Predicting the FIFA World Cup If Every Nation Qualified: Group B
Group A in this mega World Cup saw Germany and Venezuela move on to the knockout stages at the expense of Senegal and Haiti.
Now it's time for Israel, minnows British Virgin Islands, defending world and European champions Spain and relative unknowns Lebanon to duke it out in Group B.
It would take a bold man to bet against Spain winning the group after all of their current international dominance. Israel and Lebanon will challenge for runners-up, while scoring a goal in any of their matches will be a success for the British Virgin Islands. The tiny Caribbean nation is currently ranked at No. 189 in the world.
Expect a lot of goals to be scored against the British Virgin Islands.
Let's do it.
If you missed Group A, you can read it here.
Game 1: Israel 6-0 British Virgin Islands
This one wasn't even a contest. The British Virgin Islands managed to hang on for 28 minutes before the floodgates opened.
Israel dominated possession from start to finish. From the moment the whistle blew, the Israelis pressured the British Virgin Islands' defense and many were surprised it took almost half an hour for the men in blue to take the lead.
Striker Itay Shechter got the game's first goal in the 28th minute thanks to some extremely shoddy defending. A simple chip over the defense from captain Yossi Benayoun found Shechter completely unmarked on the left side of the box. It was a simple tap-in from there.
After that, there was no fighting back from the British Virgin Islands. Goals from winger Elyaniv Barda and midfielder Lior Refaelov made it 3-0 going into the half.
After the restart, Israel picked up where it left off, getting a fourth just minutes into the second half through center-back Eitan Tibi with a thumping header off Benayoun's corner.
Omer Tamari got Israel's fifth with a low, hard shot that fizzed right by goalkeeper Vesquever Frett from about 20 yards out, and the British Virgin Islands' misery was complete when substitute Ben Sahar chipped Frett in a one-on-one situation in the 87th minute.
Game 2: Spain 5-0 Lebanon
As expected, Spain crushed Lebanon in the second game of Group B in a 5-0 beatdown. Spain scored early and often against a Lebanese team that looked scared and overwhelmed.
Fernando Torres opened the scoring for Spain in the 11th minute. The Chelsea striker received the ball from Xabi Alonso at the top of the box, laid it off for Alonso who faked the shot but slid the ball past the defense in a brilliant one-two back to Torres, who side-footed the ball past keeper Ziad Al-Samad.
Sergio Ramos doubled the Spanish lead in the 26th minute with a gorgeous half-volley from 20 yards out. Xabi Alonso had taken a corner and Lebanon had cleared, but only has far as Ramos, who hit the ball on the half-volley. The ball flew into the left side netting where there was no chance of Al-Samad saving it.
Lebanon could consider themselves lucky they were only down 2-0 at the half, and after the restart, started pressing up the field on their own. Midfielder Haitham Faour made a brilliant solo run down the middle of the pitch, but scuffed his end shot well wide of the mark.
Spain quickly quashed any Lebanon pressure and got a third from Torres in the 50th minute after Pedro sent in a beautiful cross that Torres buried with his head.
Torres completed his hat trick 15 minutes later with an unorthodox toe-poke from about 12 yards as he was being dragged down by Walid Ismail. Torres was replaced soon after by David Villa.
Spain never took its foot off the gas, despite being 4-0 up, and got a fifth through substitute Javi Martinez. The Bayern Munich man received the ball in midfield and, with no pressure from the Lebanon players, unleashed a dipping, swerving effort from about 25 yards out. Al-Samad got fingertips to it, but couldn't keep it out.
So the opening two games combined for 11 goals. Sign of things to come?
Game 3: Israel 3-2 Spain
What a thrilling game of football. Israel and Spain traded punches all night long but in the end, it was Israel who took the three points in a 3-2 slugfest.
Israel took the shock lead in the 20th minute through center-back Tal Ben-Haim, who towered over Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique to meet Benayoun's corner to nick the ball past Iker Casillas. The stands erupted in a sea of blue as Ben Haim rushed to the corner flag, fists pumping and screaming his head off.
The blue sea calmed after the 35th minute when Sergio Busquets rushed at the Israeli defense, outmuscled them and nailed the ball low and hard past Dudu Aouate's outstretched hand.
Parity was restored.
The half ended in a 1-1 draw. Both sides had good spells of possession and meaningful forays into the attacking third. One can only wonder what Vicente del Bosque had to say to his team about conceding the first goal.
Whatever it was, del Bosque's words didn't help, as Israel took the lead again in the 51st minute, this time through Tomer Hemed. Aouate's quick throw out to midfielder Bibras Natkho gave Israel numbers in Spain's half. Natkho sprayed the ball wide right to Hemed, who cut the ball in, side-stepped Alvaro Arbaloa and crushed the ball past Casillas' near post to take the lead 2-1.
