Group B Under the Microscope: Can Anyone Stop the Red Machine?

If a tantalizingly-named ‘Group of Death’ is a requirement of every World Cup, Group B, which boasts two former winners of the tournament, stakes an irresistible claim.

Holders Spain and fellow European heavyweights Holland will come up against highly-rated Chile and Australia, who have proved in the past they are capable of springing a surprise.

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Spain, currently on a golden run which has included two European Championships either side of the 2010 World Cup, will rightfully start as favourites. They possess world class players and an unsurpassed strength in depth all over the field, inheriting the ability to dominate teams the way that brought Barcelona a glorious era in continental club football.

Holland, who lost out to their rivals in the 2010 final, played in South Africa, will be gunning for revenge. Spain also played Chile in the group phase that year, recording a 2-1 victory that saw them through to the knockout stages.

Statistically, Australia identify themselves as a solid team which is capable of winning aerial battles. Tim Cahill was once considered a grave danger in the box by Premier League defences during his time at Everton and the New York Red Bulls striker is target man for his national team. He is first to the ball in 44.5% of his air challenges, while at the back, Lucas Neil wins 58% of his defensive air challenges. Robbie Kruse, the Bayer Leverkusen forward, is Australia’s main dribbler, but he losses the ball in 27% of his dribbles.

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One of the players Chile’s 17 million population will be pinning their hopes on in Brazil is Arturo Vidal, the dynamic midfielder playing for Juventus in Italy. Vidal has standout passing figures which reflect very well on his potential to have a memorable tournament, with 32.7% good (defined as giving his team an advantage) compared to just 14.9% bad. In terms of chance creation, Jean Beausejour is the main crosser but only 16.6% of his crosses are creating chances, while Marcelo Diaz has 27% in this category. At the back, Gary Medel might be the defender to keep Spain’s tricky midfielders at bay 42% of his cope dribbles (performance when faced with a dribble) are good, 18% are bad.

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Netherlands, European kings in 1988, came agonizingly close to winning the World Cup in 1974, losing out to historical rivals Germany. This year looks to be as good a chance as any for them to end the long wait – the Dutch have a squad littered with stars from Europe’s top teams. There are signs, however, that some one of the old guard could be waning. In 16.12% of Wesley Sneijder actions he is trying to create chance but he only succeeded in 20% of his attempts to create chances. On the bright side Jermain Lens succeeding 27.3% of his attempts and Arjen Robben 28.6%. Meanwhile, 40% of Aston Villa centre-back Ron Vlaar’s defensive actions are good, 5% very good, 15% bad and less than 1% very bad. These are very good numbers.

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Spain, possibly along with the hosts, will be the most feared side at Brazil 2014. Their sheer number of creating options will be hard for the other sides in Group B to nullify, but where do they come from? Through the middle, it is Xavi and Cesc Fabregas who are the busiest, accounting for 21% and 20% respectively of their team’s total number of actions. Such is the central concentration of Spain’s creative talent of the field, that their full-backs have a big responsibility to work the side channels – this is shown by the large 38% share of actions on the left performed by Jordi Alba, while Alvaro Arbeloa takes 32% on the right.

Only two teams – Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962) – have ever retained the World Cup, to add this achievement to consecutive Euros would further immortalize this Spanish team’s legacy. But Group B could churn up some unexpected results with all four teams bringing different qualities to Brazil.

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