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The Clean Sheets: Discussing Group B

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird, the 2017 FSWA Soccer Writer of the Year, is RotoWire's Senior Soccer Editor and a fantasy football contributor. He is also a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Football Writer of the Year Award.

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Friday, June 6, 2014 4:18pm
To: Nicholas Pitner
Subject: Cleaning the Sheets - Group B

It's a little tough luck for Spain that they get caught in a group with a Dutch side they met in the final four years ago, although there are a number of stronger sides the Spanish could have been dealt.

The big names are still there for Spain, like Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, but the wild card here is definitely Diego Costa.

Born in Brazil, the Atletico striker changed his international affiliation last year to join La Roja, and he almost didn't make the 23-man roster due to an ongoing hamstring injury. Costa is one of the best scorers in Europe, as evidenced by his 36 goals in 52 appearances this season, and it appears that Atletico will cash in by selling him to Chelsea, much like they did with Radamel Falcao last year to Monaco.

Atletico's success this season (La Liga champions, Champions League finalists) probably didn't help Costa much, as he wasn't able to rest at all before heading right into World Cup training. While Spain still have Pedro, Villa and Fernando Torres to play up front, Costa changes the dynamic of the team if he's fully fit.

The Dutch squad will be led once again by Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, who are all capable of putting up big performances on a big stage. However, the defense is the weak link here, and I've convinced myself that Chile will nab the second spot in the knockout stage from the Dutch.

Chile are well acquainted with the blistering Brazilian weather, they play a heavy-possession brand of soccer, while also attacking aggressively. Alexis Sanchez may be on the smaller side, but there's nothing small about scoring 19 goals and assisting on 10 others in 34 La Liga matches for Barcelona. In fact, he was one of only five players in the entire league to notch double-digit goals and assists (joined by Carlos Vela, Gareth Bale, Ivan Rakitic and some guy named Lionel Messi).

And while we're talking about excellent players, Arturo Vidal has shown that he is one of the most complete midfield players in the world. He is coming off a fantastic Serie A season, in which he had 18 goals and five assists in all competitions for Juventus, helping them capture their third consecutive Scudetto. He is a world class player that will be a huge part of bringing Chile to the knockout stage.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Friday, June 8, 2014 12:37pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: Cleaning the Sheets - Group B

Spain has amazingly won three consecutive major tournaments dating back to the 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euros. However, before La Roja won in South Africa, no European country had ever lifted the World Cup outside of their home continent. In my opinion, this Spanish team has all the ingredients needed to win once again, but with the tournament on South American soil, I think their run of dominance could come to a close.

Nonetheless, Spain is rightfully the favorite to win Group B, especially with a talisman like Costa to put away the opportunities created by La Roja's bevy of midfield maestros.

As for 2010's runners-up, I too believe the Dutch will be sent home early. They failed miserably at the 2012 Euros, finishing group play with zero points, and since then, the squad has aged without adding a real influx of young talent. Prior to an ACL tear, midfielder Kevin Strootman looked poised to bridge the team's age gap, but without him, Holland's window is nearing its close. Further, the Dutch are notoriously prone to ego clashes, complicating manager Louis van Gaal's job. While the future Manchester United boss has done wonderfully since taking over, the presence of Chile in Group B is ultimately was causes me to doubt the Dutch's chances of advancing.

Chile made the Round of 16 in 2010 when they tied Spain with six points in Group H. This time around, the Chileans won't be awe-struck by the reigning champions and in Sanchez and Vidal, they have two bonafide match-winners. That being said, Chile and the Dutch play extremely similar, open styles, potentially making their final game a shootout. If that proves true, it's hard to bet against the lethal left feet of van Persie and Robben, but Chile will have the home continent advantage on their side.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Friday, June 9, 2014 12:30pm
To: Nicholas Pitner
Subject: Cleaning the Sheets - Group B

I agree that Strootman's absence is a big hit for the Dutch. He was playing very well for Roma before suffering the injury. In fact, the injury may keep him in Italy for a little while longer. Based on the way he was playing, a few of the big-money clubs could have been getting ready to poach him.

Speaking of which, it sounds like Alexis Sanchez could also be on the move this summer. Barca are surely hoping for a big tournament from him to drive up the price.

So the biggest question here: Do the Aussies score at all?