My opinion on Group B changed after the first round of matches. I think the Netherlands will win the group now and Spain won’t advance to the knock stage. The other game today is Croatia-Cameroon. The scenarios in Group A are complicated after Mexico’s draw against Brazil on Tuesday.
Match: Australia vs. Netherlands in Porto Alegre
What to watch for: The world is still talking about the Netherlands’ performance against Spain. They thoroughly dominated Spain in the second half of their 5-1 win. Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben each score twice and everything seems merry for the Dutch. However, we have seen this story before. The Netherlands have been successful early in major tournaments in the past and then one bad game knocks them out. Australia had a poor start against Chile in their first game but settled in and played well in the last 75 minutes. The Socceroos have their work cut out for them and can’t afford another slow start.
Players to watch: All the talk about Netherlands before the tournament was their three-prong attack of Van Persie, Robben and Wesley Sneijder. I think this is the match where Sneijder scores after watching Van Persie and Robben each record a brace. Australia will need a player other than Tim Cahill to step up if they earn a point. Veteran midfielder Mark Bresciano had a golden chance to equalize against Chile in the second half and will be an important secondary scoring option.
Prediction: Netherlands 3 (Sneijder, Van Persie, de Guzman), Australia 1 (Cahill)
The Dutch continue to roll with an easy victory and expectations will continue to grow for a country still waiting to win their first World Cup.
Match: Spain vs. Chile in Rio de Janeiro
What to watch for: It will be interesting to see how Spain responds to the blow out loss on Friday. You can count of several lineup changes for Vicente Del Bosque’s side. Look for Pedro, Cesc Fabregas and Javi Martinez to feature. Spain lost their first match when they won the 2010 World Cup. After losing to Switzerland, they defeated Honduras and Chile to finish first in their group. Now they play a Chile team that is better than the 2010 squad and playing in South America. Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal started against Australia but didn’t look fully fit. Vidal playing against the Spain midfield should be an intriguing matchup to watch.
Players to watch: I think Javi Martinez will get the starting nod over Gerard Pique at center back. Pique had an awful game against the Netherlands and Martinez could be a significant upgrade in this situation. Alexis Sanchez remains Chile’s best scoring threat and might have some clear cut chances if Spain tries to offside trap again. Sanchez plays for Barcelona so he plays with or has played against most of the players on Spain.
Prediction: Spain 1 (Pedro), Chile 1 (Sanchez)
Not the result Spain needs especially with the -4 goal differential. Spain has overcome adversity before but I think this Chile team will give them trouble.
Match: Cameroon vs. Croatia in Manaus
What to watch for: The draw between Brazil and Mexico wasn’t good news for Croatia. They need to get at least a result in this match and then beat Mexico in the last group fixture. Croatia is the more talented team in this match so their focus and fitness will be key in the Manaus humidity. The Croatians played very well in the loss to Brazil and need to build off that match with a solid start. Cameroon did create a few chances against Mexico but struggled for the most part in a 1-0 loss. Cameroon striker Samuel Eto’o might miss the match with a knee injury.
Players to watch: Croatia’s first-choice striker Mario Mandzukic returns from his suspension. Mandzukic is a much better option than Nikic Jelavic. Cameroon midfielder Stephane Mbia is going to have to play well against the Croatia midfield duo of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.
Prediction: Croatia 2 (Perisic, Mandzukic), Cameroon 0
I thought Ivan Perisic and Ivica Olic played very well in wide positions against Brazil. I think the two will link well with Mandzukic and give Cameroon’s defense trouble all evening.