Drawn in Group B for the World Cup in Brazil this summer are World Champions Spain, 2010 finalists Holland, South Americans Chile and underdogs Australia.
The Spaniards will kick off their campaign in a repeat of the 2010 final against Holland on June 13th. The very same day, a potentially group defining match will take place between Chile and Australia. The winners of that game will have a real chance of qualifying for the knockout round, but it is hard to look past Spain and the Dutch.
Vicente del Bosque leads Spain into their third tournament under his guidance, having won the previous two – the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championships in 2012.
And they will go into the tournament in Brazil looking for a second successive World Cup success and a fourth straight tournament of glory, having won Euro 2008 under the late Luis Aragones.
The squad is packed with quality from front to back with the likes of La Liga winner Diego Costa leading the line, Premier League champion David Silva providing the support, and Champions League winners such as Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and captain Iker Casillas ensuring that they will be hard to break down.
Indeed, Spain’s current crop have been compared to the great Brazil side of 1970 and will be hoping to show why this summer. But their period of international dominance will be tested throughout, and it will start in their very first game.
Louis Van Gaal leads the Netherlands into the World Cup in his last act as Dutch boss. A vast amount of media attention will be on him due to his impending role as Manchester United manager. But that will be pushed to the back of his mind as he will be hoping for a high quality tournament. He is a determined boss and would love to go into his new role on a high, but the likelihood is that a below standard defense will cost the Oranje.
Sure, their attack has enough quality to frighten even the most solid of defenses, with Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie the undisputed star men. But with Aston Villa man Ron Vlaar one of their best defenders, the Netherlands will struggle under any real pressure, and like so many other flamboyant Dutch sides, they will probably not go very far this summer.
Perhaps the dark horses of the group, Chile, will be looking to qualify in second place if they can and should beat Australia, which would turn up the pressure on whichever side loses in the Spain-Holland opener.
They are a side full of flair and have beaten the likes of Uruguay in their World Cup qualifying campaign, as well as winning 2-0 at Wembley against England in 2013. They have also achieved draws in friendlies with Brazil and Spain in games in April 2013 and September 2013 respectively.
They are a strong side and will feel that they can do a good job defensively in their tenth World Cup appearance, with the likes of Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and Cardiff City’s Gary Medel providing solidity at the back. And with Barcelona man Alexis Sanchez up top, there is definite potential for goals in the side.
Australia know that they are nowhere near being favorites to qualify for the next round and may end up being the group’s whipping boys, but they will hope to thrive with no pressure. Living legend Tim Cahill has again been picked for the Socceroos’ squad and will be vital to any hopes they have of pulling off a shock in Brazil.
It could be argued that Australia are in a Group of Death and have no chance of progressing, but poor tournaments for two of the three opponents in their group would open the door for them.
Realistically, though, anything other than qualification for Spain and Holland will come as a major surprise for all, with the winners of the group facing the runners up of Group A, and the runners up facing the winners of Group A.
A poor result in that all important first match for either Holland or Spain and they will know they may have to face Brazil in the last 16, something that the hosts would relish.