World Cup Profiles - Group B

Group B


Spain
World Cup holders Spain again enter a major tournament in rude health and are amongst the favourites to retain their crown.
La Roja qualified from their group in first place ahead of France, despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Didier Deschamps’ side at the Vicente Calderon.
Last summer Spain lost 3-0 to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final and questions were being asked about whether their era of dominance were coming to an end. Those doubts have not entirely gone away, but the evidence is compelling enough to say that this is a group of players who are still performing at the highest level.
Xavi and Sergio Busquets embody Spain’s ability to keep the ball better than any side in the world and this will be crucial in Brazil where maintaining possession and not having to chase the ball will be crucial to any side’s ambitions of winning the tournament.
It is Spain’s monopoly of possession that has made them so resolute defensively at major tournaments. If the opposition does not have the ball, they can’t score a goal. Spain have let in just six goals in the last three major tournaments and have not conceded a single one in any of the knock-out stages as they have gone on to sweep all before them (2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro). 
Critics claim that Spain’s endless caressing of the ball is monotonous, and their insistence on keeping the ball before working the perfect angle is boring. But it is a system that has worked to perfection for Vicente del Bosque, and Luis Aragones before him.
It is in attack where Spain intrigue the most. In Diego Costa they possess one of the hottest strikers who have been at the top of their game this season and represent an alternative to the traditional Spain striker. The influence of David Villa and Fernando Torres has waned over the last two seasons but in the form of Costa along with Alvaro Negredo, coach Vicente del Bosque possesses options he did not previously have.

How they qualified 
Spain won the only qualification pool (aside from the South American group) to contain two world champions. In what was the smallest section in Europe with only five teams, the Spanish led the way ahead of France thanks to a record of six wins and two draws, conceded to the French and Finland. In topping the group they let in a mere three goals, fewer than any other side in the European preliminaries. At the other end of the pitch, however, Spain enjoyed one of their less prolific campaigns, scoring only 14 times.

World Cup history
Prior to lifting the coveted trophy in South Africa, so frequent were their exits at the last eight of the finals that Spain were said to be suffering from a ‘quarter-final jinx’. Brazil 2014 will be Spain’s tenth consecutive world finals appearance, and 14th in all, with their best performance before 2010’s success coming at Brazil 1950. Having topped their first-round section, Spain went straight into the decisive four-team final group stage – where they finished fourth behind Uruguay, Brazil and Sweden.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina (Napoli), David de Gea (Manchester United)
Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Juanfran Torres (Atletico Madrid)
Midfielders: Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Juan Mata (Manchester United)
Forwards: Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), David Villa (Atletico Madrid), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid)

The key players
Though there is no doubt that Spain’s embarrassment of midfield riches, featuring the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, has been integral to their major trophy triumphs, La Roja are strong across the board.
The men in red have a phalanx of very reliable keepers to call on, headed by Iker Casillas, while Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique have consolidated their positions as the leaders of a defence in which left-back Jordi Alba has gone from strength to strength. Ramos and Alba are also a threat in the opposing box, and in recent times have made goalscoring contributions that have been almost as decisive as those of the front men.
However, all eyes will be on Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa. The Brazilian born striker has enjoyed an outstanding season in La Liga and represents an alternative to the classic Spain striker with his aggressive style and ability to hold the ball up. Spain may end up playing with a “false nine” once again, but if they do opt for an out-and-out striker, Costa is unlikely to let them down.

The Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Predecessor Luis Aragones sadly died earlier this year and it was he who ushered in this glorious period in Spanish soccer. Del Bosque has taken up the mantle and it was the former Real Madrid man who guided La Roja to the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship. Can he make it four straight major tournaments for Spain in Brazil?


Prediction: Fourth
Brazil are many people’s favourites to win the tournament on home turf and that 3-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup will give them confidence. As they did in 2010, they have again drawn Chile in what is a difficult group. Holland may not be quite the force they were when Spain beat them in the 2010 final, but Louis van Gaal’s side represent formidable opposition in the first game of a World Cup. Australia complete the group and there seems little doubt that Spain will progress. In the second round, it is possible they will meet Mexico or Croatia, before encounters with Italy and Argentina. Del Bosque’s side have what it takes to edge past each of these three, even if it is by just the odd goal, as has become their speciality at the knock-out stages in recent years. That could set up a semi-final against Argentina who are tipped to prosper in Brazil. If they lose to Argentina and Germany go all the way to the semi-final to face Brazil the we predict Germany to beat Spain for third spot.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 1st
Best World Cup Result: Winners (2010)
Best European Championship Result: Winners (1964, 2008, 2012)
Record Scorer: David Villa (56 goals from 2005)
Most Capped Player: Iker Casillas (152 caps from 2000)
Captain: Iker Casillas

