Group B is a hotly anticipated group and it’s easy to see why with the opening match being a repeat of the 2010 final. Of course Spain won on that occasion and they’ve gone from strength to strength since, winning their last three major tournaments, while Holland have struggled recently as they try and bring through a new generation of Dutch footballers. Both will be worrying about their group as they also have to face the much fancied Chile side, therefore one of these European giants are in danger of falling at the first hurdle.
Spain have become a dominating force in international football over the last decade, but many people are skeptical about their chances this summer, due to the climate and the fact that teams will know exactly what to expect from them. They are still packed with lots of talented players, with some of them coming to the end of their international careers like Xavi, David Villa and Xabi Alonso. Barcelona’s decline in recent seasons has shown that teams can be successful against the possession based tactics that they have made successful as well as Spain. Both Holland and Chile will take positives out of that and try to come out on top against Spain in Brazil.
Meanwhile Holland enter this tournament with very low expectations as their side continues to gel with a number of young players becoming crucial to the national side. The nation has moved on since 2010 with the likes of Bruno Martins Indi, Jordy Clasie and Memphis Depay coming into the fold. Louis Van Gaal will be aiming for a successful tournament before he leaves his post as manager to take over at Manchester United. It remains clear that the older generation of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie will prove to play a pivotal role this summer, especially in big matches such as this one.
There are several Premier League players that could be involved this Friday with Ron Vlaar and Van Persie likely to start for Holland. While Jonathan De Guzman, Tim Krul and Michel Vorm will all be pushing for a start. For Spain, Diego Costa, who will be playing for Chelsea next season, is likely to start, while David Silva, Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and Fernando Torres will also be hoping to get some action on Friday.
Spain have only conceded two goals in their last 12 tournament matches showing how difficult they are to beat in the tournament environment.
Robin Van Persie was the top scorer in 2014 European World Cup qualifiers with 11 goals, highlighting his worth to the Dutch national side.
Spain’s victory over Holland in the 2010 World Cup was the first time a European side had won the tournament outside of their own continent.
Andres Iniesta will be crucial for Spain in this match as he will carry a lot of the creative threat in the final third. Both Xabi Alonso and Xavi are ageing, so will not be able to play the all action game they were once able to, while Sergio Busquets is predominantly a holding midfielder. Iniesta will be the man they look to when it comes to creating chances for the attackers and the player that will inspire the rest of the team. He has a very impressive passing range and he had a pass success rate of 90.7% last season which highlights how good he is in possession. The Barcelona player contributed three goals and seven assists in La Liga last season, which was under par given his impressive calibre, but is still good for a central midfielder. He will cause Holland lots of problems, especially with his ball retention and defence splitting through balls.
Like his club side, Van Persie has had a very disappointing season, but a good World Cup will see him regain his place as one of the best strikers in world football. He only managed to score 12 times last season, but his minutes per goal of 132 remains impressive. He also managed to get three assists, creating a chance every 99 minutes. Holland are a young side, but Van Persie brings a lot of experience and quality to the squad, therefore he will carry a lot of the side’s hopes in Brazil. His good relationship with Louis Van Gaal should provide him a platform to flourish at international level this summer and domestically next season. Holland may not get a lot of chances against Spain, but they have the perfect striker to take any opportunities coming his way in Van Persie.
Diego Costa will be fine to lead the line after recovering from the knock that forced him to limp out of the Champions League final, while Cesc Fabregas and Koke could start ahead of Xavi and Sergio Busquets. David Villa and Fernando Torres both impressed in the pre tournament friendlies, but neither are expected to start against Holland.
Ron Vlaar is set to marshal the back four alongside Bruno Martins Indi. While the side are expected to play attacking football with a 4-3-3 formation. Arjen Robben and Jermain Lens are probably going to play on the flanks outside of Van Persie. The goalkeeping situation is interesting, but Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen is expected to beat Premier League duo Tim Krul and Michel Vorm to the spot.
I think it will be a very tight match with little separating the sides. Neither will want to lose their opening match of the tournament as it leaves them with a lot to do in the final two matches. Spain famously lost their opening match in South Africa and still came out winning the tournament, which shows it’s not impossible, but it isn’t ideal. Both teams will play under their best as it’s early in the tournament and that could see it end as a draw.