By Martin Hearnden
It would not be correct to label group B the “Group of Death” (that doubtful honour probably goes to Group G), after all, it does contain Australia, but one very handy side is not going to make it. However, as it contains our near neighbours and home of the only pro league in this part of the world, it behoves us to review the group. In predicted reverse order:
In recent years Australia have produced some half decent sides and some decent players. They talk fondly of their golden generation, a bit of a stretch, but the likes of Emerton, Schwarzer, Cahill and Kewell were handy enough. In 2006 they would have gone to a quarter final but for Italia and their mastery of the dark arts. This squad is workmanlike at best, Cahill (aged 47) is still around, the skipper (Jedinak) plies his trade at Palace but heck, there is not a lot else. Getting a point will be a major achievement but the big danger is that the other 3 sides, given the nature of the group, will seek to bolster their goal difference at Australia’s expense. It could be ugly as they match up to their current ranking of 62nd in the world, the lowest of any team at the tournament.
The Dutch are going to struggle to get out of the group. By their high standards this is not a vintage side; their own fans talk of only having two world class players and do not exude confidence. That is possibly a bit harsh, there are good players in the squad (Leroy Fer…) but the approach will be pragmatic with a lot resting on Robben on the break and the finishing of RVP. Apparently they all get along these days and Van Gaal will certainly have them organized, fit and well drilled.
A loss in their first game against Spain (the fixture fairies had fun with that one) and it is going to be very difficult.
My slightly unoriginal pick to cause a stir in 2014, Chile are on an upward swing. A youthful hard pressing, hard running side this could be the tournament that La Roja really make the transition from South American also rans to a top side. Sanchez (Barca) will have the free role and licence to cause havoc up top. The key man is probably Vidal (Juve), the heartbeat of the side. He is a complete box to box midfielder who makes the whole thing tick. Clearly they will feel at home and I believe they get out of the group.
Since they won the Euros in 2008 Spain have dominated world football. They are of course the defending champions and retained the European title in 2012 for good measure. There is an argument that this is the best side to grace world football, although Brazil (58/62 and 70) would have something to say about that. They are a class act but is the clock ticking?
They will get out this difficult group but the question will be – can they go all the way again? Full of household names, it is pointless listing them here. (I am going to mention Iniesta as I believe he makes the whole thing work, for club and country). If a European side is finally going to win a world cup anywhere in the Americas, maybe it is Spain.
So, Spain and Chile to go thru from Group B. Their reward will be a match up with Group A, which includes Brazil. A powerful incentive to make sure you win the group. Overall winners? Argentina is my pick as Brazil’s home tournament is yet again spoilt by a neighbour.
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