It’s here; the greatest sporting spectacle the world has to offer (and yes, I’m including the Super Bowl), the pinnacle of the “Beautiful Game”, the World Cup. The time when the finest footballers from 32 different countries descend upon one location to see who, when it’s all said and done, will hoist the coveted hardware and proclaim that they are the best team or country in World football.
And while it will undoubtedly be a team effort that determines every win or loss, often times the game does come down to a few supreme individual efforts. This naturally appeals to the fantasy degenerates in all of us, as we attempt to collate and quantify what each player does and how that leads to his team’s success or lack their of. Which is why, I will primarily be focusing on the individual players to watch as you sit back and enjoy the matches from your couch.
Today we’re taking a look at Group B…
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Obviously the group is highlighted by reigning champ and #1 ranked team in the world, Spain, but Netherlands, though perhaps not as strong as they were in 2010, were the team to lose to Spain in that 2010 finale and always seem to make serious noise come Cup time. In addition to the two favorites, Chile boast a fine squad with a couple world class players, and Australia, though not expected to escape the group, could surprise.
As stated earlier, Spain enter the 2014 World Cup on the backs of their 2010 title run and #1 world ranking. As a result, anything short of a trip to the championship game yet again will surely be seen as a disappointment. The team is stacked from front to back, but they draw the majority of their strength from their arguably unparalleled Midfield. The Midfield is so rich with talent in fact, that players the likes of Xabi Alonso, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, and Jesus Navas will likely come off the bench whereas they would probably star in most other countries first 11’s.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina (Napoli), David De Gea (Manchester United).
Defenders: Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos (both Real Madrid), Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba (both Barcelona), Cesar Azplicueta (Chelsea), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla).
Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas (all Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Ander Iturraspe (Athletic Bilbao), David Silva (Manchester City), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Jesus Navas (Manchester City).
Forwards: Diego Costa, David Villa (both Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Negredo (Manchester City), Pedro Rodriguez (Barcelona), Fernando Llorente (Juventus), Fernando Torres (Chelsea).
Players To Watch
They’re so good I could easily get away with saying everyone, but I’ll try to slim it down.
Sergio Ramos/CB: The Real Madrid showman is essentially the total package when it comes to what you look for in a defender. He’s strong in defense, positions himself well, and is not beaten often. Additionally he’s a nightmare in attack, specifically on set pieces, as he has tremendous leaping ability and often gets his head to the ball and slots it in the back of the net. Just ask Bayern and Atletico about him.
Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi/M: Yes I’m cheating a little and lumping them together, but it’s justifiable. The Barcelona trio are hands down three of the finest midfielders on the planet. Iniesta, in particular, might be the most creative midfielder in the game.
Diego Costa/F: Costa’s inclusion on the final roster hinges on wether or not his hamstring heals in time, and anyone who truly loves game will hope it does. He had a breakout year in 2013/2014, notching 35 goals in all appearances for La Liga champs Atletico Madrid.
In 2010, Netherlands finished as the runner up, making it the third time they’ve made it to the final only to go home empty handed (’74, ’78). Some familiar faces return this summer, most likely for their final run at a Cup, and thus must be considered a very dangerous team. However, one must wonder with manager Louis van Gaal recently accepting the vacant Manchester United coaching gig, how much will he be looking forward to the next Premier League season, and not to the task at hand? Hashtag #Narative.
Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Tim Krul (Newcastle), Michel Vorm (Swansea), Jeroen Zoet (PSV Eindhoven).
Defenders: Daley Blind, Joel Veltman (both Ajax), Stefan de Vrij, Daryl Janmaat, Terence Kongolo, Bruno Martins Indi, Tonny Vilhena (all Feyenoord), Karim Rekik (PSV Eindhoven, on loan from Manchester City), Patrick van Aanholt (Vitesse Arnhem, on loan from Chelsea), Paul Verhaegh (FC Augsburg), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa).
Midfielders: Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Leroy Fer (Norwich), Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray), Rafael van der Vaart (Hamburg), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV Eindhoven).
Forwards: Jean-Paul Boetius (Feyenoord), Memphis Depay (PSV Eindhoven), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke 04), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Quincy Promes (Twente), Robin van Persie (Manchester United).
Players To Watch
Arjen Robben/M: One of the finest wingers in the world is always someone to keep an eye on wether he’s playing for The Oranje or his club Bayern Munich. He possesses tremendous pace as well as uncanny dribbling ability, and although he can be a bit of a diver and tends to shoot more when he should pass, he’s still a proven goal scorer and should notch a few this go-around as well.
Wesley Sneijder/M: A tremendous passer as well as a deadly free kick taker. If he’s within range on a dead ball, watch out.
Robin van Persie/F: When healthy, “RVP” is one of the most lethal strikers in the world. He had an up and down year heath-wise for Manchester United, but he should be good to go for Oranje. With 42 international goals, he’s the country’s all time leading goal scorer.
Chile are coming off a very successful qualifying period, and although they’ve only qualified for the tournament three times, they’re looking for a second consecutive trip to the quarterfinals.
Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica), Paulo Garces (O’Higgins).
Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola), Enzo Andia (Universidad Catolica), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Mauricio Isla (Juventus).
Midfielders: Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Felipe Gutierrez (Twente), Rodrigo Millar (Atlas), Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Pablo Hernandez (O’Higgins), Matias Fernandez (Fiorentina), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Marcelo Diaz (Basel), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo).
Forwards: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Esteban Paredes (Colo Colo), Eduardo Vargas (Valencia), Gustavo Canales (Union Espanola), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari), Fabian Orellana (Celta).
Players To Watch
Alexis Sanchez/F: An electrifying forward who’s star shown brightly for club and country in ’13/’14. He brings tremendous speed to the pitch, and can be a nuisance for defenders either out on the wing or playing up front in a central role.
Arturo Vidal/M: Vidal can only be classified as one of the best overall midfielders in the world, with his work rate in defense equalling that of his attack. A true “box to box” midfielder, his motor never stops and he’s just a likely to be tracking back and winning tackles as he is pressing forward and distributing the ball to his teammates.
The “Socceroos” are the lowest seeded team in the tournament, and their road to qualifying was an arduous one as they snuck in at “Squeeky Bum Time” in the dying minutes of their last qualify game against Iraq. This is their fourth overall trip to the World Cup, and third in a row with the qualifying stages in 2006 being the farthest they’ve gone in the tournament.
Goalkeepers: Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets), Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund), Mat Ryan (Club Brugge).
Defenders: Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo), Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Curtis Good (Dundee United, on loan from Newcastle), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng Taishan), Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney Wanderers), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Luke Wilkshire (Dinamo Moscow), Bailey Wright (Preston North End).
Midfielders: Oliver Bozanic (Luzern), Mark Bresciano (Al Gharafa), Joshua Brillante (Newcastle Jets), James Holland (Austria Vienna), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town), Matthew McKay (Brisbane Roar), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Tommy Oar (Utrecht), Tommy Rogic (Melbourne Victory), Adam Sarota (Utrecht), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidosic (Sion).
Forwards: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus 8), Matthew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt 1899), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets).
Players To Watch
Mile Jedinak/M: A hard-nosed, bruising defensive-minded midfielder, Jedinak won 102 tackles for Cyrstal Palace this year in the Barclay’s Premier League, which was tops in the league.
Tim Cahill/F: One of the stars in Major League Soccer, Cahill has clinical finishing ability and was the first of his countrymen to net a goal in the World Cup. He has tremendous leaping ability, and scores an insane amount of his goals with his head despite being rather small in stature.
World Cup posters courtesy of Christiano Siqueria and ESPN