World Cup preview: Group B

Sports Mole continues its previews for this summer's World Cup with Group B, which includes current champions Spain.

SPAIN

How they qualified: La Roja booked their spot in the finals this summer after topping Group I in their European qualification section. Vicente del Bosque's side picked up 20 points from their eight matches, remaining unbeaten in the process and boasting a goal difference of plus 11. They did drop points against Finland and France, but ultimately finished three points clear of second-placed France. Prior to winning the competition in 2010, Spain's previous best in the tournament had been fourth in 1950.

Manager: Vicente del Bosque: Should Spain win the competition this summer, Del Bosque will become the first coach in history to secure successive World Cups. The former Real Madrid boss also led La Roja to the Euro 2012 title in what has been a terrific six years in charge of his country. In terms of club football, the 63-year-old led Real Madrid to two league titles in 2001 and 2003 and also twice won the Champions League during his time with Los Blancos.

Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque during the Confederations Cup against Italy on June 27, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Winners: 2010

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Pepe Reina (Napoli), David De Gea (Manchester United)

Defenders: Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Javi Martinez (Bayern Munich), Raul Albiol (Napoli), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Xavi (Barcelona), Pedro (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Santi Cazorla (Arsenal), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)

Strikers: Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid), David Villa (Atletico Madrid), Fernando Torres (Chelsea)

Three Key Players:

Sergio Ramos: The Real Madrid centre-back still has his critics, but there is little doubting his extreme importance to Spain. The 27-year-old will also enter the tournament off the back of a fine campaign with Los Blancos, who won a Copa del Rey and Champions League double. Meanwhile, he hit the goal trial in the final weeks of the season with vital strikes in the semi-finals and final of the European Cup. In terms of La Roja, Ramos has made 115 appearances for his country and started 18 of their last 19 tournament matches.

Sergio Ramos of Spain and Alexis Sanchez of Chile compete for the ball during the Spain v Chile international friendly at Stade de Geneve on September 10, 2013© Getty Images

Andres Iniesta: The Barcelona midfielder scored the winner in Spain's 1-0 success over Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup and also starred in the final of Euro 2012 against Italy two years later. His success at international level has led to widespread popularity in his home nation, even with opposing supporters. Alongside that, it helps that the 30-year-old is regarded as one of the best midfielders of all time. He has scored 11 times in 94 games for La Roja and will once more have a huge say in any possible silverware for the current holders this summer.

Diego Costa: As it stands, Costa's involvement this summer is in doubt due to a troublesome hamstring injury. The Atletico Madrid forward, who was born in Brazil, decided to play his international football for Spain towards the end of 2013 after gaining citizenship and made his international debut against Italy at the start of March. The 25-year-old is now regarded as one of the best forwards in European football having scored 36 times in 51 games for his club this season and, if fit, will surely lead the line for La Roja in what will be his first international tournament.


NETHERLANDS

How they qualified: In truth, it was no surprise that the Netherlands found qualification for the tournament in Brazil so straightforward, with Louis van Gaal's team drawn in a group where none of their opponents were ranked inside FIFA's top 30. They won nine of their 10 Group D matches, scoring 34 times in the process and conceding just five times. That run of results saw them finish comfortably top of the section, nine points clear of second-placed Romania.

Manager: Louis van Gaal: The Dutchman has perhaps been the most talked-about manager this summer following Manchester United's long pursuit. The 62-year-old's future has now been decided, however, and he will indeed take control at Old Trafford following the completion of this summer's tournament. The experienced boss is currently in his second spell in charge of the Netherlands having previously managed his nation between 2000 and 2002. During a well-travelled managerial club career, Van Gaal has won league titles in Holland, Spain and Germany.

