Breaking Down Netherlands' World Cup 2014 Group Stage Opponents

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Breaking Down Netherlands' World Cup 2014 Group Stage Opponents
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

If Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal was hoping for an easy ride in next summer's group stage, then Friday's draw was a slap in the face for the former Ajax and Bayern Munich coach.

Having been placed in Group B with reigning world champions Spain—perhaps the best team in pot B—along with Chile and Australia, the Oranje face a real test to merely reach the knockout stages.

Runners-up at the 2010 tournament under Bert van Marwijk, having failed so miserably at the European Championships in 2012 with many of the same players, van Gaal has ripped up the Dutch squad and given youth its head.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
According to the coach himself, only Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Kevin Strootman—fitness permitted—are guarantees for his final 23, meaning that he'll be looking at those who have been in and around the squad these last 18 months to really stake their claim in the next six months.

Having won nine of 10 qualifiers, the young Dutch are full of confidence and they look to stamp their authority on each match. Since van Gaal's return to the top job, he's ditched van Marwijk's 4-2-3-1 formation featuring two midfield destroyers and has returned to an adherence to possession and technical dominance.

That is something they'll expect to do against the Socceroos, but whether they'll be allowed in the other two matches is very much open to debate.

Which leads to the question: In the face of such talented opponents, just how pragmatic will van Gaal be?

 

David Ramos/Getty Images

Spain

La Roja may have peaked, but they are the greatest international side ever, having won back-to-back European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, when they beat the Dutch in a bad-tempered final.

Having harnessed the Barcelona and Real Madrid factions into one tiki-taka love-in, coach Vicente Del Bosque has built a magnificent side. Quite simply, when a job has needed doing in the last four years, they've eventually got it done (Confederations Cup final aside).

The worry for van Gaal's young Dutch side is that they won't see much of the ball in the group opener, but the 2010 final, where van Marwijk's side tried to bludgeon their way through Del Bosque's men, may offer some food for thought.

No, not the kicking and chest-high karate kicks. But rather the way the Oranje exploited the Spanish back line with the pace of Arjen Robben—only the excellence of Iker Casillas denied him on two occasions.

As in 2010 and 2012, expect Del Bosque to once again go with the double-pivot in midfield. Xabi Alonso's absence at the Confederations Cup was noticeable, as Spain lost some of their usual control. He, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez will, assuming all are fit, once again provide a midfield triangle who recycle possession better than any other.

Additionally, there's no doubt that Andres Iniesta, with his dribbling, passing and penchant for big-match performances, will cause havoc.

But there remain question marks over the very front point of the side; who will lead the line, if anybody? At present, Cesc Fabregas (as a false 9) or Alvaro Negredo (as something more approaching a battering ram) appear the favourites.

The two will do battle in Salvador on June 13 in the opening game and both will be loathe to lose.

It's as big a test as the Oranje could have hoped for to kick the competition offat the end of the day, expect that we'll be speaking of either "the fearless Dutch" or how their naivety meant they were left found wanting.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images


Chile

Hard-running, high-pressing and uber-comfortable in possession, the Chileans were the side to avoid in Pot 2. Unfortunately for the Dutch, someone had to come up against Jorge Sampaoli's side, and it will be them.

Under the former Universidad de Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli Chile have been one of international footballs outstanding attacking sides in 2013.

Whether playing a 4-3-3 (utilising the recalled Jorge Valdivia as a false nine) or starting with a back three, La Roja have brought into Sampaoli's methods and since his arrival at the beginning of 2013, Chile have embarked on a sterling run of just two defeats in 14 matches.

Sam Tighe (B/R)
Chile's nominal 4-3-3 shape

 

The starting XI feature a number of outstanding flexible footballers and Sampaoli's men can knuckle down to different tactical plans, against whomever, whether that means dictating possession themselves, or counter-attacking at breakneck speed; the latter is something the Dutch defence will really need to watch for, particularly with the way they like the centre-backs to split and to play from the back.

Additionally, Sampaoli's men have proven since his arrival that they can trouble the best world football has to offerwitness recent results and showings against Spain, England, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.

And what of their personnel?

In Arturo Vidal, they possess arguably club football's premier box-to-box midfielder, who has reveled in the added responsibility Sampaoli has placed upon him in 2013.

Marcelo Diaz has been handed a key role in the side as a deep-lying distributor, while Gary Medel has grown into his role at centre-half.

The aforementioned Valdivia drops between the line and knits midfield and attack while wide-forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas have the pace and technique to cause problems to opposing backlines and both have a keen eye for goal. 

Matt King/Getty Images

 

Australia

The Aussies have been in something of disarray in recent months, and unfortunately for coach Ange Postecoglu, they'll be the whipping boys of the group.

The Socceroos are down to 59th in the FIFA world rankings and are some way from what they were under Guus Hiddink in 2006, and even in 2010 when they were just edged out in the group stage by Ghana.

Holger Osijeck was dismissed after a miserable five game losing streak this year, which featured a 4-3 loss to China in Seoul and back-to-back 6-0 hammerings by Brazil and France. Since then Postecoglu has won his opening match, a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica, but the Dutch are a completely different level.

When the two meet in Porto Alegre on June 18, expect the Dutch to dominate possession and to create the greater chances—Young keeper Matt Ryan, who started Postecoglu's opening match following Mark Schwarzer's international retirement, will be busy.

Tim Cahill remains important, and the New York Red Bulls man retains his eye for goalhe scored the winner against the central American nation, while Robbie Kruse is a busy young striker and Crystal Palace's Mile Jedinak is a solid defensive midfielder.

If the Dutch are to have any chance of advancing through the group stage, they must beat the Socceroos.

And you have to expect that with their sharper technique and greater attacking quality, they'll do just that.

B/R
 

Twitter: @AA_Richards

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