It’s understandable that after the World Cup draw, many American fans called Group G (U.S., Germany, Ghana, Portugal) the toughest, but there’s a case to be made that none is more difficult than Group B.
You have the defending World Cup and Euro champs in Spain. Holland lost the last World Cup final and ripped through qualifying (9-0-1, a plus-29 goal-differential) this time around. Chile comfortably qualified, and this will be the third World Cup for Australia, which made it to the knockout round in 2006.
So there is quality from top to bottom, and it all starts with Spain playing Holland on June 13 in a rematch of the last World Cup final. Who could ask for anything more?
We could see history in Brazil. No nation has ever won consecutive World Cup titles with a European Championship victory sandwiched in between. Oh, by the way, Spain also won the 2008 Euro title as well. Forward Diego Costa has been dealing with a thigh problem, but one of Spain’s strengths is its depth. Still ... the squad is aging and was beaten 3-0 by Brazil in the championship game of last year’s Confederations Cup. So Spain is not as solid as in years past but certainly is a title contender.
How They Got Here: Won UEFA Group I.
Best World Cup Finish: Defending champion
While the Dutch have one of the better World Cup pedigrees, this year’s squad is a work in progress. Holland lost all three group-stage games at Euro 2012, and brought Louis Van Gaal back as coach. The team is younger (Holland won Euro under-17 title in 2011), but it still has star-power in Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Its opening match against Spain should give a greater insight into Holland’s chances going forward.
How They Got Here: Won UEFA Group D
Best World Cup Finish: Three-time finalist, last in 2010
This is a squad fans could come to love. Out of its unusual 3-4-3 formation, Chile likes to put the petal to the metal. That, of course, leaves the team vulnerable to counter-attacks. However, this is a confident bunch that should benefit from playing on its home continent. Striker Alexis Sanchez had 19 goals for Barcelona this year, while Juventus’ Arturo Vidal is one of the best all-around midfielders in the world.
How They Got Here: Finished third in South American qualifying
Best World Cup finish: Third place in 1962.
Tim Cahill and the so-called golden generation is appearing in a third straight World Cup, but it struggled to qualify in Asia (two ties against Oman, a loss to Jordan in the last group stage). After losing 6-0 to both Brazil and France, the Aussies fired coach Holger Osieck and replaced him with Ange Postecoglou, who faces a tough task in this group. He has, however, taken all the pressure off his team, saying the other three nations in the group expect to beat Australia. True enough.
How They Got Here: Finished second in group B in fourth round of qualifying
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 in 2006
Who Will Advance: Spain, Chile
Dark Horse: Holland
Glad to be here: Australia
Three Players to Watch
Andres Iniesta (Spain): It’s doubtful that there are as many YouTube videos of anyone simply dribbling than Iniesta. Teammate Sergio Ramos says: “It is as if he has been touched by a magic wand.” Nuff said.
Arturo Vidal (Chile): He had meniscus surgery in early May, so he may not be at top health. That would be a shame for Chile, because he can do this:
Robin Van Persie (Netherlands): He can score from anywhere and any angle as he’s shown throughout a wonderful career. This goal from a friendly against Ecuador shows why teams must be vigilant when playing Holland:
Must Watch Game
Spain vs. Holland, June 13
The first can’t-miss game of the tournament.