This group has everything: The 2 finalists from the last World Cup, an up and coming power and this tournament's best example of cannon fodder. So, how will this group with an amazing coincidence that may never be seen again shake out?
The defending World Champions are coming in on the backs of 2 major tournament wins in a row, and a 3rd will cement their reputation as possibly the best national team of all time. But this team has issues that have been bubbling up under the surface for some time now. Last tournament they had one of the best centerbacks in the world with Carles Puyol anchoring this backline, and as Barcelona went without him, it might well go the same for Spain. The pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique isn't terrible by any stretch, but the anchor at the back is no longer present. The tiki-taka system has taken some blows this year and last mainly with Barca's fall and the rise of managers like Brendan Rodgers and Diego Simeone, but it will still dictate tempo against almost every team they will come up against. Xavi is not a spry chicken anymore, and while they still have players like Fabregas, Silva, and Iniesta, the maestro in the middle might not be able to hold up as much in the draining Brazilian conditions. Diego Costa's health may well be the biggest question mark for the entire Spain team, since he offers something no other forward on this team can provide. His presence might be the difference between massive success and massive failure for Spain in this tournament, since the cracks are more present than they have been in the past. They are still a tournament favorite no doubt, but the potential is there for the wheels to fall off.
The Oranje of Holland may have one of the biggest microscopes of the tournament on them. This is not because of who is in their group, and what they did in South Africa; it's where their current manager will be collecting paychecks after the tournament is done. Manchester United fans will watch the Dutch with eager eyes, and that may not be a good thing. Louis Van Gaal has tried to transition this team away from the older, veteran back 4 and goalie of 2010 to a very young and inexperienced one. None of the defenders from 2010 made this squad, and while there is a lot of promise for players like Bruno Martins, Stefan De Vrij and Joel Veltman among others, they are still young and naive to this type of stage. From there up, they still have the same players like Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie and Kuyt, but even then behind them they are incredibly young and inexperienced as well. There is always a big Euro team or two that has a howler in the group stage and goes out, and with the group and circumstances surrounding them, it may well be the Dutch this time.
Part of the reason for that may be down to the Chilean team they have to face. Continuing on from the Marcelo Bielsa reign of the high press high pressure football, Jorge Sampaoli will lead a very talented Chile team forward with some championing them as possible dark horses. Now while I won't go that far, they do have the system and players to really cause intrigue. Arturo Vidal has been linked with clubs like Barca, Real Madrid and Manchester United for a reason, and hopefully he will recover from his injuries to show that in this tournament because he is one of the rising stars in European football. While Chile won't have the excellent Matias Fernandez next to him, they will have Charles Aranguiz, who has begun to really take South American football by storm and can do largely the same things that Fernandez do, plus even more. Even while losing players like Suazo and Pizarro, Chile still don't feel like they are missing that much. If anything will trip them up, it might be relative weakness with their back 3, but the system that they play doesn't put too much pressure on them regardless of that. If they come in as healthy as possible, they may well upset the Dutch and advance out of the group, possibly even winning it.
Poor Socceroos. They are merely cannon fodder for this group of giants. After Holger Osieck was sacked after getting blown out by both Brazil and France, the Aussies settled on Ange Postecoglou, who hasn't won them the best of results so far. The team selection also doesn't inspire much confidence. They still have Tim Cahill who hasn't lost any form since moving to New York, but other than that they don't have many players that will threaten any of the big boys in this group. The back 4 is inexperienced in spots, and long standing keeper Mark Schwarzer has bowed out in favor of inexperience behind him. This team is a large contender to be 32 out of 32 in Brazil; probably more so than even harboring a hope of getting out of this group.
Prediction: Spain will win the group, but cracks will be exposed to be exploited later, and Chile and Holland will duke it out to finish second, with Holland facing a major risk of finishing 3rd. Australia should be happy to be here.
Post a Comment