By DAN KARELL
European nations have famously never won a World Cup staged in South America, but Spain is bidding to become the first.
Even with their core starting to show signs of slowing down, La Furia Roja brings a stacked squad with them to Brazil, ready to defend their 2010 World Cup title. And that core with the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, and Sergio Ramos, has added two Atletico Madrid players who could play a huge role at this World Cup: Koke and Brazilian-born forward Diego Costa.
While Spain enters the tournament as the odds-on favorites to win the group, both the Netherlands and Chile are expected to give the Spanish a run for their money. The Dutch may have imploded at the 2012 European Championships but Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, and co. are hoping that they can rediscover the greatness from their 2010 campaign, which took them to the final.
Holland has history on its side too, coming so close to winning the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Chile, though, has a group of players entering their prime and a tactical philosophy that favors attacking at all costs, which will make the Chileans the neutral’s favorite for the World Cup. Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas, and Arturo Vidal will have plenty of people clamoring for La Roja to finish second in the group and face a possible match against host Brazil.
Many folks around the world aren’t giving much of a chance to Australia but after an underwhelming qualifying campaign, Tim Cahill and his side are hoping to shock the world when they face Spain, Chile, and the Netherlands.
Here’s a closer look at Group B:
WORLD CUP GROUP B
6/13 – Spain vs. Netherlands; 6/13 – Chile vs. Australia; 6/18 – Australia vs. Netherlands; 6/18 – Spain vs. Chile; 6/23 – Australia vs. Spain; 6/23 – Netherlands vs. Chile.
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Australia: Tim Cahill, Mile Jedinak, Tommy Oar, Matthew Špiranović
Chile: Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas, Gary Medel
Netherlands: Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Jordy Clasie
Spain: Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Diego Costa, Sergio Ramos
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Australia: Tommy Oar
Chile: Felipe Gutierrez
Netherlands: Memphis Depay
SBI’s PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Spain. If the defending World Cup champions have a healthy Diego Costa up top, watch out.
2. Chile. Playing on home soil, Chile will seize second place from the Netherlands in the final match of the group stage.
3. Netherlands. A talented side will ultimately fail to make it to the second round due to defensive shortcomings and struggles in a new formation.
4. Australia. Australia’s focus is on Asian Cup 2015. They’ll go three-and-out in Brazil.
The defending World Cup champions return to the tournament with a stacked squad and it’s tough to bet against them running the table, even against difficult opponents in the Netherlands and Chile. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are coming off worse-than-expected seasons for Barcelona but the duo have always picked up their game for Spain. Adding Diego Costa to the mix makes them favorites to make the semifinals, especially with Spain playing a majority of games in the cooler Southeast of Brazil. The likely showdown match for second place will take place on June 23 when the Netherlands play Chile in Sao Paulo. Both teams have major defensive questions and stars in attack, so plenty of goals should be expected. It could go either way, but we feel Chile will do just enough to move ahead of the Netherlands and advance from the group.
How do you see Group B finishing? Do you see Spain finishing as the top side? Think that Chile can beat out the Netherlands? What do you expect from the Socceroos at the tournament?
Share your thoughts below.