A World Cup blockbuster encounter when Spain take on the Netherlands at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, on Saturday from 5am (AEST).
First game of Group B pits 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and Holland. That is where the comparisons end though as Spain are entering as one of the tournament favorites while Holland have been tipped by many experts to fail to progress beyond the group stage.
Spain’s transition over the last four years has been handled rather smoothly by the ever composed Vincente Del Bosque, who has gradually integrated new players such as Cesar Azpilicueta, Jordi Alba and now Diego Costa while retaining the fulcrum of the successful era.
In contrast Louis van Gaal, who replaced Bert Van Marwijk after 2012, brought with him a broom to usher in a new Dutch era that, when analyzed, lacks the individual qualities of the past and is short on experience especially in the defensive half.
How they will lineup and why
Spain with their importance on ball retention could likely start with Andres Iniesta and Silva on either wing as part of their 1-4-2-3-1.
This sees both players very comfortable at drifting inside and especially on the left side where Iniesta and Alba combine to create space for the very attacking minded Alba to exploit.
Number nine is a position the Spanish for all their success have struggled to consolidate, but this might be a thing of the past now they have a real point of difference due to the naturalisation of Brazilian Costa who, although he might not start against the Dutch, is a player brimming with confidence and willing to make penetrating runs and brings a burning desire to continue his 2013/14 form.
Van Gaal on the other hand has everyone guessing including the Spanish as to how this new look Dutch side will line up tactically.
He has been experimenting with so many different shapes during the previous six months – from his favourite 1-4-3-3 to a 1-3-4-3 and even a 1-5-3-2.
All these have mostly been aimed at how to best utilize his front three triangle of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben & Robin Van Perise, as well as how to adequately cover the loss of Kevin Strootman who often provided a deep creative spark and, without whose impetus, the midfield looks starved of creativity and forward ideas.
Whichever way they line up we can expect a more aesthetically pleasing Dutch side than the one that almost kicked the Spanish off the field during the 2010 World Cup final. For van Gaal his teams must play football in a manner that combines results with attacking and enterprising play.
Strength v weakness
One interesting aspect to focus on tactically will be the effect the player who begins as Spain’s No 9 has on the match. Van Gaal has persevered with Ron Vlaar but also wants his defensive line to avoid sitting deep. Therefore, if Fernando Torres starts, as expected, and is unable to expose this lack of pace the introduction of Costa could be exactly what the Spanish require to take advantage of this possible weakness in the Dutch defence.
Over in Holland there have been many saying the Dutch might be better suited to playing a game based on counter-attack, calls that you would never have expected to hear come out of the land of ‘Total Football’. In reality, however, this actually might be the best solution to achieve a positive result against Spain.
The defending world champions like to push both full-backs forward when attacking and for the Dutch the troika of Robben, van Persie and Sneijder is as potent as any at the World Cup.
One thing is certain - van Gaal will hatch a tactical plan as detailed as possible to reverse the loss from 2010!
Spain possess the highest quality squad at this year’s World Cup and I see them going all the way to the final at a minimum. Holland on the other hand will struggle to get out of the group and advancing will come down to their game against Chile.
Spain to win 2-0.