Group B World Cup preview

Any successful World Cup campaign can depend on a favourable draw at the first round group stage, as starting off on the right foot and avoiding dangerous teams can be the ideal recipe for success. Each of the thirty-two teams have earned the right to appear at Brazil 2014, and carry a certain element of quality which may stand them in good stead to make their country proud. The theoretical belief that there is no such thing as an easy game in the world of football may be perfectly illustrated by the four teams who make up an absolute cracker of a World Cup group that could produce fireworks for the neutrals to savour. Group B will feature the reigning World Cup and European champions, the creators of ‘Total Football’, a dangerous up-and-coming South American side packed with pace and creativity, and one of the most successful nations from Asia who should not be underestimated. Football punters may require invaluable world cup 2014 betting tips to make head or tail of one of the strongest World Cup groups in modern history, with Group B poised to provide six wonderful games of football.

Spain

After so many years of showing real potential to blossom into a dominant and successful international side, Spain have finally rose to prominence – and have done so in imperious style. Winning the last three major tournaments perfectly demonstrates why the current Spain squad is highly regarded as one of the best ever international sides in world football. It is well within their capabilities to become the third nation in history to win back-to-back World Cup tournaments, in addition to setting a new record as the only side to lift four consecutive major trophies, but they are only backed as fourth favourites for Brazil 2014 at 7/1.

Despite being in imperious form throughout a qualifying group which included France via their wonderful tiki-taka style of football, there may be an underlying reason why Spain are not considered favourites. Vincente Del Bosque has a vast array of world class players to choose from in every department, but may face a selection headache in attack. David Villa and Fernando Torres may have superb international scoring records, but none of their recognised strikers have found any sort of form or consistency in front of goal for their respective clubs. Diego Costa, who has recently registered to play for Spain despite being born in Brazil, is the only striker Del Bosque could trust to lead the line, although his relative inexperience at international level could count against them.

Netherlands

‘Always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ is a phrase which perfectly applies to the Netherlands at World Cup tournaments. The ‘Oranje’ hold an unwanted record as the nation who have played in the most World Cup finals without ever winning one. This reflects an inability to turn huge potential into success, particularly during the 1970s which was a golden era for the Netherlands who produced some of the greatest international sides in world football. The class of 2014 arguably do not possess the same quality, but do have an intriguing balance with a number of top young prospect alongside experienced heads. Domestic clubs continue to power a never-ending conveyor belt of talent emerging from famed youth academies across the country, although Louis Van Gaal holds high hopes that the 23 players he selects for Brazil 2014 will right the wrongs of Euro 2012 and repeat the performance in South Africa 2010 whey they finished runners-up to Spain – their opening Group B opponents. Netherlands are 13/5 to gain revenge, but are ranked amongst the dark horses to win the World Cup at 33/1.

Chile

The considerable humidity and heat levels that are predicted throughout Brazil 2014 are widely predicted to favour the South American nations who do not have to acclimatise to play in these conditions. While Brazil and Argentina remain the leading lights of the continent, Chile have emerged as a potential dark horse to win the World Cup at 33/1. Although they have never won a major international tournament, the current crop of players have created great hope and excitement across the country who believe Chile can compete against the major international side. Their belief is fully justified through superb performances throughout the South American qualifying campaign and friendlies against higher placed teams in the world rankings; 2-2 draws away in Brazil and Spain were topped by a convincing victory over England at Wembley in 2013, and while they lost 1-0 to Germany in March, they won plaudits for the quality of football they displayed in Stuttgart.

The secret to Chile’s rise to prominence is their dedication to playing fast-paced attacking, free-flowing football within every game which has made Jorge Sampaoli’s side highly appealing on the eye. It is a system that appears to be paying dividends through an impressive scoring rate, although Chile have also established a defensive stability that can compete against the very best.

Australia

The Socceroos could be forgiven for believing they face a baptism of fire at Brazil 2014 after being drawn in an extremely strong group packed with pedigree and quality. Australia will always play with pride and commitment, but it may prove an impossible task to qualify from Group B. Preparation for the World Cup has not been ideal, with Holger Osieck being sacked following consecutive 6-0 defeats in friendly matches against France and Brazil, despite being the man who led Australia to the World Cup. New manager Ange Postecoglou faces a challenge to restore pride in the Australia national team, with poor performances during the qualifying campaign adding more cause for concern that they may become the Group B whipping boys. Much will depend on their opening fixture against Chile, in which Australia are already rated as rank outsiders to win at 5/1; a shock victory could provide great hope that Australia could match their best ever World Cup performance and reach the second round.

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A few pictures from Spain’s World Cup celebration

Crowds gather around the Spain's national soccer team players as they celebrate their World Cup victory on an open-top bus during a parade in downtown Madrid, July 12, 2010. Spain stunned the Netherlands to win their first World Cup on Sunday in sensational fashion with a goal in the last minutes of extra time.  REUTERS/Marcelo Del Pozo (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

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Germany routs Argentina, 4-0

Jul 03, 2010 - Cape Town, South Africa - MIROSLAV KLOSE (GER) and JAVIER MASCHERANO (ARG). Germany beat Argentina 4-0 to win their Quarter Final match during the FIFA World Cup 2010 at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town.

Who said there’s no scoring in soccer?

