2014 World Cup Brazil: Group B Preview

June 6, 2014

Depending on who you ask (Americans or the rest of the world), Group B is this year’s Group of Death. With the reigning World Cup champs and runner-up paired together with a feisty South American squad, this should be one of the most exciting groups to watch in the coming weeks. No one is an ultra-safe bet to make it to the knockout stage, and barring a miracle you won’t move on without at least one victory.

If you’re a hardcore soccer fan, this is the group you pay close attention to disregarding personal allegiance. Let’s preview Group B.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Xavi, Spain midfielder

As a midfielder, Xavi won’t be the one scoring the majority of the goals for La Furia Roja, but he’ll be involved in nearly all of them. As the linchpin of a Spanish attack that is the best in the world at maintaining ball control, Xavi is second to none at setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities. In the 2010 World Cup, he amassed an incredible 614 touches in just seven games.

Spain is one of the few teams in the tournament that doesn’t rely on a couple of stars to do the brunt of the offensive work, which is part of the reason why it is still ranked No. 1 by FIFA and part of the reason it is so fun to watch the squad. And as long as Xavi is commanding the charge in the middle, Spain remains a threat to repeat as champions.

Arturo Vidal, Chile midfielder

Dutch striker Robin van Persie was the top scorer in EUFA qualification and still remains a threat to be the top scorer of this group, but knee issues may prevent him from doing so. Health will not be a deterrent for Chile’s top scorer, though. Arturo Vidal is the main man in an aggressive offensive strategy employed by manager Jorge Sampaoli and will be expected to continue the strong play that resulted in La Roja finishing qualification on a 5-0-1 tear.

Along with fellow midfielder Alexis Sanchez, Vidal completes one of the more dangerous and explosive attacks in the entire World Cup. Chile may not control the ball like Spain, but with guys like Vidal on the pitch you don’t need many chances for a ball to find its way to the back of the net.

They’ll Move On If…

Chile – They play as a team and continue to push. Americans who watch Chile out of curiosity will likely appreciate the squad’s aggressive style, and it isn’t just for show. This team is good enough on both ends to finish runner-up to Spain once again and perhaps even better.

Spain – They do what they do best. Keep ball possession and play smart football. This is not an easy group by any stretch of the imagination, but the defending champs are still predicted by most to move on the knockout stage.

Netherlands – Someone steps up when the going gets tough. This is the second time in three years that the Dutch have been placed into the Group of Death; in the 2012 Euro Cup, the Orange crumbled and finished 0-3 in group play. Not only was it a complete shock, but it signaled a lack of leadership because the squad was never able to right the ship after the opening defeat. Things won’t be any easier this year and someone is going to need to grab the reigns to avoid another early exit.

Australia – Tim Cahill goes on a scoring tear, the goaltending is out of this world and injuries prevent the other squads in the group from playing at full strength. Australia isn’t a bad team, but they are a step below the rest and are the clear underdog in this group.

Most Crucial Matches

Netherlands vs. Spain (June 13, 3 PM ET)

The rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final also happens to be the opening match of this group. Unlike in 2010 when the teams appeared evenly matched and it was anyone’s guess as to who would win, the Spanish side is definitely the favorite in this one. But the reason this game will be so interesting is because of the inconsistency of the Dutch squad since last Cup’s final. The Netherlands still have plenty of talent and the ability to score with the best of them. But the defense is suspect and even a loss to a favored Spain squad could cause a major breakdown reminiscent of Euro 2012. This game means more to the Dutch than to Spain, which should make things exciting.

Chile vs. Netherlands (June 23, 12 PM ET)

Similar to Group A, the last fixture of Group B could decide who ends up making it to the knockout stage and who exits the tournament early. Both teams like to attack often and the Dutch create a lot of chances, so this one will be fun to watch for the offensively minded fans. But in the end, the team that ultimately walks away satisfied could be the one that plays better defensively. A tie probably won’t do any good for either team, so expect each squad to employ a strategy that maximizes scoring opportunities.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Spain – 7 points

2. Chile – 7 points

3. Netherlands – 3 points

4. Australia – 0 points

– K. Becks

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