Group B features defending champions Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Austrailia. When this group was drawn in December, everyone gawked because Spain and the Netherlands were the finalists in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and were drawn in the same group.
Spain are the defending champions, they are number one in the FIFA World Rankings, probably has the best big game goalkeeper in the world (Iker Casillas), the best midfield (Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso) but they do have questions! The answers can be found in their back four where Sergio Ramos hopes will shore up their defense after getting shredded by Brazil in last year’s Confederation’s Cup and up top with newly-declared Spaniard and Brazilian born Diego Costa (who is the only player to turn down an invitation to play in Seleção Brasileira).
The Netherlands are the most intreguing team in this group. They’ve got the attacking and scoring ability that can make the old Spanish Armada sweat. They’ve got style, flair and mouth-watering footballing sex appeal! However, their downside is instead of having a starting XI and a head coach, the Netherlands play as if they have twelve head coaches. Louis Van Gaal is the outgoing manager and the Manchester United bound boss will be counting on Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder to push the Oranje forward but egos and defensive issues could continue to be their stumbling block.
Chile is ranked 14th in the FIFA World Rankings, have a solid team and a very capable squad that can upset theNetherlands and Spain! Alexis Sánchez and Arturo Vidal will star however it’s the Juventus midfielder’s fitness that’s in question. He continues to recover from surgery in May on his external meniscus in his knee. Head coach Jorge Sampaoli did include him in his final 23 and has full confidence. Watch them alternate from a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 to take full advantage of their attacking prowess.
Finally, Austrailia is a team in transition. Former coach Holger Osieck was fired and former Australian international Ange Postecoglou — the most successful coach in Australian club soccer history — was appointed with a mandate to start a youth movement by shipping off the famed “Socceroos” with an eye to the future. They’re coming to this World Cup as the weakest team in the group because they’ve got so many unknown players. Tim Cahill is a former Everton player and Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak should do the heavy lifting and provide the Socceroos direction into the future.
I believe Spain vs. Netherlands on June 13 will be the sexiest matchup out of many sexy matchups in this group. The most important game in this group will be Spain vs Chile on June 18 because Spain’s defense will be tested against a Chile squad that’s equally as good in attack as La Roja.
With that being said, I’ve got Spain and Chile advancing out of the group. The Netherlands and Austrailia will finish third and fourth.
Group B Schedule (all times Eastern)
Spain vs. Netherlands, 3 p.m., June 13
Chile vs. Australia, 6 p.m., June 13
Netherlands vs. Australia, Noon, June 18
Spain vs. Chile, 3 p.m., June 18
Spain vs. Australia and Netherlands vs. Chile, noon, June 23