Xabi Alonso

2014 World Cup Preview: Group B

Group B - Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain

Ranked 59th in the world
Went 5-1-0 in the Third Round, then 3-1-4 in the Fourth Round to qualify out of the Asian Football Confederation.

After a 22-year absence from the World Cup, Australia reached the Round of 16 in 2006, but was bounced in the Group Stage in 2010. The draw didn't do them any favors, putting the Aussies in with three teams ranked in the top 15 in the world in FIFA's rankings.

New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill is the unquestioned star of this team, but it would be difficult to see Australia do well even if he is at his best. Outside of Dynamo Moscow defender Luke Wilshire, the Socceroos are inexperienced on the defensive side and that doesn't breed confidence going against two finalists from the 2010 World Cup in Spain and the Netherlands, nor the volatile attack of Chile.

Ranked 13th in the world
Went 9-6-1 to finish third in CONMEBOL qualifying.

In 1998 and 2010, Chile reached the Round of 16, but missed out on the tournament in 2002 and 2006. With a crop of players fueled by that 2010 finish and seven players with at least 50 caps, this would be Chile's year to reach the quarterfinals if not for a brutal draw. Two very deserving teams will advance from the group, but Chile won't take any solace in knowing that it was sent home by two finalists from the 2010 tournament, as La Roja has expectations of success this year.

With Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez at forward and a midfield tandem plying their trade in Italy—Arturo Vidal (Juventus) and Matias Fernandez (Fiorentina)—there is plenty of talent to speak of playing at a high level. The second-highest scoring team in a highly-competitive CONMEBOL region during qualifying, Chile will certainly entertain in Brazil.

Ranked 15th in the world
Went 9-0-1 in the UEFA Group Stage.

Three-time bridesmaids, the Dutch went unbeaten in 2013 and are readying for a difficult run in the Group Stage after a runner up finish in the 2010 World Cup.

The window is closing on a tremendous attacking core for the Netherlands. When combined with a youthful defense, it could spell trouble if the offense goes through any sort of dry spell. However, with five scoring threats—Robin Van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at forward, and Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder in the midfield—that seems unlikely. With 173 international goals among them, it is quite an accomplished group. With Manchester United-bound manager Louis van Gaal at the helm, there will be an urgency to win the whole tournament.

Ranked 1st in the world
Went 6-0-2 in the UEFA Group Stage.

Only two teams have won back-to-back World Cups – Italy in 1934 and 1938 and Brazil in 1958 and 1962. Add to that the fact that no European team has ever won the World Cup on anything but European soil, and history is stacked against Spain. However, La Furia Roja has won consecutive European titles and is not concerned with how other countries did coming off of World Cup victories.

Spain is blessed with incredible talent and ridiculous depth. Five players have over 100 caps, including Fernando Torres, Xavi Hernandez, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas. That the rest of the roster still reads like a who's who among great players in Europe's top leagues makes Spain a strong contender to repeat. Whether it's David Villa or Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta or Cesc Fabregas, David Silva or Gerard Pique, manager Vicente Del Bosque has a bevy of talent at his fingertips and the expectations to go with it.