial players in Brazil. The 25-year-old played twice for Brazil in March 2013 but was able to switch allegiance as neither were competitive fixtures.

How they qualified

The holders emerged unbeaten over their eight matches, with back-to-back home draws against Finland and France a mere blip. They did not trail at any stage of qualification and will hope to continue that record in Brazil.

Prediction – Semi-finals (Winner of Third Place play-off)

The semi-finals seem a certainty for the Spanish, current holders of The World Cup, but that is where it could get tricky for del Bosque’s men. The squad is just as good as it was in 2010, but other teams have caught up and I think they will lose in the last four but end on high by winning the third place play-off – whoever they face.

Netherlands

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  • World Ranking: 15 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 9 (first in 1934)
  • Manager: Louis van Gaal
  • Captain: Robin Van Persie

Star Man – Arjen Robben

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Arjen Robben has given a series of coruscating displays for Bayern Munich over the last couple of seasons, including scoring the winner in the 2013 Champions League final. He has the potential to shine in Brazil and lead his country to glory, but as with many players, his talent often fails to come out on the biggest stage of all. Diving can also be a problem for Robben, but take that out of the equation and you have one of the most skilful players in the world.

One to Watch – Joel Veltman

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Veltman is part of an uncommonly young Ajax side, but he doesn’t look it. His poise on the ball, and mastery of short and long passing, suggests he’s been there for years. In fact, he made his first-team debut just a few weeks into the 2012-13 season, and settled quickly. Last season, he has fully established himself as first choice. He may soon do the same for his country. Van Gaal’s risky tactical system (especially from a defensive standpoint) needs mobile defenders who can read the game and anticipate well. This is Veltman all over. He also needs them to keep the ball moving. As time goes on, Veltman looks like the perfect fit for the World Cup.

How they qualified

They won nine of their 10 matches and scored 34 goals, with only a 2-2 draw against Estonia denying them a perfect record. That said, few countries had easier opposition – none of their opponents were ranked in FIFA’s top 30.

Prediction – Group stages

This Dutch team certainly isn’t as good as it was four years ago when they finished runners-up in the tournament and although they haven’t degressed as much to be everyone’s favourites to fall at the first hurdle, I’m in the minority when I say that I think that The Netherlands won’t get past the group stages. It could happen – you never know.

Chile

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  • World Ranking: 13 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Third (1962)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 9 (first in 1930)
  • Manager: Jorge Sampaoli
  • Captain: Gary Medel

Star Man – Alexis Sanchez

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Lightning quick Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, 25, hit a rich vein of goalscoring form for club and country over the course of last season. He was very impressive in Chile’s friendly with England back in November where he scored two goals in a 2-0 win. He could well also upset Spain and The Netherlands if given the chance. His unique set of skills mean he can play as a forward or a winger and seamlessly intergrate between positions across the front line.

One to Watch – Eugenio Mena

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Another player who caught the eye when Chile visited Wembley in November was left-back Eugenio Mena, whose fantastic cross from the left set up Sanchez’s first goal. He could impress even more at the World Cup, where he will be playing in familiar surroundings. He spent last season at Santos, and is expected to sign a permanent deal after the tournament. But if excels, it may not be as easy for Neymar’s former club to strike a deal.

How they qualified

They finished third in South American qualifying despite a mid-campaign wobble which saw them lose four games in a row. A change in coach halted the slump, and they recovered to win five of their last six games to comfortably qualify for Brazil.

Prediction – Round of 16

I think Chile could be the surprise team in this group and may make a surprise appearance in the knockout stages, but their journey will end in the round of 16 where they are likely to meet Brazil. Their final group game against The Netherlands will be crucial.

Australia

Australia's football squad

  • World Ranking: 59 (correct to 6 June)
  • World Cup best: Round of 16 (2006)
  • World Cups played in (including 2014): 4 (first in 1974)
  • Manager: Ange Postecoglu
  • Captain: Lucas Neill

Star Man – Tim Cahill

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Tim Cahill may have entered the twilight years of his career, but he is still Australia’s main threat by some distance, despite being a midfielder. Regardless of the former Everton man playing in the middle of the park, he is his country’s top goalscorer ever thanks to his aerial prowess and unerring ability to ghost into the box, even at the age of 34. Cahill is key to The Socceroos’ slim chances of progressing.

One to Watch – Tom Rogic

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In a squad full of young faces, Celtic’s Tom Rogic, on loan at Melbourne Victory, is considered the one with the biggest future. Since his Socceroos debut in 2012 he’s been considered a star in the making with coach Ange Postecoglou declaring him a “leading light” as he attempts to rebuild the side. There’s a huge amount of pressure on the 21 year old playmaker, and if he ignores this in Brazil, we will see his exciting, dynamic style at its very best on the greatest stage of all.

How they qualified

Now firmly established as an Asian Football Federation member, the Socceroos qualified automatically behind Japan but their passage to Brazil was not easy. Winless in their first three matches, they went unbeaten over the last five and secured their place seven minutes from time in the final game against Iraq.

Prediction – Group Stages

No one gives Australia a chance in this group, and it will be a surprise if they can finish the group with a point. Heavy defeats in all three games could happen.

My final table prediction

Group B

 

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