Germany humiliated Argentina and loudmouth Maradona with a 4-0 thrashing that will be long-remembered in Argentina. There’s plenty of bad blood between the two sides, and Maradona was all to happy to shoot his mouth off in the days leading up to the match.

Germany is always respected as a legitimate contender, but this young side is playing much better than many experts predicted. They’re gelling as a team, and the goals have been text book displays of ball movement.

Argentina on the other hand has has a lethal attack but they were exposed on defense. Jeremy Shapp reported on the ESPN broadcast that the Germans were prepared to take advantage of the failure of Argentine attackers to get back quickly on defense.

The result was ugly for Argentina and beautiful for the Germans, who might be facing Spain in the semi-finals.Germ

Nadal’s 31-match streak ends at the French Open


Sometimes greatness is taken for granted. Fans expect Florida or USC to be playing for a national title year in and year out, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox battling for American League pennant every season. When it doesn’t take place, it throws the sports universe off base.

Well, another sports gimme has ended. Rafael Nadal’s unbeaten streak has ended at the French Open.

The four-time defending champion lost to Sweden’s Robin Soderling 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the round of 16 on Sunday, thus ending his 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros.

Here is the New York Times match account:

In his 31 previous matches at Roland Garros, Nadal had never been pushed to five sets in victory. He had not lost so much as a set in any match here since the 2007 final against Roger Federer, but Soderling changed all that with a varied but consistently aggressive approach: clubbing forehands with or without clear openings, serving big under pressure with the exception of the second-set tiebreaker and pushing forward to net on a semi-regular basis.

But Nadal, the Spaniard from Majorca who is seeded and ranked first, was clearly not the same irresistible force as usual. He failed to generate depth consistently, which allowed Soderling the space to keep applying pressure. He made errors off the ground from positions where he would normally generate winners or high-bouncing shots to the corners. He also looked, at times, less convincing than normal on defense, as Soderling made him stretch and then stretch some more.

But Soderling, an erratic player with a reputation for cracking under pressure, still had to summon the gumption and the shots to do what no other player had done in the five years since Nadal emerged with his topspin forehand, two-handed backhand and matador’s brio. With Nadal down, 1-2, in the fourth-set tiebreaker, Soderling ripped a backhand pass that Nadal could not handle and on the next point, Nadal made an uncharacteristic unforced error with his backhand.

It was 4-1, and it would soon be 6-1 when Nadal’s forehand pass hit the tape. Nadal would save the first match point he had ever faced at Roland Garros with a forehand winner down the line, but on the next point, he moved forward and pushed a forehand volley just wide.

Soderling pumped his fist, quickly shook Nadal’s hand and then the umpire’s hand, as well. Only then did he show just how much this moment meant to him, running back on court, throwing back his closely cropped head and roaring with delight before tossing his racket into the stands.

Earlier this season, Nadal defeated Soderling in straight sets on the clay surface at a tournament in Rome. The Swede has never advanced this far in a Grand Slam tournament before, as the deepest he went was the third round at the 2007 Wimbledon.

Redeem Team wins gold

The U.S. men’s basketball team accomplished its goal of winning a gold medal by defeating a feisty Spanish team, 118-107. I give credit to NBC for airing the game live even though it was on at 2:30 AM on the East Coast. It’s too bad that they didn’t plan to air it again later in the morning, because it was a great game.

With Kobe Bryant and LeBron James in foul trouble throughout the first half, the game was tight but Dwyane Wade came off the bench to score 21 points in the first two quarters to lead the Americans to a 69-61 halftime lead. Spain continued to fight back throughout the second half, eventually cutting the lead to two on a Rudy Fernandez long ball with 8:13 to play. It was gut-check time for the U.S.; they had allowed Spain to get back into the game with a combination of sketchy shot selection and poor defense and once again it looked like the Americans would be plagued by fractured play.

But down the stretch it was Kobe who took control, scoring eight points and dishing out a couple of assists over the next five minutes to build the lead to nine. Spain cut it to four with 2:25 to play, but Wade hit a clutch three to push the lead back to seven. Carlos Jiminez missed a wide-open three (after just knocking one down) that would have cut the lead to three with 1:33 to play, but Bryant hit a tough shot in the lane on the Americans’ next possession to effectively put the game out of reach.

Defense had been Team USA’s calling card throughout the Olympics, but save for a couple of key stops, they just didn’t have it tonight. Luckily, they were able to knock down their three-pointers (13/28, 46%), which is something that has hurt the U.S. in the past. Wade led all scorers with 27 points and had four steals. Bryant chipped in with 20, including those eight crucial points in the fourth quarter. LeBron James played a solid all-around game, posting 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Spain was led by Pau Gasol (22 points), Fernandez (21) and Juan Carlos Navarro (18). They were playing without Raptors’ point guard Jose Calderon, who was sidelined with a groin injury. (Fernandez joins the Portland Trailblazers next season and he looks like a star in the making. He’s just 23, stands 6’6″, and has a great jumper. He also handles the ball well and attacks the rim. He is starter-quality, but may come off the bench behind Jerryd Bayless and Brandon Roy.)

Hats off to Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski for putting together a team capable of winning the gold. For the most part, they set their egos aside and played together, which is necessary these days to have success at the Olympic level. Every player knew and played his role.

Now where does the program go from here? It will be interesting to see if USA Basketball pushes forward with the same philosophy or, with this success, if they get lulled into a false sense of security. I’m betting on the former, but you never know.

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