This post will be updated as Group B progresses. Man, it is hard to not use “game,” “team,” or “field,” but I’m doing my best…
Group B Preview (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)
Group B is one of the toughest groups out there – and is probably the toughest group if you only count the top 3 teams. “The Group of Death” (Group G) has 4 quality sides, which makes it tougher, but I might argue that this group has a better 1-2-3. First of all, they boast the world’s #1 in Spain. And, it’s a ranking that is well-deserved, as the Spaniards on in the midst of the greatest run in international soccer history, having won the past two Euro titles and the 2010 World Cup. And, who do they get in their very first game of this World Cup? None other than the sidethey had to beat to win that 2010 World Cup, Netherlands. The Dutch are back, though aging, and will be a tough out. This group also boasts Chile (and my favorite soccer player – for no real reason – Alexis Sanchez). The Chileans are going to be a tough out, as well, so the Dutch better be careful. Australia might be the ultimate also-ran in this tournament and the best bet to leave Brazil without a single point. In the end, I don’t think anyone in this group will beat Spain or lose to Australia, so the final qualifying spot from this group will come down to the final day’s Chile-Netherlands match. It is important for these two sides to stay close to Spain and blow out the Aussies because the leader in the tiebreaker heading into that match will have the huge advantage of only needing a draw.
6/13, 3:00 – Netherlands vs. Spain
It only took until the third match of the tournament for us to see a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final. While still supremely talented, the Dutch may have missed their best chance four years ago because these four years probably took more out of them than it did the Spanish side. This great era of Dutch soccer, unfortunately, coincided with the best era of soccer we may have ever seen – this Spanish dominance. And, as much as I love the Dutch people (and their soccer team), I am enthralled by the precision with which the Spaniards play this game. When they are on their best form, they put the “beautiful” in the beautiful game.
Netherlands 5 – Spain 1
Yes, you read that right. The Spanish side, which gave up two goals during the ENTIRE 2010 World Cup, gave up 5 in their opener against the Netherlands. For the first 20 minutes, they looked pretty solid, even taking a 1-0 lead. They looked like a slightly less crisp version of the championship squad, but with an added huge presence in the middle. But, then two INCREDIBLE services by some guy named Daley Blind. I have never heard of that guy and I sure don’t know the game very well at all, but from my untrained eye, that dude put together one of the best matches I have seen in my limited soccer watching experience. But, no matter why it happened, that just happened. The world’s #1, the defending champs, just got plastered in a group that does not give you a whole lot of margin for error – for several reasons. First of all, the 4-goal defeat means that Spain essentially MUST beat both Australia (no problem) and Chile (big problem). Any draw now probably eliminates the champs. But, the second big fallout from this result is that they need a lot of help now in order to win this group, and a second-place finish probably means a date with Brazil in the Round of 16. This was a potential Cup-changing result on the second day.
6/13, 6:00 – Australia vs. Chile
The Aussies are probably heading home without a point, but it is not because they are the worst side in this tournament. It has everything to do with the fact that they are in a group that has three sides that are vastly superior and rarely ever lose (or even draw) to sides like Australia. Chile is on that level now and would be devastated to come away with anything but a resounding victory. In fact, they should probably be thinking about running it up because goal differential may really come into play with the way the schedule looks for Group B.
Chile 3 – Australia 1
Nothing all that surprising at all from this result, as the Chileans simply took care of business, led by the man – Alexis Sanchez (that dude is awesome). The were done no favors with their draw and are almost assuredly heading for 3 straight Ls and a trip home.
Day One Recap
Well, is there anything else to talk about other than the SHOCKING 5-1 Dutch win over the champs? It is not incredibly surprising that they won, considering there is a ton of talent and pride on that Dutch side, but the manner in which they simply dominated the Spaniards was shocking. The 4-goal differential is gigantic, too, and because of that, you can make the case that the Chileans benefited almost as much from that result as the Dutch did. Now, it is almost assured that Chile – regardless of their result against the Netherlands – only needs a draw with Spain to move on. Unless, of course, the Spanish can drop a half-dozen on the Aussies. In either case, this group just got real interesting and this day’s results are going to have major implications on the tournament going forward. Hey, even the Brazilians were affected because the World’s #1 just came very much into play as a potential Round of 16 opponent for the host nation.
