2014 World Cup: Group B Preview

While Group G may get the “Group of Death” label here in the states with the USA having to battle through Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, Group B also could lay claim to that title.  Although it’s not likely all four teams here in the second group have a realistic chance of advancing (sorry, Socceroos) there are three legitimate semifinal hopefuls.  And of course, Group B features both World Cup finalists from four years ago in Spain and the Netherlands.  Chile is the third team that is looking to elbow its way into the conversation of 2014 World Cup hopefuls as they join Belgium amongst the serious dark horse threats to make a lengthy run in this year’s tournament.

The 2014 World Cup represents possibly the last hurrah for this golden generation of Spanish football, the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and others, to lift one more trophy.  Already they’ve accomplished the unprecedented feat of winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and Euro 2012 – the only time in the history of world soccer that has occurred.  A victory in 2014 would secure this Spanish dynasty of being the greatest ever.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands will bring a much younger squad than the one that made a run to the 2010 World Cup Final.  Will the Dutch rekindle the fire of South Africa or will they flame out again in the first round as in Euro 2012?  If it’s the latter, will Chile be there to pounce with the likes of powerhouse Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez?  Can Australia pull a surprise that shocks the world?

Group B may not be the Group of Death, but it might be the Group of Intrigue… yea, ok, I guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Let’s get to the preview…

Group B Teams (32 Flags Pre-Tournament Power Ranking):

Spain (No. 2), Netherlands (No. 10), Chile (No. 11), Australia (No. 30)

Player to Watch in Group B: Diego Costa (Spain)

A Brazilian born striker comes back to his home country looking to win a World Cup for Spain.  Said striker also just happens to be the key man who led Atletico Madrid to their first La Liga title since 1996, ending 9 years of dominance from Barcelona and Real Madrid.  Oh, and he is also recovering from an injury that saw him dramatically subbed out after 8 minutes in the Champions League Final and a cloud of mystery surrounds his status for the World Cup.  If that isn’t enough, he bears the responsibility of being the most reliable striking option for the defending World Cup champions.

If that doesn’t constitute a “player to watch” then I don’t know what does.

X-Factor in Group B: How many goals can the Dutch stars score?

The Netherlands squad named by new Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has gotten a lot of attention for its youthfulness, especially in the backline.  However, the hopes of the Orange Army will depend on its three veteran attacking playmakers – Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, and Arjen Robben.

After scoring 56 goals in his previous 2 seasons for Arsenal and Manchester United, RVP only scored 12 goals in a disastrous EPL campaign for United that was plagued by injury and unhappiness.  However, he was the top scorer in UEFA qualifying and needs to recapture some of that international form leading the line for the Dutch.  Sneijder was the tournament’s joint top goalscorer in 2010, but has fallen off the radar a bit after moving from Inter Milan to Galatasaray.  Robben has starred at Bayern Munich in what has been perhaps Europe’s best side the last four years.

At the 2010 World Cup, these players combined for 8 goals in their run to the final.  At Euro 2012, they scored just one as the orange crashed out with an 0-3 record.  The Netherlands will go as far as these stars will take them.  And considering their inexperience at the back, they may have to score a lot of goals to keep up with the pace.

Odds of Winning World Cup (courtesy VegasInsider.com):

Spain: 13/2
Netherlands: 25/1
Chile: 40/1
Australia: 650/1

Most Important Game: Chile vs Netherlands

While the rematch of the World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands on June 13th from Salvador will be the highlight of the group stage, it is not the most important game in Group B.  That is surely the contest between Chile and the Netherlands on June 23rd from Sao Paulo.  Both teams will feel as though they have a great chance to join presumptive favorite Spain in the knockout round.  Chile finished 3rd in CONMEBOL qualifying and has victories over England and Uruguay in the last 18 months as well as draws against Spain and Brazil.  If the rest of Group B goes as predicted, this matchup will be the one that decides which tournament favorite won’t survive the group stage.

With Chile-Netherlands being played in the last round of group stage games, it could be a winner-take-all scenario.  And with having the home-continent advantage and the confidence of getting some great results over the past year and a half, La Roja may just have a slight edge.

Teams to Move On: Spain and Chile