B is for balance

Being the Casual Hooligans we are we’re more interested in providing the fan’s perspective of football and bringing our fellow football aficionados information that is pertinent, insightful, and most importantly – interesting. Instead of providing you previews of the groups and teams involved in the World Cup we are proud to present our best information on all 32 teams.

Group B is a one in need of balance. With three big teams pushing and clawing their way out of the group stages I see this as being one of the most exciting groups to watch in the tournament. There will be no gimmes and no small games. Here is Group bee… I mean.. 

Group B

Group B

Netherlands

Netherlands

Oranje are not without the ghosts of the past for this (or any) major tournament and they will be hoping to ward them away once and for all. By far the greatest football nation to never have won the World Cup they have fallen at the final hurdle on three occasions, most recently against their first match opponents, Spain. They are filled with anticipation to show the World they can make a helluva run. Redemption is on the horizon more than ever after a horrible showing in the Euro 2012 which saw them finishing dead last in the group with no wins, no points, and a goal differential of -3.

Seeing their Euro 2012 chances go up in flames seemed to may have been the fire the Dutch needed for a reincarnation out of the ashes. Along with the reintroduction of attacking football, Louis van Gaal brought a vision. That vision saw his team score an incredible 34 goals with only 5 goals conceded as they ended the World Cup qualifiers with the joint highest points in a European qualifying campaign. He also brought back the 4-3-3 which is, as Gaal says, “the best formation for us to play because it allows us to press where we want and attack on the flanks. I’m an attack-minded coach and that’s how we’ll play.“

With this 4-3-3 comes a rather young back line which hasn’t been tested much internationally, but with a five goals conceded in ten matches who is to say they are poor at the back? With the likes of young players Indi, Blind, and Daryl Janmaat being linked to big transfers this summer they’ll be hoping to not only impress the scouts but to nix the speculation surrounding the team.

On the offensive side the Dutch give new meaning to the term Flying Dutchman with Robben carving up the flanks. There is no mystery how he’ll play. Robben has the deadliest left foot in the game and with his form being high in an incredibly successful Bayern Munich side everyone will know he’s going to cut inside.. and shoot with his left. Problem is no one can really stop him – which makes it more impressive. Robin van scumbag… *ahem* I mean Persie (sorry.. that was the Gunner in me) will be on the receiving end of their attacking move and with ten goals in nine games for the Netherlands he will be getting on the scoreboard. Van Gaal greatly appreciates the immensely talented van Persie as he says, “van Persie is the ideal forward for the system because he can play with the ball or go deep and score.”

Since their first game of the tournamentwill be their game against Spain a win can boost egos and bring euphoria where a defeat can bring back haunting memories of South Africa and the last Euros. It may just prove to be the most important match of the tournament for a historically enigmatic Dutch side.

 

Spain

Spain

When I think of Spain in Brazil I think of one particular man: Diego Costa. One of the most prolific strikers in the game at the moment, he recently decided to play for Spain rather than his country of birth, Brazil. Though a very unpopular decision in Brazil, it doesn’t come without rational. Says Costa on his choice, “It was a very complicated decision for me. I analyzed thoughts and decided to play for Spain because everything that I have in my life is country provided. Here I feel valued for everything I do daily and I feel like people like me. I want people to understand that I have never renounced Brazil.. it’s not like that. I owe my country, Spain, everything that I am. I hope people understand and respect this because it has been a very tough decision.” Though a blow for Brazil it is a huge boost for Spain who can now add the Spanish striker to their seemingly endlessly talented roster.

La Furia Roja enter this tournament looking to make it an absolutely amazing four major trophy victories in a row following their 2008 and 2012 Euro championships and their 2010 World Cup victory. They certainly have the squad to do it as well with a wealth of talent all over the pitch they could make a serious case for any tournament. A few fans on reddit speculated what could be their first three teams off of the roster and the squads are something to envy.

Just imagine:

 

First team: Casillas – Azpilicueta – Ramos – Pique – Alba – Alonso – Busquets – Xavi – Pedro – D. Costa – Iniesta

 

Second team: Reina – Arbeloa – Albiol – J. Martinez – Monreal – Illaramendi – Fabregas – Cazorla – Silva – Navas – Negredo

 

Third team: De Gea – Juanfran – Inigo – Mikel – Enrique – Mata – Gabi – Koke – Raul Garcias – Torres – Villa

The back line for Spain is certainly not without experience and as they say defense wins championships. What to make of the Starting goalkeeper, however? Iker Casillas has been in amazing form for Spain. Though he is challenging for his spot on Real Madrid he hasn’t conceded a goal in a knockout stage since 2006 in either the World Cup or Euro’s. Though a costly error almost cost his Real Madrid a title in Lisbon he seems to be in another mindset when it comes to the international stage.

Their midfield and strikeforce has so many options of how to play against and with them seemingly adopting the tiki taka style Barcelona has brought to the stage I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team make a real challenge for the trophy for a second time in a row. I mean.. who can forget the 4-6-0 formation Del Bosque placed against an incredibly defensive Italy side in the 2012 Euros?

Spain certainly have an incredible résumé when it comes to World football.. but they don’t seem to be without a chink in the armor when you look back at the Confederations Cup loss to Brazil on Brazilian soil. With players so accustomed to success both domestically and internationally will the Spanish team be able to fend off the immense pressure they have to bounce back from an enigmatic 3-0 loss? If Brazil finish top of their group and Spain finish second we’ll find out in just a few weeks time.