6/18, noon – Australia vs. Netherlands
Well, if the Dutch can drop a 5-spot on the world’s #1 team, I can’t imagine what they can do against the Socceroos. I know, different day, different match, so don’t expect another 5 goals. But, you can expect a decisive victory here for the Dutch. The Socceroos are just overmatched in this group.
Netherlands 3 – Australia 2
A match that was supposed to be lopsided and boring actually turned out to be incredibly hard-fought and flat-out thrilling. When the Dutch opened the scoring with another Arjen Robben goal at the 20-minute mark, it looked like it might be the end of the interest in this game, but a mere :70 seconds later, Tim Cahill (who is pretty amazing, by the way) put in one of the best goals I have ever seen to even the scoring. Then, early in the second half, the Aussies actually took the lead on a PK, and things kind of got nuts. But, the Dutch responded two minutes later with a Robin Van Persie goal and then a couple minutes after that sunk the game-winner from distance. It was a very inspired performance by the Socceroos, but the Dutch officially punched their ticket to the knockout stage. They hold the slimest of goal differential margins over Chile, so they only need a draw in their final match to win the group and avoid Brazil.
6/18, 3:00 – Chile vs. Spain
This is going to be a GREAT match. The Spanish are trying to regroup from the drubbing by the Dutch, while Chile is possible ready to establish themselves in this tournament, coming off a ho-hum victory over Australia. Because of the big Spanish loss, the Chileans may be quite alright with a draw here, giving then an inside track to get out of this really tough group. My favorite international player, Alexis Sanchez, scored early against the Aussies and will look to expose the age of the Spanish back line. But, let’s not forget that this Spanish side is the best in the world, and they now have their backs against the wall. And, the Spanish have Australia to finish the group and 6 points has never not qualified for the knockout stage, so a win today should get the world’s #1 through. Then again, the conditions are ripe for the first ever 6-point team to be left out and with a -4 goal differential, Spain would be the one. Oh, and if Spain should lose today (which is certainly possible), they would be officially eliminated (assuming the Dutch at least draw with Australia). This should be REALLY good.
Chile 2 – Spain 0
Wow! The #1 team in the world and defending world champs are gone – just like that. They were actually the very first team to be officially eliminated from the competition after a lackluster, shoddy performance against Chile. Taking nothing away from the Chileans, though, who looked excellent and have officially moved through to the knockout stage for the second straight Cup. The story, however, has to be all about Spain and their ignominious exit from this tournament. They just looked awful – honestly. There is nothing that can change the greatest run in international soccer history, but this was a stunningly sudden end to that run. As for Chile, they are good enough to really make some noise here, though they need to beat the Netherlands in their final match to win the group and avoid their arch-nemesis Brazil.
Day Two Recap
Just another day at the World Cup, as the #1 team in the world is eliminated, and another legit title contender needs everything they can muster to get by an under-talented Australia side. Chile, who handled Australia easily and then took it to a desperate Spanish side, seems more than ready for the big stage. And, they will need to be, as they now have a date with the Netherlands with all of Group B on the line. As you may or may not have heard, Spain is done. Wow…just wow!
6/23, noon – Australia vs. Spain
6/23, noon – Chile vs. Netherlands
While these matches will be played simultaneously, there is really only one that matters. Spain is – kind of – playing for pride, even though they really don’t have any left and can’t really gain any back by beating Australia. That match is simply to see just how much of a train wreck this Spanish World Cup can become. Australia – as they showed against the Dutch – is not on the elite level, but is not a total rollover. I could see the Aussies winning this match. But that doesn’t really matter. The big one here is Chile-Netherlands. The Netherlands only need a draw here, but they will be without their goal-scoring star, Robin Van Persie. Chile has looked really good in two matches and are already accustomed to an attacking style, so they will have no problem going for the win. This could be a really exciting game that, despite both teams having already qualified, should be heated and with a lot at stake. Basically, these two sides are playing to avoid the host Brazilians in the Round of 16. The winner of this group would get either Croatia or Mexico, while second-place would get Brazil.