Group matches
Friday 13th June v Holland (Salvador)
Wednesday 18th June v Chile (Rio de Janeiro)
Monday 23rd June v Australia (Curitiba)




Netherlands
Despite comfortable qualification for the 2014 World Cup, there is little optimism among Netherlands supporters that the Oranjes can make a significant impact in Brazil.
For starters they have landed in what many consider the ‘group of death’ alongside World Cup holders Spain, Chile and Australia. If they can squeak through in second place, a likely second round showdown with hosts Brazil awaits.
Secondly, coach Louis van Gaal has seen his ‘big three’ reduced to two with the news that influential AS Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman will miss the tournament with a cruciate ligament injury. Van Gaal considers Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Strootman his three ‘untouchables’ – the only players guaranteed a place in his starting eleven. Strootman was coming off a stellar debut season in Serie A when he picked up the injury against Napoli in March and his strength, energy and dynamism will be sorely missed in Brazil.
Wesley Sneijder is one of the candidates to deputise, although the Galatasaray playmaker does not possess Strootman’s defensive attributes and has rarely been used by Van Gaal since moving to Turkey in 2013,
Record goalscorer Van Persie has endured an injury-riddled season at Manchester United, but should at least be fresh for the finals where he owes his country a big tournament after out-of-sorts displays at the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championships. 
At least Robben has remained uncharacteristically injury free and is producing some of the best performances of his career under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich.
Four years ago, Holland reached the World Cup final and were cruelly beaten by an Andres Iniesta goal in extra time against Spain. A repeat appearance would be little short of a miracle because Van Gaal cannot call on the depth of quality or experience that Bert van Marwijk had at his disposal in South Africa.

How they qualified 
The Netherlands positively cruised into the finals of Brazil 2014, coming through as Europe's joint-top point scorers - alongside Germany - on 28, with their 2-2 draw against Estonia the only minor blemish on a near-faultless campaign. At times they were absolutely purring, in no game more so than their 8-1 defeat of Hungary, while Germany were the only side on the continent to score more goals than their 34.
They registered comfortable wins over their three main Group D rivals - Turkey, Hungary and Romania - in their opening four games to see them shoot clear of the competition, with only a spectacular collapse looking able to deny them an automatic spot. That never came and a, somewhat nervy, 2-0 win over Andorra saw them, alongside Italy, become the first Europeans to seal their place in Brazil. They finished nine points ahead of Romania, a gap only matched by neighbours Belgium.

World Cup history
With legendary coach Rinus Michels pulling the strings from the bench, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Co won their way through to the Final in 1974, only to lose out to the hosts. Four years on, their revolutionary Total Football again took them to the showpiece, but history repeated itself as they suffered another defeat to the host nation, succumbing 3-1 in Buenos Aires. The Oranje then experienced Final heartbreak for a third time in Johannesburg, coming within four minutes of taking Spain to penalties before Andres Iniesta crushed their dreams.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax Amsterdam), Tim Krul (Newcastle United), Michel Vorm (Swansea City)
Defenders: Daley Blind (Ajax Amsterdam), Stefan de Vrij, Daryl Janmaat, Terence Kongolo, Bruno Martins Indi (all Feyenoord), Paul Verhaegh (FC Augsburg), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Joel Veltman (Ajax Amsterdam)
Midfielders: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven)
Forwards: Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Robin van Persie (Manchester United)

The key players
Robin van Persie's blossoming into one of the finest strikers in the world has been a huge boon to the Dutch, with the Manchester United marksman topping the goal-scoring charts with 11 goals. He was able assisted in that department though by the likes of Jermaine Lens - who has progressed into a key part of the Oranje outfit - and Rafael van der Vaart. Arjen Robben continues to be a menace on the wing, while formerly a promising youngster Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord) is now a key component of the side.

The Coach: Louis van Gaal
The former Ajax and Barcelona boss could start an argument in an empty room. Holland have a long standing reputation for infighting and it will be up to Van Gaal to manage the egos – Van Persie and Sneijder are just two players who share a mutual loathing for eachother - in Brazil. Now in his second stint as Holland coach, Van Gaal’s CV stands up with the best, and he would love to go out on a high  - Guus Hiddink will take over for the Euro 2016 qualifiers - before returning to club soccer after the World Cup.


