Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group B

Group B has three talented teams that have seen success on the international stage in recent years. However, the biggest looming black cloud for Group B is that the runner-up will have to play the first place team from Group A in the Round of 16. If Spain is held to a draw or two, this could set up a Brazil-Spain match in the Round of 16.

I've teamed up with Pat (follow him on Twitter @The_Incline) to preview the 32 teams in the tournament.

Join my World Cup Bracket Predictor Group! (ESPN account required, but it's free to sign up if you don't have one.)

World Cup Appearances: 14
Best Result: Champions (2010)
How they Qualified: Won Qualifying Group
FIFA Ranking: 1

Spain is looking to become the first nation to win back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil completed the feat in 1958 and 1962. This Spanish squad has had incredible success at the international level, winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. They also reached the finals of the Confederations Cup last summer where they fell to Brazil. The Spanish lineup is loaded with players at the top of their games on the club level and boast the most solid Top XI in the world. La Roja's tactical discipline and ball-control tactics are unrivaled (though sometimes incredibly boring to watch). Spain is a team that will press their advantage when they have it, but is also not afraid to spend most of the match passing the ball around the perimeter waiting for an opening to exploit.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Andres Iniesta: The maestro of the midfield and Spanish attack, is neither a goalscorer for his club or country. However, Iniesta scored the winner in the 2010 final. At 30, Iniesta is getting older, but his effectiveness will dictate how successful La Furia Roja are in 2014.
  • Diego Costa: The Atletico Madrid striker led his club team to this year’s Champions League Final. Costa, Brazilian born but chose to play for Spain, was one of the premier strikers in Europe after tallying 36 goals in all competitions. Spain, who usually play with one dedicated striker (if any at all), might rely on some of Costa’s magic this summer.

World Cup Appearances: 10
Best Result: Second Place (1974, 1978, 2010)
How they Qualified: Won Qualifying Group
FIFA Ranking: 15

The Dutch will start the 2014 World Cup right where they left off in 2010, with a match against Spain. of course, their 2010 match was in the Championship Game and this iteration will be the first of Group Play. Holland rebounded from their disastrous appearance in Euro 2012 (where they lost all 3 of their Group Stage matches) to go 9-1-0 in qualification. Their only draw came against Estonia and the Netherlands posted a UEFA-best +29 goal differential in qualifying, led by Robin van Persie's 11 goals. After the disaster at Euro 2012, the Dutch hired a new manager and retooled their roster, adding young depth to some of the established veterans. This will be an incredibly difficult group to emerge from, and the second place finisher will have a likely date with Brazil in the Round of 16, so expectations should be tempered for the Oranje.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Arjen Robben: The gifted winger with the magical left foot is the lynchpin of familiar Dutch attacking lineup. Robben will pair with Robin Van Persie (and Wesley Sneijder to an extent) to form a formidable attacking front. Robben, rumored to be joining Manchester United, netted 21 goals with European power Bayern Munich this season.
  • Louis Van Gaal: Yes, I’ve picked a manager. But Van Gaal is taking the reigns from the sacked David Moyes at Manchester United. Van Gaal will have to focus on his Dutch side that have many weaknesses, including an inexperienced defense and a possible formation change (5-3-2, anyone?). 

World Cup Appearances: 9
Best Result: 3rd Place (1962)
How they Qualified: Finished third in CONMEBOL Qualification
FIFA Ranking: 13

Chile reached the Round of 16 in 2010 where they fell to Brazil - a fate that could repeat itself this year. Chile held the distinction as one of just 2 teams to score against Spain in the 2010 tournament after they fell 2-1 in the final match of the Group Stage. Chile's high-intensity attack could give the European teams problems in the heat of the Brazilian summer, and this side is being pegged by many as a potential sleeper to emerge from Group B. The World Cup is typically a defensive-minded tournament, but Chile's 3-4-3 structure has the potential to dominate the attack or be totally exploited on the back end. This was evident in the qualification round as Chile scored 29 goals - the second most in CONMEBOL - but allowed 25 (the most of any South American team that qualified for the World Cup).

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Alexis Sanchez: The Barcelona forward, who possesses the dribbling and pace that makes defenders weak at the knees, will be the man to take away for opponents. Sanchez Scored one of the goals of the year for Barca in their final La Liga match of the season against Atletico Madrid.
  • Arturo Vidal: The Juventus midfielder, “King Arturo”, is a rising star in Europe and one of the world’s best midfielders. After three years at Colo Colo, he embarked on a rising career in Europe, first with Bayer Leverkusen and now Juventus. He has defensive skills, is a good header, lays on goals and has scored eight for Chile. Vidal will be Chile’s force in the midfield. 

World Cup Appearances: 4
Best Result: Round of 16 (2006)
How they Qualified: Finished second in AFC Group Qualification
FIFA Ranking: 59

Australia has qualified for the third consecutive World Cup and this has all the makings of a disastrous outing for the Socceroos. Australia won just once away from home in qualification (a 2-1 victory over Iraq). For the most part, Austrailia drew their way to the World Cup. The side had back-to-back 6-0 shellackings at the hands of Brazil and France in late 2013 which led to the firing of their manager, but things haven't exactly turned around as they blew a 3-0 halftime lead in a friendly against Ecuador in March of 2014. Up front, Australia is led by their all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill, but this team just doesn't have the talent around him to emerge from this group and will likely have a quick exit.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Tim Cahill: The New York Red Bulls midfielder is aging (34), but is still an aerial threat. Honestly, Australia will be lucky to get a point in this group. If they do, Cahill, the man who scored Australia’s first World Cup goal, will be one of the reasons. In likely his last World Cup, expect Tim to go down fighting. Cahill netted three goals in qualifying and scored 13 last season for NYRB.
  • Mile Jedinak: Look, I’m not going to pretend to know a lot about the central midfielder for Crystal Palace, but the 29 year old will likely captain the Socceroos and is one of the only Aussies playing regularly in an elite league. 

Ian's PredictionPat's Prediction

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