Dutch coach Louis van Gaal looks on before a friendly between Belgium and Netherlands in Brussels on August 15, 2012© AFP

Previous World Cup best: Runners-up: 1974, 1978, 2010

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Tim Krul (Newcastle United)

Defenders: Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord), Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), Daley Blind (Ajax)

Midfielders: Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray)

Forwards: Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Memphis Depay (PSV)

Three Key Players:

Jordy Clasie: The 22-year-old, who currently represents Feyenoord, is reportedly on the wish-lists of a number of European clubs this summer. The midfielder's style has been compared to Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi, while he is a firm favourite of Van Gaal. He has made just eight appearances for the Dutch first team, but is expected to be in his country's first XI for the tournament this summer. Talk of following his national team manager to Manchester United has also arisen in the last few weeks.

Holland midfielder Jordy Clasie in action against Ecuador on May 17, 2014.© Getty Images

Arjen Robben: Since making his international debut in 2003, Robben has made 73 appearances for his country, scoring 22 times in the process. The 30-year-old, who has represented the likes of PSV Eindhoven, Chelsea and Real Madrid during an illustrious playing career, won the treble with Bayern Munich in the 2012-13 season and also helped them win a double in the season just gone, scoring 21 times from a wide area. Following a well-travelled career, Robben is currently in the form of his life and will surely be a key player for his national team this summer.

Robin van Persie: Skipper Van Persie scored 11 times during qualification for the World Cup, with that tally allowing the Manchester United forward to overtake Patrick Kluivert as the all-time leading scorer of the Netherlands. In total, the 30-year-old has scored 42 times in 83 games for his country and was part of the side that finished runners-up in 2010. Meanwhile, he picked up his first league silverware in the 2012-13 campaign with United, where he has scored 48 times in 76 games since moving from Arsenal.


CHILE

How they qualified: Despite suffering four defeats in a row in the middle of their South American qualifying campaign, Chile managed to finish third in the section. The turnaround in form coincided with the appointment of Jorge Sampaoli, who replaced Claudio Borghi and has since brought a slick style to Chile's football. They won nine of their 16 qualification matches, losing six times in the process, with that run of results seeing them finish just four points behind first-placed Argentina.

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli: As mentioned above, Sampaoli has been in charge of Chile since December 2012, when the Argentine replaced Borghi. The 54-year-old had previously been in charge of Universidad de Chile, who he led to three league titles. The experienced boss has been praised for bringing back a high-pressing style of football to the nation, who thrived under the similar leadership of Marco Bielsa. Chile's world ranking of 13 suggests that Sampaoli will be expected to lead his side through the group stages this summer.

Jorge Sampaoli of Chile looks on during the international friendly match between Chile and Iraq at the Brondby Stadium on August 14, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Third place: 1962

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Claudio Bravo (Real Sociedad), Johnny Herrera (Universidad de Chile), Cristopher Toselli (Universidad Catolica)

Defenders: Gary Medel (Cardiff City), Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest), Marcos Gonzalez (Union Espanola), Jose Rojas (Universidad de Chile), Eugenio Mena (Santos), Mauricio Isla (Juventus)

Midfielders: Jorge Valdivia (Palmeiras), Felipe Gutierrez (Twente), Rodrigo Millar (Atlas), Jose Pedro Fuenzalida (Colo Colo), Francisco Silva (Osasuna), Arturo Vidal (Juventus), Charles Aranguiz (Internacional), Marcelo Diaz (Basel), Carlos Carmona (Atalanta), Miiko Albornoz (Malmo)

Strikers: Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona), Eduardo Vargas (Napoli), Jean Beausejour (Wigan Athletic), Mauricio Pinilla (Cagliari), Fabian Orellana (Celta)

Three Key Players:

Arturo Vidal: The Juventus midfielder has recently had knee surgery, but is expected to be fully fit for the tournament this summer. The 27-year-old, who has been with the Italian champions since 2011, has helped his club to three back-to-back Serie A crowns. The powerful midfielder has also netted eight times in 53 games for Chile since making his debut in 2007. He is another that could also be on the move this summer with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid believed to be monitoring developments in Turin.

Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal in action for Chile against Spain on September 10, 2013.© Getty Images

Alexis Sanchez: Like Vidal, Sanchez's long-term club future is unclear. That is despite an impressive season for Barcelona which saw him score 21 times for the Spanish outfit. In total, he has netted 47 goals since moving to the Camp Nou from Udinese in 2011, while he has scored 22 times in 65 games for his country, including eight in his last 12 matches.