Prediction: Knockout Stages
The key match for Holland here looks to be that clash with Chile on June 23rd. How will Van Gaal’s inexperienced defence stand up against Jorge Sampaoli’s strong, dynamic and tactically astute side in Sao Paulo? However, The Dutch possess a more lethal attack and should make the top two but fall short against the likes of Brazil in the knockout stages.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 15th
Best World Cup Result: Runners-up (1974, 1978, 2010)
Best European Championship Result: Winners (1988)
Record Scorer: Robin van Persie (41 goals between 2005 to present)
Most Capped Player: Edwin van der Sar (130 caps from 1995 to 2009)
Captain: Robin van Persie

Group matches
Friday 13th June v Spain (Salvador)
Wednesday 18th June v Australia (Porto Alegre)
Monday 23rd June v Chile (Sao Paulo)




Chile
Though often overshadowed by their South American counterparts, Chile has a proud history and, more recently, has been associated with tactical innovation.
Under Marcelo Bielsa at the 2010 World Cup, Chile won plaudits for their up-tempo, high-pressing game in a 3-3-1-3 formation. Current coach Jorge Sampaoli has followed his fellow Argentinean, and has continued with this unorthodox style.
Finishing third in CONMEBOL qualifying behind Argentina and Colombia, Chile are tactically flexible, playing with a back three or back four depending on the opposition or personnel available. Their qualifying campaign was an inconsistent one, drawing just one fixture as they won nine and lost six, four of those losses in succession from September 2012 to March 2013. Sampaoli took over in the midst of this poor run, and promptly turned results around – their only loss since his appointment coming in a friendly against Brazil.
Though lacking the strength in depth of some of their neighbours, Chile can claim genuine star power in midfielder Arturo Vidal and winger Alexis Sanchez, two of the leading players in their respective positions in world soccer. An injury to either of them would greatly harm the team’s hopes.
Chile would have approached the 2014 World Cup with optimism, bringing good form into a tournament hosted in South America. A draw that paired the team with holders Spain and finalists Holland will have tempered this enthusiasm, somewhat. Their chances of qualification from the group hinge on upsetting one of the European giants, something Chile are certainly capable of.

How they qualified 
After Chile started their qualifying campaign by winning 12 of the first 18 points on offer, including away victories in Bolivia and Venezuela, three consecutive defeats (among them two home fixtures against Colombia and Argentina) spelled the end of Argentinean coach Claudio Borghi’s tenure. His compatriot Jorge Sampaoli was brought in as a replacement, although his reign got off to a poor start with a reverse in Peru. Yet the loss marked a turning point in Chile’s campaign, as they subsequently embarked on their best ever run of results in World Cup qualifying, chalking up five victories and a draw in their next six encounters to qualify for a second successive World Cup for the first time.
Under Sampaoli La Roja developed into an extremely attack-minded team, so much so that their 29-goal haul during qualification was bettered by only one nation. However, they also conceded more often (25 times) than any of the continent’s other automatic qualifiers and drew only once in their 16 qualifying fixtures.

World Cup history
With eight World Cups under their belts, Chile are level with Paraguay in fourth place on the list of South American nations that have appeared at most editions of the showpiece event. Their best performance to date came when finishing third as host nation in 1962. On five other occasions they have failed to progress from the group phase, while at France 1998 and South Africa 2010 they reached the Round of 16, only to exit at the hands of Brazil on both occasions.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica)
Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest)
Midfielders: Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Mauricio Isla (Juventus), Marcelo Diaz (Basel), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Felipe Gutierrez (FC Twente), Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic), Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo)
Forwards: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Eduardo Vargas (Valencia), Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari), Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo), Fabian Orellana (Celta Vigo)

The key players
Forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, as well as attacking midfielders Matias Fernandez and Arturo Vidal, are the leading men in a squad packed with talent and boasting viable alternatives in each position. Nor must we forget experienced performers such as Claudio Bravo, Gary Medel and Jorge Valdivia, or exciting rising stars like Jean Beausejour and Marcelo Diaz.

The Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Jorge Sampaoli has returned Chile to the playing style they enjoyed under Marcelo Bielsa, attacking relentlessly and pressing opponents high up the pitch when not in possession. The Argentinean took over in December 2012 after a successful spell at Universidad de Chile, the nation’s largest club, and has instilled a sense of belief into the squad missing before his arrival, stating that “it’s safe to say that Chile are contenders” at the coming tournament, and that “the only way to succeed is by uniting players with a love of playing”.


Prediction: Group Stages
Chile were not fortunate when the groups were drawn on December 6th as they were pitted against the two finalists from the 2010 World Cup – Spain and the Netherlands. While neither team are quite the force they were four years ago, they still represent formidable opposition for Sampaoli’s side. Three points against a poor Australia side is likely, but Holland should beat them to second place in the group.

