Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia
Featuring the 2010 World Cup Champions, Spain epitomises possession-based football as a means for results. This, combinedwith their recent history of dominating football, has them placed as favorites to progress from a very tough group.
Second spot is set to be decided between the finalist of the 2010 World Cup Holland and the ever evolving and exciting South American nation of Chile.
Lastly, Australia will be competing in their third consecutive World Cup but having undergone a dramatic transformation over the past six months, the expectations and hopes of progressing are considered slim.
Spain’s current run of success is unprecedented – two European Championships, with a World Cup in between comes with the pressure to maintain the momentum.
If any team has the talent to continue this incredible run it is without doubt the possession-crazed Spanish - a team that uses its possession to break the backs of all who come in front of them.
Every single player, no matter what his position, desires the ball and protects it while squeezing opportunity from even the smallest of spaces with surgical type precision.
For years the conundrum has surrounded the lack of a world class No.9 since the fall from grace of Fernando Torres. This culminated in the use of Cesc Fabregas dropping from high to further overload the midfield in the 2012 European Championships. The problem could be solved now that Diego Costa has pledged his allegiance to Spain. With the Brazilian-born forward adding much steel up front, expect a new dimension which allows a more direct game if required.
Prediction: Write Spain off at your own peril, this team has the qualities to go back to back!
So many questions are still to be answered by this Dutch team of 2014 on the eve of the World Cup. Whether it is the formation Louis van Gaal employs - after experimenting with so many different shapes in the previous six months - or the best way to utilize his front three triangle of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Add to that the dilemma of how adequately to cover the loss of Kevin Strootman who often provided a deep creative spark. Without his impetus the midfield looks starved of creativity and forward ideas.
On the plus side it seems for the first time there is a harmonious atmosphere within the squad. Whether this can catapult a team to reach its potential - when far more talented Dutch teams have failed due to bickering within the dressing rooms – remains to be seen.
Common consensus coming out of Holland is that the team might be suited to a more counter-attacking style of play. The talent is not as rich as in the past but, in van Gaal, they have a master tactician who has the squad pulling together and who, if all the cards fall into place, have the potential to reach the quarter-finals.
Prediction: Might not be the year for the Dutch and I’m tipping them to just miss out on progression from the group.
Manager Jorge Sampaoli is a student of 2010 coach Marcelo Bielsa and ‘El Loco’ influences his coaching philosophy distinctly. This means a Sampaoli team can be expected to press aggressively high up the field and attack directly with constant overloads ever-present. The speed at which they can change systems is a tactic that surprises the opposition but not his own players.
Attack is the order of the day and La Roja will not be overawed by their more accomplished opponents. Their entertaining and courageous style of play will pose a threat to their group rivals, with their most talented generation of players expected to deliver. If their results can match their enterprising play they will inspire a nation.
Prediction: If they can navigate through this tough group, Chile could be the surprise team of the tournament and reach as far as the semi-finals.
Third consecutive World Cup after a break of 32 years has Australia feeling more and more comfortable among the top nations who look forward to this event without every fail every four years. So much has happened since South Africa 2010 and it took the appointment of the nation’s very own ‘Special One,’ Ange Postecoglou, to shake the foundations from the ground up.
Very quickly Postecoglou has gone about implementing his own vision, moving on some very experienced players and instilling a possession-based game built on short passing at a high tempo within smaller spaces. A very intelligent game plan as the moment the ball is turned over the team is already in a more compact shape and able to transition into their defensive block.
Pivotal to the team is the two holding midfielders, Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan. These two terriers in the middle of the park will make life difficult for any team and the ability to restrict the space available centrally will force opponents to open into the wide areas and leave themselves more vulnerable to the counter-attacking threat.
Prediction: Will surprise many with our intention and speed of play but face an almost impossible task to progress beyond the group stages.
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