A final look back at the infamous groups of death from tournaments gone by.
Brazil 2014- Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia
How did it go?
Defending champions Spain flew into Brazil on the back of a three-peat (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, Euro 2012) and many were confidently predicting a quadruple with many of the same players returning and Spanish clubs dominating the Champions League.
But the draw was tough, Spain would open with a rerun of the 2010 final against Holland. The Dutch had crashed in the group phase of Euro 2012 but still had superstar trio Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Schneider and were now under the stewardship of tactical genius Louis Van Gaal. Chile meanwhile were emerging force with Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal leading a highly energetic pressing team. Completing the quartet were infancies Australia, star duo Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell were long gone but Tim Cahill was still around leading a largely inexperienced side.
The opener kicked off in Salvador with a Spanish side featuring almost an entire side of World Cup winners and the added spice of Diego Costa up front who’d controversially (who’d have thought it!) switched allegiances from Brazil. Things got off to a predictable start with Spain dominating possesion and forcing an early penalty which Xavi Alonso tucked away. But with half time approaching a perfectly flighted long ball from Daley Blind found Van Persie who acrobatically headed a spectacular equalizer 1-1 at half-time.
The Spanish looked rattled with centre backs Pique & Ramos looking out of step with the retired Puyol to marshal the back line. Van Persie & Robben were growing into the game and 3 Dutch goals in 19 minutes put the game to bed before Robben completed the rout on 80 minutes 5-1! The result sent shockwaves through the tournament- Spain were beatable! Total Football was back! Man United fans excited by impending arrival of Van Gaal! (the irony).
The second game of the day was somewhat more low-key with Australia facing Chile. Predictably Chile got off to a lighning start with Arsenal bound Alexis Sanchez grabbing the opener. Jorge Valdivia added a second after just 14 minutes and the rout looked on. But Australia were a plucky side and Tim Cahill bundled home on 35 minutes to give the Australians hope and Chile something to think about. In the second half Australia were becoming more ambitious whilst Chile squandered a hatful of chances before sub Jean Beausejour got Chile’s third deep into injury time.
The high flying Dutch now faced the Socceroos with plenty predicting the Dutch to knock up a cricket score. After 20 minutes that looked a distinct possibility with Robben scorching through Australia’s defence for a fine opening goal. But within a minute latched onto a long looping cross and lashing home a spectacular volley 1-1.
Like Chile in the previous game the Dutch seemed ruffled by Australia’s response and early in the second half Daryl Janmaat conceded a penalty for handball. Mile Jedinak despatched and Australia were in front. It prompted Holland into action and Van Persie finished off a neat passing move to equalise. Then a dipping long range effort from Memphis Depay gave the Dutch a 3-2 lead with 20 minutes to go. This time the Dutch closed it out and Australia were eliminated.
Even in one of the best World Cup’s in living memory this clash stood out as a classic and sent Holland on a high into the last 16. And so to Rio and Spain’s date with destiny- they’d lost their opener 4 years previous and gone on to win the whole tournament but this felt different, Spain had looked jaded in the second half against Holland whilst Chile looked full of beans (no pun intended).
Spain started slowly and Eduardo Vargas gave them an early lead Spain looked flat and short of ideas with their new look defence almost as shaky as they had against Holland and Charles Aranguiz added a second before half time. Spain huffed and puffed through the second half but Chile rarely looked in trouble and the World Champions were out. Vincent Del Bosque resigned and Spain looked to move on.
Remarkably Spain became the first nation since 1950 to be out after only 2 games and made the final run of games in the group dead rubbers. Spain gave a reminder of glories gone by with Villa & Torres scoring in a 3-0 win over Australia. Meanwhile Holland secured 1st in the group with a 2-0 win over Chile.
What Happened Next
Chile got a tough second round match with host Brazil and Sanchez’s goal on 32 minutes drew Chile level after a poor start. The game was tense and inevitably went to penalties, but Sanchez and Pinilla missed the first 2 spot kicks and Chile went out 3-2.
As for the Dutch, Robben became infamous in Mexico after a blatant dive (not his first) won an injury time penalty to put Mexico out and Holland into the last 8. They then played out a tense draw with Costa Rica with Van Gaal swapping goalkeepers for the shoot out and Tim Krul proving the hero. But Holland’s luck ran out in the semi finals with another shoot out and this time defeat to Argentina, Van Gaal got a swan song with a 3-0 trouncing of Brazil in the 3rd placed playoff.
After the tournament Van Gaal arrived for a dour 2 year spell at Old Trafford whilst the Oranje faded and failed to qualify for first Euro 2016 and then Russia 2018- could Van Gaal be set for a reunion?