With Brazil having got the show underway with victory over Croatia, the first round of Group B games take place on Friday, with a repeat of the 2010 final as Spain face the Netherlands, led by soon-to-be Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Following that, the section’s South American representatives Chile play un-fancied Australia.
On paper, with Spain having won the last three major tournaments, it should be within their capabilities to progress through this group. Australia would be expected to finish bottom of the pile, while Chile and the Dutch will probably be fighting over second place when the final round of matches comes along.
Of course, things may not turn out that way, and Spain cannot expect an easy ride against the Netherlands, who are set to take a slightly different approach to the strong-arm tactics they employed under Bert van Marwijk four years ago. However, they do still have a number of the 2010 team among their ranks, with the performances of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie certain to be crucial to their chances once again.
The Spanish now have a quality striker in Diego Costa, which perhaps makes them an even more frightening proposition. Despite that, teams will look back on how they were dismantled by Brazil in the 2013 Confederations Cup final, and van Gaal will be keen for his side not to allow the world champions too much time on the ball.
Spain come into this match in much better form than their opponents, with seven wins from their last 10 games, and they have shown since 2008 that they can handle the big occasion. They should offer no surprises with their brand of short passing football, and a large percentage of the possession. Without the ball they are just as good, although they will be tested by the attacking quality that the Netherlands possess.
Sneijder may not be at the peak of his powers, as he was in 2010, but he is still capable of coming up with moments of brilliance when it really matters. Robben is used to success, having been part of highly successful Bayern Munich side for five years. After ending the club season injured, there may be doubts over van Persie’s fitness, but van Gaal’s men can undoubtedly match their opponents going forward.
Friday also provides Chile with the chance to prove why many are tipping them to go a long way in this competition. Together with the likes of Switzerland, Belgium and Colombia, they are seen as dark horses. A meeting with the lowest ranked team out of the 32 participants in the finals also provides the perfect chance to start their campaign with a win.
It will be intriguing to see how Alexis Sanchez and his teammates can justify their tag. It is game in which they cannot afford to slip up in the context of the group, but Australia will not be giving much away. The feeling is that Ange Postecoglou’s side will endure a difficult tournament, but they may fancy their chances of grabbing a point.