10 Pivotal Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group B
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has thrown up two viable contenders for the term "Group of Death," with both Group B and Group G looking formidable.
Here we analyse the former and outline 10 pivotal factors that can make or break teams' chances; Spain's fitness, Chile's decisiveness and the Netherlands' fluidity (or lack of) will surely come into play.
Read on for an in-depth look at how and why Group B will be decided.
The 2013 Confederations Cup was a valuable dummy run one year ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and one of the main takeaways from the competition for Spain will have been how tough it can be to acclimate.
La Furia Roja were on their knees during the semifinals against Italy, and their pressing game evaporated into thin air against Brazil in the final.
If Vicente del Bosque wants to play "his" way, he needs to ensure his players are better prepared for some of the tougher atmospheres to play in. If so, Spain will walk Group B.
Retaining the FIFA World Cup is a feat worth motivating yourself for, and the hope is Spain show a little more fight at the finals than they have over the past two years.
It's reasonable to question the players' belief in the system. La Furia Roja's playing style is modeled heavily on the possession tactics of Barcelona, which seem to be slipping out of fashion right now.
Atletico Madrid defeated Barca in the title race and in the UEFA Champions League by using a counterattacking 4-4-2, while Real Madrid beat them in the Copa del Rey using a counterattacking 4-3-3/4-4-2 hybrid.
Is the system Spain press forward with the right one?
Chile's Decisiveness (or Lack Of)
Jorge Sampaoli has Chile playing some wonderful football, and for the second time in a row, the nation will turn up for the World Cup finals knowing they're set to entertain.
With the identity Sampaoli has given la Roja, no matter who is on the pitch—key men or not—the team play in the same system and abide by the same set of rules.
Said system produces flowing passes and strong possession, but does it have the killer instinct required?
Chile have been failing to kill off games they're dominating in for the entire duration of Sampaoli's tenure as manager. If they fail to put sides away in Group B, they'll go out at the earliest possible stage.
Chile's Home Comforts
We've spoken about whether Spain can acclimate quickly enough to dominate, but it's worth asking the same question about Chile.
In this case, though, it's about whether Sampaoli's men can up their level from solid to great rather than struggling to great.
Chile have a number of South American-based players in their 23-man squad and their European stars are fit as a fiddle.
They'll be looking to run rings around their overseas rivals.
The Netherlands' Formation Debacle
Louis van Gaal has been lining his Netherlands team up to play a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 at the World Cup finals for two years, but at the last possible second seems to have changed his mind and is now set to field a 3-5-2.
It's a drastic change, and while LVG has suggested the switch is to give Robin van Persie more freedom, the truth is Feyenoord have made the formation popular in the Eredivisie this season and losing Kevin Strootman to an ACL injury forced his hand.
How will the Oranje squad adapt to playing three at the back and two up front?
The Productivity of Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben
Louis van Gaal has been taking Robin van Persie (injured) to Eredivisie games at the back end of the season, showing him how the 3-5-2 formation works and pointing out where he can find space.
As much as the change in shape may hide the loss of Kevin Strootman and the dubiousness of Ron Vlaar bringing the ball out of defence, the front two (or three) have to operate soundly and do the business up front to render it a success.
Arjen Robben will be RVP's partner up top, and LVG will be thankful to Pep Guardiola for moving him in and out of the centre-forward role during games this season.
The Return of Wesley Sneijder?
There was no place for Wesley Sneijder in Louis van Gaal's 4-3-3 formation, much like how there's no natural place for him in Galatasaray's 4-4-2 and three-man systems.
The switch to 3-5-2, which will likely incorporate a classic No. 10 to play behind Robben and Robin van Persie, could see Sneijder return to prominence with the national team.
In 2010, he was the epitome of decisiveness, scoring key goals and propelling the Oranje to the final. If he can find the same sort of form on the world's biggest stage again, the Netherlands may just pip Chile in a close call.
Can Australia Spoil the Party?
Australia are widely perceived as the worst or second-worst national side in this edition of the FIFA World Cup. They're 67-1 to qualify from Group B with bookmakers and over 1000-1 to win the tournament.
That doesn't mean they can't put together one solid 90-minute spell and ruin another team's chances of qualification, though, and that's exactly what Ange Postecoglou will send his men out to do.
A goal and a point for the Socceroos and the nation will be happy; Spain, Chile and the Netherlands all hope it's not themselves who will slip on the banana skin.
Changing of the Guard: Who's Key for Spain?
Spain released their 30-man preliminary squad for the World Cup to a wash of envious glances. Few other nations, if any at all, can match the strength in depth they boast.
However, questions remain over who "runs" this team on the field. Xavi's waning influence at Barcelona has translated itself, somewhat, to the national setup.
Barca's way won tournaments and titles, and the national setup was moulded around it and the 34-year-old midfielder.
Now, there may be a changing of the guard.
How does that affect a previously settled, smooth la Furia Roja side?
That Crucial Final Group Game
Group B's final set of games, on June 23, sees Spain face Australia and the Netherlands face Chile.
Spain are expected to be sealing their group win on this day, while the two contenders for second place battle it out in the heat of Sao Paulo.
At this point, it's reasonable to assume both sides have beaten Australia and either lost/drawn to Spain.
Win the last group game and a loss to Spain still gets you second.
This is where either the Netherlands' match-winning, elite quality or Chile's acclimation to the playing conditions comes up trumps.