World Cup preview for the first round matches of Group B.

Words by Russ Gibbs (@RussGibbs10)

Spain v Netherlands
(Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador)
What better way to properly kick-off a FIFA World Cup than a re-match of the Final from the previous tournament? So please step forward World Champions Spain and Runners-Up Netherlands for this eagerly anticipated Group B opener in Salvador.

With two nations known for their exquisite football we could be in for a real treat. However, there’s much at stake in this one as a loss for either side means an uphill struggle in a group that also contains South American dark horses Chile and the always defiant Socceroos.

With that in mind we may well get a more defensive affair than most would care to admit. Whilst it’s unlikely to be as fractious and stop-start as the denouement in South Africa, there’s a case to be made that a draw would be a fair return for either country meaning risk-taking will be at a premium.

There will still be enough quality on show to whet the appetites of the football purists with Spain boasting manifold talents in midfield and now with a spearhead to strike fear into the heart of opposition defences. The movement of Diego Costa, the erstwhile striker from Atletico Madrid (although surely destined to join Cesc Fabregas at Chelsea after the competition is over), will be the perfect foil for the imagination and passing ability of Andres Iniesta, Fabregas and Xabi Alonso.

For their part the Dutch don’t lack for world class talent either. Manchester United hit-man Robin Van Persie, leading scorer in qualification, leads the line supported by Arjen Robben and possibly Dynamo Kiev sensation Jeremain Lens. As with the England-Italy showdown too much may be at stake so early for this to hit the heights with a stalemate the likely result.

Australia v Chile
(Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba)
And so to the Socceroos. The waiting is over. The talking has been done and we count down the minutes until kick-off of what is sure to be a campaign full of highs and lows.

Admittedly, we are likely to suffer more lows than highs but what’s better than a place at the FIFA World Cup and three matches against top-ranked opposition? First cab off the rank in a tigerishly difficult Group B are South Americans Chile. We’ve known for a while now that the Chileans, under Argentinean coach Jorge Sampaoli, have a top-notch outfit.

If confirmation was required then a 2-0 victory over England at Wembley Stadium last year would have proved it. Alexis Sanchez bagged a double on that occasion and, despite suffering a minor knock to the shoulder in the pre-World cup warm-up against Northern Ireland, should be fit to start.

What’s less certain is whether midfield powerhouse Arturo Vidal will join him. After an operation on his knee last month the Juventus star has been struggling to recover in time. His absence would be a major blow.

For Australia the key could be the midfield pairing of Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan. Nominally defensive players, their contribution in the engine room, stifling Chilean attacks and recycling quick possession, is crucial if Australia are to get something from this match.

Tim Cahill, as always, is the likely outlet in terms of goals but the New York Red Bulls man may well be starved of service. If so, his uncanny ability to find the net from the merest half-chance is going to be critical. In a tough section, Chile’s need for a win is huge. For the Socceroos a draw would be an exceptional return.

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