Saturday, June 07, 2014

World Cup: Group B Preview

It is possible to overthink the World Cup. In fact, it is really easy to do so. You can get into tactics, or managerial skills, or possible talismans. Simple point of fact - since the World Cup began, only 8 teams have won. You can pick a Dark Horse if you want, but the odds are not with you.

Group A here.

Anyway, let's get to Group B, and who is going to advance! 

Group B consists of:
Spain (your defending champions)
The Netherlands (your defending runners-up)

Spain, barring something horrible happening, should advance out of this group. The bloom is off the rose for this team, which is arguably the greatest collection of players to have ever been on the pitch together. Much has been made of the tiki-taka, but positive and negative. There are times that Spain seems be playing for 0-0 draw for the first 85 minutes. I have a grudging admiration for the way Spain plays, but I don't necessarily like it.

Yes, owning huge percentages of possession means the other team can't score, but it is the kind of "innovation" that led to the shot clock in basketball. This team, for a long time, has been "What if Barcelona didn't have Lionel Messi", and that lack of a truly great finisher does sometimes get in their way. I think it will trip them up at some point in this tournament, but not in this group.

(note: Deadspin's Billy Haisley says that "Sergio Busquets has the best first touch in the world". I'll admit to not watching as much soccer this year as I have in years past, but I refuse to believe that is true. Busquests, to my mind, is better known as one of the consummate floppers/complainers/foulers in the game. I don't know who I'd put at the top of the Best First Touch in The World list, because that's a really weird thing to give a ton of thought to, but it wouldn't be Busquets. )

The Netherlands are primed for a disappointment. This is not a controversial take, but it is one I believe strongly in. For a team that, historically, has been one of the more beautiful teams to watch play the game, they were ugly and disturbingly cynical in their 2010 Final against Spain (in which they accumulated 9 yellow cards, and ended the match with 10 men.) This is a team that dominates, wonderfully, against inferior opponents, but as soon as they are faced with a challenge, they shrink up the field, cluster and foul. It's like Nigel De Jong says, "Hey guys, let's play this one my way," (Nigel De Jong is this decade's answer to Gennaro Gattuso).

Everyone's four years older, everyone's carrying knocks - Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder can all be great. But the odds of them all being great at the same time? Seems unlikely to me. I do believe that only one of Spain and Holland advance, and my money is on Spain.

On a personal note, as a guy who has been around just long enough to remember Cruyff, and Van Basten, and Guillit, and certainly remember the team of the 90's, with Bergkamp and Davids and Kluivert, this version of Holland? It makes me sad.

I think Chile is advancing. And Haisley at Deadspin is right, a lot of the reason goes to the sheer badassery of Arturo Vidal. I love this comparison between him and Yaya Toure: "Whereas Yaya makes popping up deep in both penalty areas at any given moment look effortless, almost like he teleports from place to place, you can see the exhaust fumes billowing from Vidal when his motor is revving. He'll steam backwards into a tackle, collect the ball and slap out a pass to start the counter, then speed ahead to join the attack all in mere seconds."

Vidal is the straw that stirs the drink, to be sure, but combine him with top notch talent like Mauricio Isla (dangerous overlapping runner/crosser), veteran midfielder Jorge Valvida, strikers Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez (and Mauricio Pinilla in reserve), and you have what could be the most aggressive offensive talent in the group. With La Liga netminder Claudio Bravo (whose nickname, "Little Monkey" is awesome) in the back, Chile is one of those teams that is sneaky - players who play in top competition all over the world, but somehow escape notice.

Australia's team is nicknamed "The Socceroos", and that isn't the worst part about them. They will get to enjoy the sights and sounds of Brazil, and I bet their cute accents will help them get laid. That's about it. Their chances of advancing would only be slightly worse if their nickname was "The Kangaroos", and they fielded 11 kangaroos. Where's Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell when you need them? Retired, years ago, that's where. And Tim Cahill probably should have joined them by now, but he's now the "star". Australia never did anything of note when they were kind of good. No reason to expect anything out of them now that they are, hands down (with apologies to Iran) the worst team in the field of 32.

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