Eduardo Vargas: The 24-year-old is currently contracted to parent club Napoli, but spent the second half of the 2013-14 campaign on loan at Spanish club Valencia, who made the semi-finals of the Europa League. The forward also boasts an impressive scoring record at international level having struck 11 times in 28 matches, including nine in his last 13. Vargas is expected to line up alongside Sanchez in attack this summer.


AUSTRALIA

How they qualified: Australia were drawn into Group B of the Asian qualification section alongside Japan, Jordan, Oman and Iraq. The Socceroos were winless in their first three matches, but went unbeaten in their last five to eventually secure second place in the section, four points behind winners Japan. They needed to beat Iraq in their final group match to secure a spot in Brazil and that was indeed the case following a late strike from Joshua Kennedy. Overall, they collected 13 points from their eight matches, winning three times and suffering just one defeat in the process.

Manager: Ange Postecoglou: At the age of 48, Posteoglou will be one of the youngest managers at the tournament this summer. The former Melbourne Victory boss took charge of Australia in October 2013, signing a five-year deal with the nation. He is also Australia's most successful domestic club coach having won two premierships, four championships and a continental title. As a player, Greek-born Postecoglou won four Australian caps.

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou stands on the touchline during his side's match against South Africa on May 26, 2014.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Round of 16: 2006

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Mark Birighitti, (Newcastle Jets), Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund), Mat Ryan (Club Brugge)

Defenders: Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo), Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng), Matthew Spiranovic, (Western Sydney Wanderers), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Bailey Wright (Preston North End)

Midfielders: Oliver Bozanic (Luzern), Mark Bresciano (Al Gharafa), James Holland (Austria Wien), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town), Matthew McKay (Brisbane Roar), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Tommy Oar (Utrecht), Tommy Rogic (Melbourne Victory), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidosic (Sion)

Forwards: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Matthew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets)

Three Key Players:

Mile Jedinak: The Crystal Palace midfielder will lead Australia at the World Cup this summer after recently getting the nod to replace long-term skipper Lucas Neill. Tim Cahill had been the firm favourite to take the armband, but Posteoglou has placed his faith in the 29-year-old. Jedinak started his career in his home nation with Sydney United before moving to Central Coast Mariners, but he has been with Palace since 2011 and played a key role in their mid-table finish in the 2013-14 Premier League season. He will be just the fourth Australian to lead the Socceroos at a World Cup.

Crystal Palace's Australian midfielder Mile Jedinak battles for possession against Ecuador on March 05, 2014.© Getty Images

Tim Cahill: This summer's World Cup will surely be Cahill's last, but he still has a key role to play for his country. The 34-year-old, who spent eight years with Everton from 2004 to 2012, currently represents New York Red Bulls in the MLS. His goal record has been impressive throughout his career and he has notched 32 times in 68 games for his home nation, with that record making him their all-time leading scorer.

Joshua Kennedy: The towering centre-forward is not particularly well known in Europe, but his goal record is extremely impressive. The 31-year-old, who has played for the likes of Wolsburg, Koln and Nurnberg during a well-travelled career, currently represents Japanese outfit Nagoya Grampus, where his scoring record is just short of one goal every two games. In total, Kennedy has scored 17 times in 33 games for his country and it was his goal against Iraq in qualifying that ultimately secured Australia's spot in the finals.


Group B fixtures (KO UK time)

Friday, June 13
Spain vs. Netherlands, 8pm
Chile vs. Australia, 11pm

Wednesday, June 18
Australia vs. Netherlands, 5pm
Spain vs. Chile, 8pm

Monday, June 23
Australia vs. Spain, 5pm
Netherlands vs. Chile, 5pm

Sports Mole says:
1. Spain 2. Netherlands 3. Chile 4. Australia

Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak applauds the fans after the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace at The Hawthorns on November 2, 2013
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