Spain, facing another one-goal hole again, equalized again through substitute David Villa in the 76th minute. Villa, who had taken Pedro off in the 70th minute, took the ball down the left side, passed it off to Xavi, continued his run into the box, received the ball back from his Barcelona teammate and slotted the ball past Aouate for a typical Spanish goal.
Israel was having none of it. Two minutes later, right-back Yuval Spungin, who had had a terrific game stopping Pedro and David Villa from attacking down the left flank, stepped up to take a free kick about 22 yards out. Spungin hit the ball perfectly up and over the Spanish wall and into the bottom right side of the goal.
Spanish hearts were broken as Israel raced to the corner flag to wildly celebrate the goal. Israel hung on to to take the three points.
The Spanish media will have a field day with this one. Spain left the field scratching their heads while coach Eli Guttman got a champagne shower in the dressing room.
Game 4: British Virgin Islands 0-5 Lebanon
In a slightly less thrilling and much more predictable match, the British Virgin Islands dropped their second game 5-0 to Lebanon.
Midfielder Haitham Faour got Lebanon on the scoresheet in the 28th minute. Striker Hassan Maatouk laid the ball back to Faour at the edge of the box, who lined the ball up to his right foot and sent a knuckler off the left post and in. It was a wonderful first goal for Lebanon and Faour, and it opened the game up afterwards.
The British Virgin Islands seems content to just absorb pressure and try and get a counter-attack, but Lebanon capitalized on the hesitancy of their opponents twice more before the end of the half. Goals from Maatouk and winger Mahmoud El-Ali gave Lebanon a 3-0 cushion at halftime.
Akram Moghrabi came on for Maatouk at halftime and got on the scoresheet himself in the 61st minute with a rising header from Ahmad Zreik's corner.
Lebanon compounded the British Virgin Islands' misery with a fifth goal in the 72nd minute from substitute Mahmoud Al-Ali with the simplest of tap-ins after the Caribbean nation failed to clear a blocked effort from Moghrabi.
Lebanon now faces a must-win situation against Israel in their final game, while the British Virgin Islands face Spain in a game in which they can only hope to stem the goal rush from the top-ranked team in the world.
Game 5: Israel 1-0 Lebanon
Despite fighting extremely hard in a must-win situation, Lebanon fell to Tomer Hemed's 10th-minute strike to end their World Cup dreams.
Israel's goal came early on in the 10th minute as Yossi Benayoun drove up the middle of the field unchallenged with Itay Schecter and Hemed on either side of him. The captain slid the ball through the legs of defender Bilal Najjarin to Hemed, who one-timed the ball in to the back of the net for the game's only goal.
Dudu Aouate was forced into several neat saves in the second half, including a fingertip save over the bar from a long-range effort from Abbas Atwi, but was able to keep the clean sheet and the group-clinching win for Israel.
That brave soul that bet against Spain to win the group is probably sitting at home rolling in money, as Israel victory-lap around the stadium as Group B winners.
Game 6: British Virgin Islands 0-6 Spain
Spain took out their frustrations on the British Virgin Islands in the last game in Group B, dumping six past Vesquever Frett in a one-way-traffic thrashing.
Juan Mata scored just three minutes in, completing a darting run off the left flank with a shot that skipped and curled past Frett for the opening goal.
Fernando Torres doubled the advantage in the 19th minute, chesting down Mata's cross and sending the half-volleyed effort soaring into the back of the net to make it 2-0.
Xavi made it three in the 36th minute with a beautiful free kick just just barely sneaked by the near post from about 25 yards.
Roberto Soldado came on for Torres at halftime and immediately made an impact, latching on to a horribly miscued backpass from Gregory James to chip Frett for Spain's fourth right after the whistle blew.
Cesc Fabregas made it five for Spain on 62 minutes with a toe-poke through a group of defenders that Frett didn't see until it was in the back of the net and Soldado doubled his goal tally for the day with a header from Xabi Alonso's corner to make it 6-0 on the day.
Business as usual for the world giants, although they may come to rue the day they lost to Israel, because that loss set up a mouth-watering clash with Germany in the first knockout round.
Final Group Table
|British Virgin Islands||3||0||0||3||0||17||-17||0|
Israel emerge as shock Group B winners as Spain is forced to settle for runners-up.
Lebanon showed their abilities well despite their huge loss to Spain in the opening game, and, well, we all kind of expected this to happen to the British Virgin Islands.
Group B is now in the books, so we look ahead to Group C, an all-African affair as Gambia, Mali, Cameroon and Mozambique all take the stage to battle over Group C supremacy.