Spain and the Netherlands meet again, after memorably facing off in the World Cup final in 2010, the Olympics silver medal play-off in 1920, and the Revolt of the Seventeen Provinces in 1568. Alongside the pair are Chile, and, some way behind them, Australia.
World Cup pedigree
Spain shook off their ‘perennial bridesmaids’ tag after ditching their tasteful but understated ballgowns four years ago. Their Dutch rivals are still yet to win football’s biggest prize – they lost on points in 1974 and 1978, and were disqualified for wearing loaded gloves in 2010.
Of their opponents, Chile have yet to better their performance as hosts in 1962, when they were awarded a bye to the semi-finals, while the sport of football was only introduced to Australia in 1996, by Terry Venables.
Having previously turned out for Brazil, Diego Costa caused controversy last year by declaring for Spain. Should the Spanish lose their first match, Costa is expected to join the Netherlands instead.
Chile’s hopes rest on their goalkeepers Johnny Herrera and Claudio Bravo not merging into a cartoon character. With most of Holland’s attackers visibly balding, entirely grey, or Dirk Kuyt, there is a lot of responsibility on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Veteran Tim Cahill doesn’t have the stamina of old, but he could still make the difference for Australia should they need to punch out some corner flags.
Road to Brazil
The Spanish and the Dutch both had easy qualifying groups, because there are plainly too many countries in Europe. Chile made it through the long and arduous CONMEBOL qualifying process after playing every other team in South America four times, successfully negotiating an obstacle course faster than Bolivia, and answering a riddle that had both Paraguay and Venezuela stumped (the answer was “an old man looking in the mirror”).
Australia qualified on account of being the only country in their continent.
Did you know?
Spain’s nickname, La Furia Rioja, means “the angry wine”.
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