Spain's World Cup Chances Could Come Down to Opening Match vs. Netherlands

Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2013

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11: Xabi Alonso of Spain tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Group B, with Spain, Chile, Australia and the Netherlands, sounds like an appetising group, one obviously with three clear teams in front. 

I see Chile a little bit ahead of Holland for one reason: Now they have a goalscorer in Alexis Sanchez. It's a team that has worked as a team with the same idea for a while, and this could be one of those dark horses, at least to get out of the group.

I can see Chile, Spain and the Netherlands getting points in the games, which will probably mean that it will be a very tight group. I see Spain with that difficulty of renewing hopes and dealing with expectations. They know how to win games, which is essential in this kind of situation, from the beginning.

Alexis Sanchez is a dangerous attacker for Chile.
Alexis Sanchez is a dangerous attacker for Chile.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Historically, Spain start very slowly, but the first game is against the Netherlands, so there is no chance of that taking place, because if it does, that's it for Spain. A draw there would be interesting, and then beating Chile and Australia will take them to the next round.

I still see Spain top of the group, perhaps Chile as second. And then of course it gets interesting, because then in the next round, Spain will probably meet Croatia or Mexico from Brazil's group. You would say that it is even easier than Chile and the Netherlands. Sometimes it is funny how the knockout stages work out.

Then, in the quarter-finals, if Spain make it that far, I hope they meet England. It will be a chance to see a real test for England, and it will be a real test for Spain as well. I think Group D, with Uruguay, Italy and England, apart from Costa Rica, is certainly the toughest of all. It will be very difficult to get out of that group with an Italian side that has got experience. They don't win games all the time, but it is hard for teams to beat them.

Uruguay's Luis Suarez is in fine form at the club level with Liverpool.
Uruguay's Luis Suarez is in fine form at the club level with Liverpool.Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Uruguay, for me, are the favourites in that group. Their side, with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, has shown in the last few years that they know how to compete—they won the Copa America in 2011 and were semi-finalists in the last World Cup. They have always known how to compete.

So it will be a matter between Italy and England taking the second spot, but if either of those two get to the next stage, it will be nice for Spain to meet them in the quarter-finals.

Then, if you consider that in practically all of the World Cups, one of the favourites wins and the semi-finalists tend to be three of the regular ones and one who is not a regular, I might just break that rule a little bit. It could well be Brazil-Germany in one semi-final, and Spain-Argentina in the other.

I'm topping it all off with a Brazil-Argentina final. That's my dream, and I really hope it happens. It would be a historical moment.

I just don't see Spain competing at the highest level at the moment, and I think they may just be found out. I think playing the Netherlands first will be the test of the competition. If they can beat the Netherlands, a lot of doubts will be shaken off.

But again, as we discussed in an earlier blog, if by then, Koke, David Villa and Diego Costa are the three up front for Spain, it may be a differently shaped Spain. I wonder how brave Vicente del Bosque will be, but obviously his analysis has been spot-on so far, and we'll have to go with his instincts.

So, over to you, Del Bosque. I just hope that at least we compete and have a good World Cup. I see Spain going into the knockout round for sure.