By: Travis Thayer
3:00 ET Friday, June 13: Spain v. Netherlands ESPN
6:00 ET Friday, June 13: Chile v. Australia ESPN 2
12:00 ET Wednesday, June 18: Australia v. Netherlands ESPN
3:00 ET Wednesday, June 18: Spain v. Chile ESPN
12:00 ET Monday, June 23: Australia v. Spain ESPN 2
12:00 ET Monday, June 23: Netherlands v. Chile ESPN
Spain is the defending champion of the World Cup, and they are the number one team in the FIFA world rankings. Spain has dominated international competition over the years, winning back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012, and the World Cup in 2010. Spain is the only nation to win consecutive Euro Cups, and they look to become the third nation to win back-to-back World Cups, where they would join Italy (1934,1938) and Brazil (1958,1962). There is some concern that Spain’s aging roster might not be up to the task, especially after they were dismantled 3-0 by Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final. Regardless of the concern, Spain is still considered one of the favorites to win the World Cup.
June 13, 2014 is the day the Dutch have been looking forward to for four years. That day will be a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final against a Spain team that beat the Dutch for the ultimate prize. Despite being the runner-up in 2010, Holland always seems to find a way to get the job done at the World Cup. This year should be no different as Holland has a mix of talented young players, along with veterans such as Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder. The Dutch will be led by newly appointed Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, where he will be tasked with maintaining defensive solidarity – and managing the ego’s of his front line players who have been at each others throats in past competitions.
Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal underwent surgery on his right knee just five weeks before the start of the World Cup, and every indication is that he is fit and will be ready to play in the opener for Chile. Chile’s hopes were almost dashes when Vidal went under the knife, but that hope remains alive. If he is truly healthy, Chile has a legitimate shot of making it to the quarterfinals. Their attacking style has given teams fits in the past, as they press very high up in order to create scoring chances for Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez (18 goals this season). And you can never count out a team that is playing on their home continent.
Poor Australia. It looks as if they don’t have a chance to win any points in Group B, but hey at least they get to make the trip to Brazil. The Australians won only three of their eight qualifying matches, and their reward was being drawn into a very tough Group B. This is an aging team as eight of their top minute getter’s are over the age of 29. Couple that with not having a true superstar that can put the team on his back and pull an upset, and you have shear disaster for this Australian club.
Players to Watch
Andres Iniesta – Spain is loaded with talent, but Iniesta has proved to come up the biggest when it matters the most. He earned man of the match honors in both the 2010 World Cup Finals and the 2012 Euro Finals. Iniesta has become so good and fun to watch because of his willingness to play just about anywhere. He can play a false winger, central midfield, deep midfield, or as an attacking mid. A man that versatile is sure to be a threat in what could possibly be his last World Cup appearance.
Memphis Depay – The Dutch have so many talented big name players that could be mentioned here, but lookout for young Memphis Depay. The 20-year old winger could be the Netherlands next great player, and he could make a huge impact in his first World Cup. Depay is flashy and very exciting on the ball, and he has great ability to finish from anywhere on the pitch. And, not to mention, he is a Dutch rapper. Check out both of his skills here —> http://youtu.be/okQQ8PX9gic
Arturo Vidal – Of course everyone wants to see the fitness of Vidal after having surgery just five weeks before the cup starts. Vidal’s healthy will be paramount to Chile’s chances of advancing through the group stage. If Vidal is healthy, Chile becomes a serious threat to either Spain or Holland.
Mile Jedinak – Jedinak, Crystal Palace’s player of the year from last season looks to carry the Australians to the next round. He has been in great form starting all 37 Premier League matches this season. His size (6’2) and his physicality are his greatest strengths. He’s not a great goal scorer, but he can help control the game in the midfield, and wear on his opponents with his physicality.
HOW IT WILL PLAY OUT
Group B looks to be a three team race with Spain and the Netherlands holding a slight advantage over Chile. Chile’s chances will largely be put on the right knee of Arturo Vidal, but even a healthy Vidal doesn’t guarantee anything. Holland looked dominate in qualifying, gaining 28 of a possible 30 points. Holland also has the star power to make a deep tournament run with the likes of van Persie and Robben. The winner of Group B could very well be the team that wins the opening match. Spain and Holland square off in a rematch of the 2010 final, and a winner would be the clear favorite to win the group. Chile certainly hopes there is a winner in that match as they could have a three-point advantage over Holland or Spain going into their second contest. Spain is the number one ranked team in the world, and that ranking makes them virtually impossible to pick against. Spain should win the group, but it won’t be as easy as most think. Spain winning the group will set up for some really good reality television, as Holland and Chile would battle in the final game of group play to determine who advances. If I have to pick a winner of that game, I would pick Holland, but it is possible that the team that beats Australia by the most goals will be the team that advances in case of a draw.