World Cup Preview: Spain, Netherlands Square Off (Again) in Group B

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, right, deflects a shot by Netherlands' Arjen Robben, center, during the World Cup final soccer match between the Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sunday, July 11, 2010.

This is the second post in a series previewing the World Cup's eight groups. Find Group A here and check back later this week for looks at groups C, D, E, F, G and H.

The 2014 World Cup's Group B features both Spain and the Netherlands, which faced off for the trophy in 2010. It also includes an upstart from South America and some underdogs from Down Under.
But who are the most exciting players to watch? Who's ripe for an upset? Who will advance to the knockout stage?

All that (and more!) shall be revealed right here in our 10-minute guide to Group B.

The teams (FIFA world ranking in parenthesis)

  1. Spain (1)
  2. Chile (13)
  3. Netherlands (15)
  4. Australia (59)

The landscape

Arturo Vidal

In this June 7, 2013, file photo, Chile's Arturo Vidal celebrates his goal against Paraguay at a 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match in Asuncion, Paraguay.
Spain and the Netherlands played a heated final in the 2010 World Cup, which Spain won 1-0 behind a goal from Andrés Iniesta in extra time. La Furia Roja is gunning for history in Brazil; win the 2014 trophy and its current generation of talent cements its status as arguably the greatest national team in soccer history. The two European sides face off again this year in their first match of group play.
The Netherlands and Chile, meanwhile, should find themselves in a dogfight for a berth in the knockout stage. The Dutch aren't as strong as they were in 2010, while Chile fields perhaps its best World Cup squad ever behind playmakers Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez. Australia's Socceroos faced long odds to make the knockout stage already, but seeing the World Cup draw land them in one of this year's toughest groups likely sealed their fate for an early exit.

The schedule (all times in ET)

  • Spain versus Netherlands, June 13, Salvador, 3 p.m.
  • Chile versus Australia, June 13, Cuiaba, 6 p.m.
  • Australia versus Netherlands, June 18, Porto Alegre, 12 p.m.
  • Spain versus Chile, June 18, Rio de Janeiro, 3 p.m.
  • Australia versus Spain, June 23, Curitiba, 12 p.m.
  • Netherlands versus Chile, June 23, Brasilia, 12 p.m.

4 players to watch

Andrés Iniesta (Spain): The midfielder is something of a savant with the ball, seeing angles and possibilities other players simply don't notice. He's equally adept at setting up teammates and scoring himself — as well as a true pleasure to watch do either one.

Robin van Persie (Netherlands): The Dutch captain and top striker will be relied upon heavily if the men in orange are to advance. He's a deadly scorer, using athleticism, skill and a 6'2" frame to get the advantage over defenders. Can van Persie lead the Dutch back to the World Cup Final? That will take some luck, but the Manchester United star certainly has the talent to help spark a run.

Arturo Vidal (Chile): Vidal may be unknown to the common fan, but he's emerged as a world-class player for Italy's Juventus. How good is he? Bloomberg's data-driven analysis of the top pros in Europe ranked him 11th overall in December 2013. Get acquainted now, so the box-to-box midfielder doesn't take you by surprise come June.

Mathew Ryan: Longtime Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer retired in November 2013, leaving the 22-year-old Ryan as his most likely replacement in the net this summer. Ryan plays pro ball in Belgium, and a sterling performance from him this summer will be key if Australia has any hopes of pulling an upset. Further raising the stakes, he'll likely have more shots headed his way than most goalies at the World Cup.

The prediction

Spain may not be quite what they were in 2010, but they're still really, really good and we expect them to win Group B. But who will come in second and book their own trip to the knockout stage? Australia's overmatched in this deadly group, leaving Chile and the Netherlands to duke it out. From playing on their home continent to flying more under the radar than their Dutch counterparts, we like Chile to advance.

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