Chile out to spoil stars party

10 June 2014 01:31

The 2010 World Cup resonates strongly throughout Group B where Spain launch their title defence against Netherlands in a carbon copy of the final in Soweto's Soccer City four years ago.

Joining the heavyweight European duo are Jorge Sampaoli's artful Chile, whom Vicente del Bosque's Spanish champions defeated in the group stage in South Africa, and rank outsiders Australia. Some gripping first round drama is guaranteed.

After finally getting their names on the World Cup trophy, Spain went on to successfully defend their European crown in 2012.

Last year though they were soundly defeated by World Cup hosts Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup.

Spain's return to South America comes after a buoyant European season, with an all-Spanish Champions League final between Madrid giants Atletico and winners Real.

Del Bosque's men have history stacked against them however. Over half a century has passed since a country mounted a successful defence of their World Cup crown.

And they could not have feared for a much tougher start to their World Cup defence.

When the two sides walked off the pitch in Soweto they could not imagine there would be a repeat so soon.

"I am sure they didn't want to face us as much as we didn't want to face them," Del Bosque, who is sweating on the fitness of Brazil-born Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa, conceded ruefully at the draw.

Group B's Friday 13th curtain-raiser pits Spain's Barcelona-style tika-taka possession-based game against a Dutch side now singing to the tune of Louis van Gaal's less pleasing on the eye but effective 5-3-2 system.

"There will be critics but I assume and I truly believe in this system and in my players chosen to carry it out," said Manchester United-bound van Gaal after last week's 1-0 prep win over Ghana.

A couple of hours after Spain v Netherlands, Chile open their 2014 campaign against a young Australia in Cuiaba.

Hopes are high in Santiago that in-form Chile can progress beyond the last 16 for the first time since finishing third as hosts in 1962.

Galloping to the finals with wins in five of their last six qualifiers, the side coached by Argentinian Sampaoli turns up on the back of a series of impressive results.

They held Spain to a 2-2 draw in Geneva last year, then outperformed England at Wembley, both their goals at Wembley coming from Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez.

Sterling efforts in defeat against mighty Germany and Brazil only boosted their status as contenders to escape the clutches of Group B relying on Sampaoli's high-tempo pressing game.

"The side that's going to Brazil is twice as strong and intense as the one that lined up in the last World Cup," midfielder Arturo Vidal told the BBC this year.

The Aussies were first to arrive in Brazil, sadly though for the Socceroos they may be one of the first to leave, given the complexity of this first round mini-league.

A modest 59th in FIFA's rankings, the lowest ranked of all the teams at the 2014 finals, Australia are wearing their minnows' tag with pride.

"We are the underdogs. It will be a good opportunity for the Australian team (in their fourth finals) to surprise," midfielder Tommy Oar suggested.

An intriguing first round group then where Spain will be desperate not to avoid the ignominious fate that befell Italy, who turned up in South Africa as champions only to be bundled out in the first round.

Source: AFP