1714_isi_altidorejozy_usmntcb062409178_copy Chris Brunskill/isiphotos.com
World Cup 2014

Group B First Look: The "Other" Group of Death

Any way you slice it, Australia has its hands full. Everybody knows how good Spain is, but the No. 9 Netherlands team has talent to burn while Chile, ranked 15th in the world, has home continent advantage.

BY Samuel Mintz Posted
January 07, 2014
5:17 PM

Group B

Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Some people are claiming that the United States drew into 2014’s “Group of Death,” but this group could be the most difficult. With the defending champions and defending runners up occupying the same group, these matches should have a higher competitive value than any other in the tournament. Add to the mix a thrilling Chile side—which, according to Michael Cox, is the most likely team to innovate tactically in the tournament—and Group B becomes even more of a must-watch. Even the minnow of the group, Australia, has a solid pedigree; the team from down under is in its third World Cup in a row, having advanced to the Round of 16 in 2006 and nearly doing so again in 2010.

Spain is clearly the marquee side of the group, but whether the defending champs will be a threat to repeat is a matter for debate. Despite breezing through qualifying undefeated after a triumphant romp through Euro 2012, some have tagged the Spaniards with the dreaded “boring” label. The European power faces a stern test in its opening match against the Netherlands, which also went undefeated in qualification with a spectacular 9-0-1 record, buoyed by a group of world class players including Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder.

Chile is exciting but somewhat of an unknown quantity. The South Americans finished in third place in qualifying, an impressive feat considering the difficulty of the competition, but Chile’s historical qualifying record has been spotty, and it has never gone further than the Round of 16 in a World Cup since 1962 (when it hosted and finished third).

Australia also qualified easily, losing only once (continuing the theme of dominant qualifiers in this group), but its competition along the way was less than stellar, as the Aussies faced teams such as Oman and Thailand. Australia’s only hope for advancing is to remain organized and compact in defense and hope to frustrate the skilled attackers it will be facing.

Key Matchups

Spain vs. Netherlands, June 13, Salvador
This contest could upstage the tournament opener the day before. The repeat of the 2010 World Cup promises to be a blockbuster filled with superstar talent, world-class skills, and two sides who want to make sure they get a result to start things off right.

Spain’s creators vs. Netherlands disruptors
When the two European powers met in 2010, it was the midfield play that stood out, as Spain passed around a sturdy-but-unsuccessful Dutch midfield. The Netherlands’ newcomers to the international scene—including Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher—will hope to change that and get on the front foot.

Netherlands vs. Chile, June 23, Sao Paulo If Spain wins the group, as expected, these two could end up fighting for second place, and this battle is the last game of the group stage.

Tim Cahill vs. Alexis Sanchez
Chile's Sanchez plays for one of the world's greatest teams and Australia's Cahill plays in Major League Soccer, but you can't predict what will happen once the referee blows the whistle to start the match. The two attackers will lead their respective lines when the two non-European teams in this group do battle, and it should be a good one.

American Angles

When the United States defeated Spain, 2-0, in the 2009 Confederations Cup, it was one of the biggest victories in American soccer history. Spain was the European Champion at the time, had a 35-match unbeaten streak going, and would go on to win the following year’s World Cup. Despite all of that, the United States spanked them on neutral turf in a high-profile tournament. Through a powerful goal from Jozy Altidore and an excellent finish by Clint Dempsey (not much has changed since then, has it?) the United States moved on to face Brazil in the Confederations Cup final—which we don’t like to talk about anymore.

While American fans feel mostly good things about recent matches against Spain, there is a hint of resentment toward the Netherlands. During a March 3, 2010, friendly, Holland midfielder Nigel de Jong, an enforcer for club and country who’s been labeled a dirty player, fouled beloved American Stuart Holden, breaking his leg. It was another cruel injury setback for an exciting player who has tragically spent more time recovering than playing in recent years. De Jong has a chance at making the Netherlands World Cup roster, and if he does he will be watched with a careful eye (and a little bit of menace) by supporters of the Red, White, and Blue.

They Said It

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque: "I don't think it is the 'group of death,' there are very strong opponents in other groups. But yes it is a tough one. We will have to be prepared right from the first day, focus ourselves. They will demand the very best from us but it is in our own hands too and doesn't just depend on our opponents.”

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal: "As far as opponents are concerned it is a tough draw. The conditions are even tougher. We are playing the world champions, we've never won against Australia, and Chile are no slouches. We play in tough venues, it is certainly not easy at all."

Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli: "This is a very complicated group considering the rivals. Obviously, playing against two very important Europeans, including the defending champions, is always going to be (tough). One assumes that the rivals are difficult because of their history but when it comes time to play we hope Chile can play big games like we did against England and Spain."

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou: "We're a young nation in football terms so it is our chance to make headlines. It's a tough group, an exciting group. All the teams play good football."

Forecast

This is the easiest group to predict, in my opinion. Spain and the Netherlands will advance, and Chile will play some exciting football but ultimately be sent home early. The Australians will put in a hard-working, valiant effort, and make their country proud no matter the results. This group will showcase the international supremacy of Europe when it comes to football.

1. Spain
2. Netherlands
3. Chile
4. Australia

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