Honduras and Chile have Spain to thank for bringing them a language to speak. A wonderful foil to Switzerland – the neutrals – who split their time between French and German. With all eyes on holders Italy and the group of death, don’t sleep on the tournament favorites in Spain. Watching them play is a masterpiece. Each pass, each movement is a different artist’s stroke on the canvas. And Chile is everyone’s sleeper, with such an attack minded style, that paint their own works of art. This could very well be an exciting group of matches from top to bottom.
La Furia Roja as they are called back at home. “The Red Fury” After a masterful performance to win the European Championship in 2008, Spain comes to South Africa with high expectations and plenty of confidence. I want to use this space however to discuss where they are susceptible and how such issues may plague them down the road. Casillas is coming off his worst season in a long while. Still a top 5 keeper in the world, maybe even top 3, but he has let in a number of howlers that leaves them a littttle uneasy. Next is the holding midfielder position. Spain won in 2008 largely because of Marcos Senna, most likely their most valuable player of the tournament. With him off the squad, Del Bosue will probably turn to young Sergi Busquets. What he has accomplished this past season for Barcelona is something dreams are made of. Every single game he got better and better. He is mature beyond his years. The other option is Xabi Alonso, who I have always contended is not at his best when defending is the priority. And then Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao (also 21 years old like Busquets) who is enjoying his first call-up to the national squad in his career. The answer must be Busquets and I have plennnnty of faith he’ll be ok.
Now to the forwards – Del Bosque’s biggest problem at the moment. El Nino Torres has had a career full of injuries and Luis Aragones was forced into a 4-5-1 formation without him leaving Villa up front all alone. It worked…but it was ugly. In fact, it didn’t work. I only say it did because Spain kept winning. Without Torres, Del Bosque must keep his 4-4-2 and employ another striker to work off Villa. Fernando Llorente would be perfect to hold up the ball and allow Villa to dart diagonally off of him. OR, Pedro. At 22, this boy will be one of the best strikers Spain has ever seen - mark my word. You don’t necessarily need someone to hold it up. Pass your way through. Don’t forget – Puyol, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, and Villa ALL play for Barcelona and aren’t strangers in the slightest.
The defense has actually improved with Pique, and slagged off with Sergio Ramos more and more forgetting to come back and defend. Spain play a high back line which they need to be wary of.
Honduras enter having qualified 3rd from CONCACAF – congratulations on getting in but no real chance of getting out of this group. They have a couple of well established talents in Carlos Pavon (the team’s leading scorer in qualifying…he’s also 36), David Suazo, and Wilson Palacios who plays for Tottenham and has quite the “Strahan.” Perhaps their greatest strength is chemistry and love, always admirable traits of any successful team. I expect them to finish last in the group.
Having not participated in ANY war EVER, Switzerland have managed to assemble a rather decent soccer program. This will be their 9th appearance in the World Cup and will be managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld. Switzerland topped their group in Europe over Greece and Israel in somewhat of an uninspiring fashion. When healthy, Alexander Frei, Hakan Yakin, and Eren Derdiyok can be an exciting trio of players to watch in attack. They too will struggle. In a word? This team is “Eh”
Lastly, poor surely not least, comes Chile – EVERYBODY’S sleeper team for this tournament (not mine though. I picked Serbia remember?) I confess to not having watched many of their games but I can tell you this. Don’t short change them for finishing second in South America qualifying only a point behind Brazil, while scoring the second most goals of any team. Manager Marcelo Bielsa has put together a group of young, unrecognizable stars to do his dirty work. Yet it is anything but dirty, as he has employed an attacking flair which has taken everyone off guard. Attack, attack, attack is the name of Chile’s game. I am very excited to see it in action.
HOW IT WILL PAN OUT: Spain will coast and Chile will finish up in second.
GAME OF THE GROUP: Any of Spain’s 3 games. They play the game as it should be played.