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As Australia get closer to the World Cup we look at their group opposition and identify some key players to look out for.

Australia has been drawn in Group B for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, up against Spain, Netherlands and Chile. The Socceroos will play their first game of the Cup in “a group of death” against Chile on June 13. The team will then face Holland on June 18 and Spain on June 23. Coach Ange Postecoglou told Fox Sports he was positive about the pool and that “it’s what the World Cup is all about”.

“It’s great. It’s a World Cup and we’re playing against the best nations in the world and our group’s going to be really exciting. It’s a massive challenge and we’re looking forward to it… It’s a chance for us to make some headlines.”

Group B Fixtures:

  • June 14 Salvador, 0500: Spain v Holland
  • June 14 Cuiaba, 0800: Chile v Australia
  • June 19 Rio de Janeiro, 0800: Spain v Chile
  • June 19 Porto Alegre, 0200: Australia v Holland
  • June 24 Curitiba, 0200: Australia v Spain
  • June 24 Sao Paulo, 0200: Holland v Chile

 

SPAIN

Diego Costa

How do they play?

Style & formation: Spain’s possession game, coupled with their determination to quickly win the ball when they don’t have it, has been wearing down the opposition for over seven years.

Spain typically play 4-3-3, with full-backs Jordi Alba and Alvaro Arbeloa attacking like wingers and centre backs Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique often joining in play beyond the halfway line. Strikers only tend to enter the box at the last minute for the element of surprise.

Strengths: Spain have a seemingly inexhaustible supply of talented midfielders: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, Juan Mata, David Silva, Javi Martinez, Santi Cazorla, not to mention European Under-21 winners Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Thiago Alcantara.

A revitalised Pedro has added extra penetration and goals.

Weaknesses:Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas has barely played for Real Madrid in 2013, while there is a lack of quality cover at centre back.

Then there’s the issue of who plays as a striker – none of the candidates have excelled in their auditions so far.

Key player

Playing at centre back in a team bristling with stars can result in getting overlooked but Spain would truly miss enterprising yet robust defender Sergio Ramos.

Capped 115 times at the age of 27, he has started 18 of their last 19 tournament matches and was ever-present during qualifying. However,he has reportedly fallen out  with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and coach Carlo Ancelotti.

One to watch

Striker Diego Costa has chosen adopted nation Spain over Brazil, the country of his birth, and can expect a hostile reception next summer if selected.

The 25-year-old played twice for Brazil in March but could switch allegiance as neither were competitive fixtures.

How they qualified

The holders emerged unbeaten over their eight matches, with back-to-back home draws against Finland and France a mere blip. They did not trail at any stage of qualification.

World Cup record

Spain finally shuck off their bridesmaid’s tag in winning the last World Cup; their previous best had been fourth in Brazil in 1950.

Fifa ranking: 1
 

NETHERLANDS

Arjen-Robben-Netherlands

Prospects

As ever with the Dutch at a major tournament, it is difficult to predict how they will fare. The 2010 World Cup finalists have finished unbeaten this year, scoring goals for fun, but that achievement is less impressive when you look at who they have faced. Is a front four of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van Der Vaart at its peak or a fading force?

Key player

Arjen Robben gave a series of coruscating displays for Bayern Munich last season, including scoring the winner in the Champions League final. Let’s not forget Robin van Persie, who scored 11 goals in nine qualifiers to overtake Patrick Kluivert as the Netherlands’ all-time record scorer.

The boss

Van Gaal has won league titles with Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ Alkmaar. Appointed as Netherlands boss in 2012, he has Danny Blind and Kluivert, who won the Champions League at Ajax under him, on his coaching staff.

How they qualified

They won nine of their 10 matches and scored 34 goals, with only a 2-2 draw against Estonia denying them a perfect record. That said, few countries had easier opposition – none of their opponents were ranked in Fifa’s top 30.

World Cup record

The Dutch suffered World Cup final heartbreak for a third time in 2010 when they lost to Spain, adding to the defeats their great teams suffered in 1974 and 1978. Brazil will be their 10th World Cup finals.

Fifa ranking: 9
 

CHILE

alexis-sanchez-chile

Prospects

New coach Jorge Sampaoli has brought a swagger back to Chile’s football, combining aggressive pressing with a fluent passing game. Fun to watch, tough to play against, La Roja have the potential to reach the quarter-finals for only the second time in their history – if their best 11 stay fit.

Key player

Lightning quick Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, 24, has hit a rich vein of goalscoring form for club and country of late. Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, 26, is equally indispensable.

The boss

Jorge Sampaoli replaced Claudio Borghi midway through qualifying, quickly reviving Chilean fortunes. A self-confessed disciple of fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa (who led Chile in 2010) he is a passionate, energetic touchline presence. Early in his career he was blocked from watching his lower league team play, so climbed a nearby tree, from where he bawled instructions at his players.

How they qualified

They finished third in South American qualifying despite a mid-campaign wobble which saw them lose four games in a row. A change in coach halted the slump, and they recovered to win five of their last six games.

World Cup record

This is only the third time they have qualified in eight tournaments, but they did reach the last 16 in 1998 and 2010 – losing to Brazil on both occasions. They got to the semi-finals on home soil in 1962, again losing to the Brazilians.

Fifa ranking: 15
 

AUSTRALIA

mile-jedenak

Prospects

Australia are the lowest ranked country to qualify, and the remit for new coach Ange Postecoglou is to bring through the youth. His predecessor Holger Osieck was sacked in October after back-to-back 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France, having been accused of staying too loyal to the Socceroos’ ageing players.

Key player

Australia’s Player of the Year, Mile Jedinak, will surely have to play a vital role as chief midfield protector if the Socceroos are to enjoy a fruitful World Cup. In the prime of his career, the Crystal Palace captain can also play in defence.

The boss

Ange Postecoglou stated “when your country calls, you answer” after signing a five-year deal. As a player, Greek-born Postecoglou won four Australia caps. He is a former national youth team coach and led Brisbane Roar to two A-League titles. He’s forged a reputation for starting and reviving numerous careers.

How they qualified

Now firmly established as an Asian Football Federation member, the Socceroos qualified automatically behind Japan but their passage to Brazil was not easy. Winless in their first three matches, they went unbeaten over the last five and secured their place seven minutes from time in the final game against Iraq.

World Cup record

They have reached their third successive finals, and their fourth in total. Guus Hiddink’s side reached the last 16 in 2006 but lost in stoppage-time to eventual winners Italy.

Fifa ranking: 59
 
This article was written by Gary Linekar and sourced from BBC Football