Quick facts
Fifa Ranking: 13th
Best World Cup Result: Third (1962)
Best Copa America Result: Finalists (1979 & 1987)
Record Scorer: Marcelo Salas (37 goals between 1994 and 2007)
Most Capped Player: Leonel Sanchez (84 caps between 1955 and 1968)
Captain: Claudio Bravo

Group matches
Friday 13th June v Australia (Cuiaba)
Wednesday 18th June v Spain (Rio de Janeiro)
Monday 23rd June v Holland (Sao Paulo)




Australia
Australia, one of the proudest sporting nations in the world, enters the World Cup with little expectation.
Qualification for the 2014 finals in Brazil was not as smooth as years gone past, as they had to wait until an 83rd-minute goal in the final game of their qualification campaign against Iraq before finally sealing their passage through.
German coach Holger Osieck fulfilled the objective of leading the Socceroos to their fourth World Cup finals, but 6-0 friendly defeats against Brazil and France proved too much for the FFA (Federation Football Australia) to swallow and he was fired in October.
After 10 days of intense speculation, the FFA announced that Melbourne Victory’s Ange Postecoglou would be the man to replace Osieck. The decision was met with widespread approval, as the FFA opted for a home grown coach to implement a long-term plan, rather than looking abroad as they have done in recent years.
Postecoglou has a major job on his hands. It’s little wonder he was offered a five-year contract because he is likely to need all that time and more to engineer the sort of drastic changes Australian soccer needs.
His first challenge will be to rejuvenate an ageing squad and ensure that the Socceroos avoid any embarrassments akin to the ones that spelt the end for Osieck.
The squad still relies on the likes of Mark Schwarzer and Tim Cahill, while Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse is the only player who features regularly for a top European club.

How they qualified 
Having cruised to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with two games to spare, Australia entered their second qualifying campaign for the global showpiece since joining AFC targeting a second consecutive and smooth qualification. Instead, the road to Brazil 2014 proved to be a bumpy one for the Socceroos, who had to overcome some erratic form to secure their progression.
A narrow comeback win over Thailand and a loss to Oman in the opening stage served as a warning shot, although they ultimately progressed to the next phase as group winners. Then the Australians opened the next round in miserable fashion, drawing against Oman and Japan before losing to Jordan 2-1.
Though stunned, they rallied to claw back into contention with a victory over Iraq before two draws and a 4-0 defeat of Jordan put them on the cusp of qualification. They kept their cool in the final match of the round against Iraq as substitute Josh Kennedy scored late to seal their passage through.

World Cup history
Though a team made up entirely of amateurs secured a scoreless draw against Chile, Australia departed from the 1974 FIFA World Cup without a goal to show from their inaugural appearance. The Socceroos made up for lost time at Germany 2006 and qualified for the Round of 16 before narrowly falling to eventual champions Italy. The German theme continued at South Africa 2010 although this time Australia suffered a 4-0 loss against the European giants in a scoreline which ultimately scuppered their progress. A ten-man 1-1 draw against Ghana and a 2-1 win against Serbia saw the Aussies eliminated on goal difference, three goals off the Africans.

Squad
Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan (Club Brugge), Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund), Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets)
Defenders: Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo), Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney Wanderers), Bailey Wright (Preston North End), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Motors), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng)
Midfielders: Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), James Holland (Austria Vienna), Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town), Oliver Bozanic (Luzern), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar), Mark Bresciano (Al-Gharafa)
Attackers: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Tom Rogic (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidosic (Sion), Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory), Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Mathew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt)

The key players
Tim Cahill remains the team’s undoubted star and talisman with a stunning goal ratio from midfield and equally remarkable heading ability despite his modest stature. Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak will lead Australia at the World Cup after getting the nod over Tim Cahill to replace long-term captain Lucas Neill. The 29-year-old Jedinak midfielder was a mainstay for Palace last season.

The Coach: Ange Postecoglou
Postecoglou likes his teams to press and dominate possession, although the latter will be hard to achieve against what will be high caliber opposition in Brazil. Postecoglou will be expected to get his team fighting, with a heroic group stage exit probably deemed acceptable in the knowledge that the squad lacks quality in key areas.


Prediction: Group stages
There is an element of 'damage limitation exercise' about Australia's 2014 World Cup campaign. This is one of the worst groups they could have got and they probably won’t pick up a point. Postecoglou is building for the future and will be looking for encouraging signs from the youngsters he selects, rather than holding onto any realistic ambitions of getting out of the group.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 59th
Best World Cup Result: Second round (2006)
Record Scorer: Damian Mori (29 goals between 1992 and 2002)
Most Capped Player: Mark Schwarzer (129 caps from 1993 to present)
Captain: Mile Jedinak

Group matches
Friday 13th June v Chile (Cuiaba)
Wednesday 18th June v Holland (Porto Alegre)

Monday 23rd June v Spain (Curitiba)