10 Key Factors That Will Decide FIFA World Cup 2014 Group B
What promised to be one of the most intriguing group-stage draws in the 2014 Brazil World Cup ended in disappointing and anticlimactic fashion when Spain made an early exit from the tournament after succumbing to a 0-2 loss against Chile on Wednesday.
With the Netherlands having battled back from 1-2 down to secure a 3-2 win against a valiant Australia earlier on the day, Group B became the earliest group to announce both of their entrants to the round of 16—and 2010’s winners weren’t one of them.
Still, there is still lots to play for in round three: Who finishes in first place between the Netherlands and Chile, and whether Spain bow out having salvaged three points, or Australia hint at a bright future by compounding Spanish misery.
Here are 10 key factors that will decide how Group B finishes next Monday, June 23.
Who Replaces Robin Van Persie?
Having received a yellow card in both of the Netherlands’ matches in Group B thus far, star striker and captain Robin van Persie—who, as things stand, is the joint top scorer this World Cup with three goals so far—will sit out the Chile game.
While Louis van Gaal’s squad features star quality and international names all over, few Dutch forwards rival the finishing ability and sheer talent of the Manchester United No. 20, and Van Persie’s absence next Monday will be a big blow.
On the bench are such forward options as Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, both of whom have seasoned scoring records for their country, as well as attacking midfielders capable of chipping in, but fellow three-goal man Arjen Robben—who will stand in as captain—may shoulder the bulk of the creative and goal-scoring burden of the side.
Louis Van Gaal’s Youth Revolution
With qualification from the group stage secured, is it time for the Netherlands and van Gaal to stamp their authority and send out a message to their knockout-round opposition with a strong squad and performance, or a time to let their next generation take the stage?
Van Gaal surely had at least one eye on the future of the Dutch national team when he picked his 23-man squad for the World Cup: 10 of his squad in Brazil are aged 24 or below, including breakout star Daley Blind—while starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen is just 25.
The prospect of a bright Oranje future is tantalizing enough for us to hope for at least some starting opportunities next Monday for the next generation: The likes of Ajax’s Joel Veltman, Feyenoord’s Jordy Clasie and PSV’s Memphis Depay are all talents many fans are looking forward to seeing on the grandest stage of them all.
Alexis Sanchez, the Talisman
With 23 goals in 69 international caps, Alexis Sanchez is without a doubt the most influential player in Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile squad.
Having already notched a goal and an assist—both against Australia in their first group-stage fixture—and creating Chile’s second goal against Spain with a free kick that Iker Casillas punched away unconvincingly, Sanchez is the key creative influence alongside Eduardo Vargas.
His status as a squad player at Barcelona has put many top clubs around Europe on red alert; if he does the business against the Dutch on Monday, the demand for his services will likely increase, as will his price tag.
Chile’s Speed, Energy and Hunger
That Australia had no answer to the Chileans’ brand of attacking football was probably foreseeable on paper; but the South Americans’ convincing victory over Spain dispelled any remaining doubts on their strength this campaign.
Chile have now scored five goals, allying quick, aggressive and incisive attacking with clinical finishing, with their tactical and positional intelligence carving up their opponents in the final third at will.
Prior to the Spain match, star midfielder Arturo Vidal claimed that Chile went to Brazil “with the hope of becoming world champions,” according to the Guardian; so far their performances have been in line with their bullish proclamations. They’ll take some stopping.
A Hesitant Dutch Defence
With a dominant Chile attack next on the horizon, an already hesitant Dutch defence will not be looking forward to Monday’s round-three fixture.
Despite running out 5-1 winners over Spain in round one, the Netherlands did not look too assured defensively in the first half, and their defence didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory against Australia, letting in two goals.
With two attacking wing-backs in Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind flanking a positionally immature trio of Ron Vlaar, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi, there may be plenty of space for the Chileans to attack and exploit on Monday.
They’ve been warned.
Iker Casillas’ International Swansong?
Out of position for the Netherlands' equalizer, mis-controlling a simple back pass to allow Van Persie to steal in, and punching unconvincingly from Alexis Sanchez's free kick—it's safe to say that Iker Casillas hasn't enjoyed the best World Cup campaign for a goalkeeper.
After bowing out of the tournament against Chile, Casillas said to AS via the Daily Mail, "It's just a shame that this generation had to bow out (of Brazil 2014) in this way" and didn't rule out whether that had been his last ever game for his country.
Whether Casillas will make way for Pepe Reina or David de Gea against Australia on Monday, it's already been made patently clear that he won't be captaining Spain to their next international tournament.
But he'll want a chance to atone for his mistakes and bow out on a less disappointing note.
An Early Overhaul from Vicente Del Bosque?
The thing about this Spain squad this summer is that Vicente Del Bosque didn't bring a youthful team to contest the World Cup. Clearly the thinking was to rely on his tried and trusted stars to attempt a fourth straight major international tournament win.
In contrast to Louis van Gaal's youthful selection for the Netherlands, Del Bosque brought only three players aged 24 or below. Other squad members have all been regular cogs in the Spanish machine over the past six years, growing and developing as a unit—but now exiting at the group stage.
Will Del Bosque look to give the future a chance on Monday? We wouldn't be surprised if De Gea and Koke got opportunities to start, but it doesn't help that other fringe players, like Atletico Madrid's Juanfran (29 years old), aren't exactly part of a bright young future.
A Soft Spanish Underbelly
In two games, Spain have conceded seven goals in two games this World Cup. By way of comparison, they conceded a total of just six en route to winning Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012.
Besides the shaky displays of Casillas, an uninspiring central defensive partnership between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique hasn't helped, while the trademark metronomic passing and composure of the Spanish midfield was nowhere to be seen, as the Netherlands and Chile tore them apart on the break.
Up front, Diego Costa hasn't shown the form he did for Atletico to justify a high-profile and controversial call-up to his adopted nation, while substitutes David Villa and Fernando Torres are clearly fast on the wane.
All of this could combine towards a soft underbelly for the Australians to exploit.
The Might and Fight of the Australians
And the Socceroos may well have the physicality and fight to take advantage of a wounded Spain side.
Australia put up a battling display against the Netherlands on Wednesday, going 2-1 up before conceding two more goals to go out of the World Cup themselves. But their fighting mentality and teamwork won hearts around the world, who may be rooting for an unlikely win to finish their World Cup campaign.
What Australia lack in star names and international experience, they make up for with their attitude and approach to the game. It may still be a while before they make it past the round of 16 in a World Cup finals (they've only done it once), but Monday may give them an excellent boost.
Socceroos Toothless Without Tim Cahill?
They'd have to do the business against Spain without Tim Cahill, however. And after the performance he put in against the Dutch, it's a real shame to know that Wednesday was in all probability his last ever appearance on the biggest stage of all.
Cahill is, without question, Australia's best ever player. His goal on Wednesday was proof that despite making his name with his head, he still has the X-factor at his feet. It was a goal Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben would've been proud of.
That Ange Postecoglou's side will lose their focal point up front is inevitable and predicted; what the coach has to solve, both for Monday's clash against Spain and for the future of the Australian national team, is to find a suitable successor for Cahill.
It won't be easy.