Spain 3 – Australia 0
Netherlands 2 – Chile 0
The Dutch complete a rather impressive sweep of Group B and were probably the most dominant side in group play. They still have not done enough for me to put them on the same level as Brazil, Germany, or Argentina, in terms of title contenders, but they certainly have been more impressive than any of those three so far. The strange thing is that they seemed to sweep this group in the opposite fashion as expected. Their most difficult match was against Australia, while their seemingly easiest match was against Spain. Yesterday, against Chile, they just looked the better side, even without the great RVP. The Chileans, despite this loss, have to be feeling good about getting through a group that also included the two finalists from the last World Cup. The only problem is that since they finished second, they will get a Brazilian side that they can just never seem to beat – and who never loses on their home soil. The Dutch came out and took this one, avoiding Brazil and setting themselves up with a much easier match against Mexico. As for the other match of the day, the Spanish second-team played for pride and got some back, easily handling the Aussies, 3-0.
Group B Final Recap
1. Netherlands – The Dutch sweep the group, putting in the most dominant group stage performance of this year’s Cup. Then again, Argentina was the most dominant in the 2010 World Cup’s group stage, and they got slaughtered in the quarterfinals by Germany. This year’s Dutch team has a lot of experience, but also a lot of youthful vigor. They are deep and talented and play very well together. They have a world-class striker (RVP), a world-class creator (Arjen Robben, still), and a very solid back line. Like I said above, I still think that Brazil, Argentina, and Germany are at least a half-step above the Netherlands right now, but they have played their way into the title conversation. Now, they get a Mexico side that is dangerous, but certainly not incredibly scary. Then (looking way ahead), in the quarters, they are likely to have either Costa Rica or Cote d’Ivoire. There is a clear path for the Dutch to roll into the semis.
(INTERESTING NOTE: I was thinking about how the Dutch were 3-0 in group stage in 2010, so I did a little research and found that the Netherlands has not lost a group stage match at the World Cup in MY LIFETIME! They were 3-0 this year and in 2010. They were 2-0-1 in 2006, moving on behind Argentina in their group. They missed the Cup in 2002. They won their group in both 1998 (1-0-2) and 1994 (2-0-1). In 1990, they drew all 3 group stage matches and moved on through. And, they missed the Cup in both 1986 and 1982. On June 11, 1978, the lost 3-2 to Scotland in the final match of group play, but still qualified behind Peru. In fact, digging some more, I found that the Netherlands has NEVER been eliminated in the group stage in any World Cup for which they have qualified. I feel like this is a stat we would have been bombarded with if soccer was big in this country, but I had to go through all the WC Wikipedia pages to figure that out. Where’s ESPN Stats & Info on international soccer???)
2. Chile – Ever since my deep dive into international soccer, I have really loved this Chile side. Maybe it is their all-out attacking style. Maybe it’s…never mind, it’s DEFINITELY their all-out attacking style and probably nothing else. They were stifled by the Dutch on Monday, but still got through a very tough group and into the knockout stage for the second straight Cup. The problem is – for the second straight Cup – they will meet the one side they probably wanted to meet least of all, Brazil. Their fellow South Americans have dominated Chile since the invention of the sport, eliminating them in 3 previous Cups, including the 2010 Round of 16. I am not sure this year will be any different, but the match will be fun to watch, regardless.
3. Spain – The End of an Era. And, it was a great one. The Era that indoctrinated me to the “beautiful game.” These players grew up playing together since adolescence and accomplished more than any other national soccer program has ever accomplished. But, it is over. The swan song on Monday was nice, as they trounced Australia and got goals from Villa and Torres and some brilliant midfield play from Iniesta. But, it wasn’t to be this year. And, while we lament what could have been, let us actually think about how this may have been as much a product of a really tough group as anything else. They lost in disappointing fashion, but they lost to an elite Netherlands side and a possibly-elite Chile side before handling Australia with ease. You mean if they switched places with Belgium or Colombia or Argentina or even Brazil or Switzerland, they wouldn’t still be going through? I certainly think so. They just got placed in one of the two or three groups that had enough firepower to expose them. I am not saying that if they were in Group H, they would have won another Cup, I am just saying that we might be talking about their tough quarterfinal loss to Argentina instead of the conversation being about how a great era has come CRASHING DOWN RIGHT BEFORE OUR EYES. You soccer fans are so dramatic…which is one of the reasons I love your sport…haha!
4. Australia – The Aussies got – as easily predicted – ousted without a point. They acquitted themselves well, though, particularly in that match versus the Netherlands. The Socceroos just didn’t have the firepower to compete in such a difficult group. You can’t say that this was a disappointing Cup for the Socceroos, despite a 0-point performance.