One major issue I see Spain face when going into the World Cup this time around is the fact that some teams have found a lot of success with the quick pass and move style of play that Spain utilize – as a result many coaches have done the research and experimentation required to find a way to stop this play style. For years Barcelona dominated the midfield.. they dominated possession.. and they dominated World football. Now however we see a lot of defensively sound teams able to shut down this play style with the correct quality and organization. A few examples – Incredibly defensive Chelsea winning the Champions League in 2012: on the way ‘parking the bus’ in front of their goal vs. Barcelona. Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich having 69% possession against Real Madrid but still losing 4-0 this year. Atletico Madrid bullying Real Madrid to a near victory in Lisbon. Could teams learning from the experimentation of European football be the reason we now see Spain score half as many goals in qualification this time around as they did in 2010?

 

Chile

Chile

Chile make it to a consecutive finals appearance for the first time in their footballing history and not by accident. They have an experienced side along with youthful brilliance to boast a strong South American squad. Though they faced a tough first half of games in qualifying they fired their coach and are now lead by an attack-minded Jorge Sampaoli. Chile, who went five wins, one draw, and zero losses with their new coach will be playing with plenty of confidence this World Cup. The team turned their qualification campaign around at just the right time while scoring 15 goals and only giving up 6 to take 16/18 points and qualify for the finals.

Says one of the players on the team, “The Professor has a particular way of playing which is very dynamic. We pressure the ball a lot more and make more out of possession than we did before.” So it seems Jorge Sampaoli brought a plan that breathed new life into the Chilean side. The team seems to have a hunger and determination some teams lack with six players scoring multiple goals to make the 29 goals for a team effort. Chile also scored the most goals in the 10-yard box out of all the teams in the World Cup, converting one in 10/16 of their qualification games. This made them poachers in a way but I think that’s okay because when push comes to shove you want your players rushing for the ball to convert the easiest goals the game has to offer.

A Chilean team whose fans travel very well will be on hand to see their exciting team show how offensive football can be played in different ways. Often regarded as the most complete midfielder in the game, Arturo Vidal will be out to show he can make a difference when it matters most. Chile incorporated switching between 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 formations during qualification so the flexibility in Vidal’s game may prove to be important for the team. With firepower like Barcelona’s Sanchez, Valencia’s Vargas, and Paredes the Chileans will look to keep pressure on the offensive team like they showed in their qualifications.

Some may look at the lack of stars Chile has as a detriment to their game, but I see it as an advantage. These players don’t have the kinds of pressure that comes with some of the bigger names in World football and they seem to have taken their anonymity to strength by coming together and playing high-pressure, high-scoring football. Their defense was suspect at the beginning of qualifications but under the high-pressure game they now play the defense saw a team effort pay off nicely. Their keeper, Claudio Bravo is showing to be the captain they need at a high-intensity event like the World Cup.

Undoubtedly their first match is against Australia will be a huge tell for the team to either build on their confidence and play great soccer or go into their last two group stages games against last tournament’s finalists. With a potential draw coming against the Dutch and Spanish side the three big points will see their potential grow even more and allow the daring Chileans to dream even bigger.

 

Australia

Australia

The Aussies are in trouble if they want to make it out of the group stages. A draw that’s only really comparable to Costa Rica’s draw sees them in three matches against a confident Chilean team and the two finalists from last World Cup. They qualified this term but against a fairly easy group and after eight games they let in seven goals to only have a positive five goal differential against lowly opponents.

The Socceroos can count on their star man Tim Cahill to jump into action when called upon but with injuries to key men Robbie Kruse and Rhys William early on in their qualifying campaign they’ll find it difficult to deal with the recent retirement of key men: Schwarzer, Holman, Kewell. Tim Cahill’s role in the team will be that much more vital to their World Cup hopes. Their midfield is definitely their greatest asset with all time Australian goal scorer Brett Holman’s abilities to score from the center of the field and but against the loaded teams they’ll be up against they’ll be backs against the wall.

Even former captain Paul Wade stated, “Without a doubt, we’re going to get hammered.” As with other teams with nothing to lose however, if they get late into a game against Chile, the Netherlands, or Spain and they’re drawn or even winning the pressure will be on the other teams without a doubt and the Aussies may be able to upset the balance in the group stages for other teams. They’ll be up against loaded offenses though and with every team conceivably beating Australia they other three teams in the group may be looking to pile on the goals for the tie breaking goal differential stat. This may propel the team to play even better when they have nothing to lose and with many expecting a poor showing from the Aussies the new coach, Ange Postecoglou may be right when he says, “Australians have a tendency to unite in adversity, especially in sport, and they never give up.” Let’s hope he’s right and the Aussies truly do ‘hop their way into history’.

 

So here we have it – a group which will provide one of the most entertaining of the tournament. With the second place team likely going up against hometown favorites Brazil no one will want to come out of this group anywhere but in first place. We’ll kick off this group with a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final with a Chile side hoping to get three vital points and a resilient Australian side playing with nothing to lose.

Tell us what you make of the rematch of the 2010 final and include anything you feel we should have covered. As always, your input is more important to us than what we wrote above!

One response to “B is for balance

  1. I predict Spain and the Netherlands to advance…although Chile may surprise people, and Australia may pull out a draw somewhere – most likely undeservedly.

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