Defending Champions Spain take on the Netherlands at the Arena Fonte Nova at 8pm looking to become the first European team to win the World Cup in South America and also retain their title.
The repeat of the 2010 final happens in the group stage this year and if it is anything like the final you should set your alarm for the final ten minutes or so and start watching then. I am sure there are people who find the Spanish system to be great to watch but I am not one of them, I find it aimless and indeed joyless. Once you take the joy out of football and make it completely a percentages game people start yawning and stadiums start emptying and the gods of football weep…That said lets see what we may have in store shall we?
Spain as defending champions are certainly no mugs and will be looking to make history as the first team to successfully defend their title and go into the game with a FIFA ranking of #1 if that helps their cause. Standing in there way are thirty-one other teams looking to stop them, chief of which are the hosts Brazil and with Germany and Argentina among those with a decent chance to upset the tiki-taka cart.
Spain’s recent record looks ok with their defeat to Brazil at the Confederations Cup being there only major loss although they were beaten by a goal to nil by South Africa in November 2013. They beat Italy 1-0 and have had easy friendly wins against weak opponents such as Bolivia (Ranked 67th) and El Salvador (Ranked 93rd) in the run-up to the World Cup.
There has been some experimentation in the Spanish team in recent friendly matches and it remains to be seen if they choose to play with a striker but they will look to dominate possession with 34-year-old Xavi and 30 year-old Iniesta pulling the strings in midfield. Brazil-born Diego Costa could fit the striker role and it remains to be seen how he will be received in Brazil if he did. Any suggestion the team may be past their best has been refuted by Del Bosque who said:” We have a mature team and young players. We are not afraid of anything and we are in our prime. I don't have any fear for the future either because we have an Under-21 team that are winning things and there are plenty of replacements that will ensure a bright future.”
The Dutch have fallen down the rankings and are now rated the 15th best team in the world by FIFA. They enter the tournament on the back of two friendly wins against Wales and Ghana, a draw with Ecuador and a two nil defeat to France in March. The Netherlands do have a good record at the World Cup, finishing as runners-up on three occasions but never winning the tournament. They will be relying on Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben to light-up the Dutch challenge. It does look like van Persie will be fit to start after colliding with a Kite Surfer in Rio.
Manchester United bound Van Gaal will be under additional scrutiny by the English press but he is in confident mood: "Although as a squad, we may be much younger than four years ago, there are also lots of opportunities. We have to prove ourselves again, but it is also a great challenge.”