By DAN KARELL
Spain’s journey to repeat as World Cup champions begins on Friday against their opponents from the last World Cup final – the Netherlands.
It’s the first time in World Cup history that the two finalists from the last World Cup have met in the next tournament’s group stage, and as the third match of the World Cup it’s an early must-see match. One of the beauties of this Group B match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador will be how differently the two teams play and where they are in their development.
Spain is reaching the end of its golden era, which began with winning the 2008 European Championships. Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Villa, Iker Casillas, and Fernando Torres are all 30 years old or older, meaning they have little time to spare if they want to win their second World Cup title.
Combined with a number of talented players in their prime such as Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos, and Juan Mata, Spain hopes that their short-passing style and total possession soccer can deliver one more trophy to Iberia.
On the other side, the Netherlands is a team in transition, with veterans in midfield and up top but a very young defense, with an average age of just over 24 years old. Head coach Louis Van Gaal has ultimately decided to go with a 5-3-2 formation, with wing backs Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind expected to bomb up and down the sidelines, and central midfielder Wesley Sneijder expected to pick them out for them to cross into the middle.
Arjen Robben, normally a winger, is now being asked to play in a striker’s role alongside Robin Van Persie, a move that could either fail spectacularly or succeed if Robben and Van Persie develop an understanding.
MEXICO VS. CAMEROON
Also on Friday Mexico takes on Cameroon at the Estádio das Dunas in Natal.
Like the USA, Mexico faces a must-win first game against an African power that has plenty of World Cup experience. Mexico, with an awful World Cup qualifying campaign, has somewhat stabilized in recent months but has yet to put a complete 90 minutes together in warm-up friendly matches.
El Tri boss Miguel Herrera has already picked his starting lineup for the game, which will feature Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa in goal, Rafa Marquez in the middle of a three-man back line, Andres Guardado playing as a central midfielder, and Giovani Dos Santos playing up-top with Oribe Peralta. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez starts off on the bench as he struggles with his confidence.
Mexico looks at this game as a must-win because of its next opponent, Brazil. While nothing is played on paper, a loss or draw to Cameroon and a loss to Brazil could virtually eliminate El Tri after just two games in the tournament.
Cameroon is led by former Chelsea and Barcelona forward Samuel Eto’o, who has been an inspiration to the national team, according to midfielder Eyong Enoh. The Indomitable Lions feature a squad with a number of players playing in Spain and France, and will provide a huge test to El Tri.
CHILE VS. AUSTRALIA
Chile faces Australia at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiabá as the final match of the day.
Heading into the final match of the day, Chile is hoping that do-it-all midfielder Arturo Vidal will be fit enough to face Australia. Vidal underwent a meniscus operation in May and has been recovering from it ever since. Chile head coach Jorge Sampaoli said at a press conference that the medical staff had done a great job to heal Vidal, but it remains to be seen whether he starts against the Socceroos.
Not many people are giving Australia a chance to come away with any points in this tournament, but Socceroos captain Tim Cahill will have something to say about that. Australia’s leading goal-scorer has a remarkable ability to motivate his teammates in any setting. Expect Australia to try and play with Chile, even if it leads to their eventual downfall.
What do you think of today’s slate? Which games are you looking forward to most? Think that Spain can beat the Netherlands? What about El Tri’s chances in Natal?
Share your thoughts below.