11:00 a.m. CT
Group A: Mexico vs. Cameroon
2:00 p.m. CT
Group B: Spain vs. Holland
5:00 p.m. CT
Group B: Chile vs. Australia
The World Cup continues with the first full day of action, headlined by a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Finals at 2:00.
The wing backs, likely two from Paul Aguilar, Andrés Guardado and Miguel Layún, will spend much of their game charging forward to generate width, while one of the two strikers will drop deeper while the other takes point. Of the three midfielders, meanwhile, only one is deployed as a defensive screen; the other two will look to support the attack where possible. What this means, basically, is that Mexico can have up to seven players committed to any attack. Expect goals ...
… at both ends. Hilariously exposed at the back will be the veteran captain Rafael Márquez — appearing at his fourth World Cup — alongside Héctor Moreno and the promising young defender Diego Reyes, if Herrera’s being sensible, and ‘Maza’ Rodriguez if not. Expect Márquez to take charge of distributing the ball while the other two get on with the tackling and running and all the rest of the mucky business.
Indeed, it seems fair to characterize current Cameroonian soccer as something of a mess, both on and off the pitch. Recently elected FA president Iya Mohammed is currently in prison for misappropriating state funds, while veteran star Samuel Eto'o complained in January that he was victim of "a plot not to pass to me." Coach Volker Finke, for his part, has been criticized for ignoring Cameroon-based players: he recently held a three-day training camp for domestic players, then promptly chose not a single one in his next squad. Only two will be traveling to Brazil.
There’s no doubt the talent and experience is there for Spain to walk away from Brazil 2014 with their fourth consecutive major international championship, but it’s difficult to know whether the collective mind and body are willing. Vicente del Bosque’s key stars are all four years older than last time out, most of them having just completed long and grueling club seasons, and thanks to their success the last time out they no longer have a first winner’s medal to motivate them. Will the prospect of a repeat be enough to get Spain going? We won’t really be able to tell until the matches begin.
‘Total football’ is mostly out in the Netherlands camp. The Dutch are the authors of the most fluid system of soccer the world has ever seen, and they’re never going to entirely escape from the playing style that’s seared into their bones, but this current squad isn’t built for it. They’ll get part of the way there — the front line will interchange to devastating effect — but their defense isn’t as strong enough to be as adventurous as the team would like, and that sad fact will probably prevent the Netherlands from being as entertaining as in generations past.
The most noteworthy feature of Chile’s setup is their ability to adapt to any given situation. They’re one of the few teams in the tournament capable of switching from a three-man defense to a back four without any real drop in performance, and on top of that they’re more than happy to tinker within their two main shapes (3-5-2 and 4-3-3) to exploit weaknesses in their opposition or shore up against potential strengths. As a result, barring the twin facts that they’ll always try to hound their opponents into coughing up the ball as high up the pitch as possible and that they’ll attack with pace from wide through Alexis Sánchez and Eduardo Vargas, it’s difficult to know what to expect from La Roja.
The Socceroos have the misfortune of being the weakest team in one of the toughest groups at this year’s World Cup. Australia weren’t particularly impressive in qualifying, and made a coaching change last October after two particularly poor performances in friendlies. Holger Osieck was sent packing, and former Australian international Ange Postecoglou — the most successful coach in Australian club soccer history — was brought in with the expressed instruction to start a youth movement, overhauling the squad with an eye to the future.
And in case you missed it yesterday, Armchair Analyst broke the whole thing down in college football terms: