Group H Preview: Can Spain Keep Up Its Recent Dominant Play?
Group H is highlighted by a team that many believe are the favorites in South Africa: Spain. The Spanish rolled through qualifying by winning all 10 of their matches, and are looking to avenge their disappointing showing at the 2009 Confederations Cup where they were infamously ousted by the United States in the semis. Chile, meanwhile, is one of the dark-horse picks in this year’s tournament after finishing 2nd in South American qualifying, only 1 point behind Brazil (and significantly ahead of Argentina). Humberto Brazo led South America in qualifying goals, including 2 against Brazil, proving that he could score against top-flight competition.
Switzerland had a tough time making it through qualifying, but have proven they can navigate a World Cup group by making the Round of 16 in 2006. They have a legitimate weapon in Alexandre Frei, and may give Chile fits in the battle to advance from this group alongside the Spanish. Honduras needed a stoppage-time goal from the USA’s Jonathan Bornstein — which resulted in a tie vs. Costa Rica — in order to even qualify for the World Cup. What the Hondurans are referring to as destiny, however, we in the States like to refer to as luck. Carlos Pavon and Wilson Palacios are solid players, but the USA won’t be around to bail them out this time.
You have to like Spain‘s chances going into the World Cup. They were absolutely dominant en route to 10 straight qualifying victories, and scoring goals at will in all of their pre-tournament exhibitions. The attack is led by the likes of Xavi, David Villa, Andres Iniesta, and Fernando Torres (even though the latter two are nursing minor injuries), and the defense boasts superstars like Carlos Puyol and keeper Iker Casillas. Unlike teams like Argentina and Portugal, who are stacked on paper but often fail to put it all together on the field, Spain has incredible team chemistry and act as one cohesive (and at times unstoppable) unit. Their second-round match will probably pit them against Portugal or the Ivory Coast, two worthy opponents that could pull the upset, but we don’t see it happening. Spain is a safe bet to be playing deep into this year’s tournament.
Chile made a name for themselves during South American qualifying, as a team that likes to play at a fast tempo, and a team that likes to score. Quick counter attackers Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez work to get the ball to the experienced Humberto Suazo, who has earned a reputation as one of the game’s top finishers. They’re going to score enough to win almost any game, and their fate may rest heavily on goalie Claudio Bravo, who has played exceptionally behind a weak back line. Chile should be in good position to advance from group play, but a potential matchup with Brazil in the Round of 16 will probably spell their demise. They lost 4-0 and 4-2 against Brazil during qualifying, and history looks like it’s set to repeat itself.
Player to Watch
While Chile’s Humberto Bravo will most likely lead the group in scoring, our player to watch is Spanish midfielder Xavi. Xavi is exactly what a midfielder is supposed to be: He leads by example, he rarely loses the ball by over dribbling, and he calmly orchestrates the offense with pinpoint passing. Goal scorers like Fernando Torres and David Villa are likely to get on the scoresheet more often, but most of Spain’s goals are initially generated by Xavi’s presence in the midfield. If he can consistently put the ball on Torres’ and Villa’s feet, Spain has as good a shot as anybody to take home the Cup.
There are a few bets in this group that we find very intriguing if you want to make some quick cash during the Cup. Take a look:
Chile -125 over 4.5 goals during the World Cup
Humberto Suazo 2/1 to lead Chile in scoring
Spain -162 over 10.5 goals during the World Cup
Switzerland -175 to not qualify from Group Play