Spain, Netherlands will meet again in World Cup

2010 Cup finalists square off in Group B opener

Apparently it is possible to have too much success.

At least that's the opinion of Vicente del Bosque, who has seen Spanish soccer achieve unprecedented levels of success in recent years.

The national team has won the last two European Championships as well as the 2010 World Cup. On the club level, three Spanish teams — Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid — went down to the final weekend before deciding this season's La Liga winner. And all three teams reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, with Real Madrid and Atletico meeting in last month's final.

That means half the 30 players Del Bosque named to Spain's provisional roster were playing important club games less than a month before the World Cup opener.

The physical toll of that worries Spain's coach.

"There is a bit of concern about the condition of the players, to see what shape they are in," Del Bosque said in an interview posted on the Spanish national team website.

"You can never expect all the players to turn up in perfect shape, and it's the same for all the national teams. All the players who are taking part in the World Cup have had seasons with a lot of tough games."

For Exhibit A the 63-year-old coach need look no further than his own front line, which could be missing Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa when Spain opens World Cup play against the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2010 final.

Costa, who was expected to play a key role for Spain, limped off the field with a hamstring injury during Atletico's final regular-season game in mid-May, then played only nine minutes in the Champions League final, although Monday Costa said he thought he would be ready for the tournament.

Without him in the World Cup, though, Spain is far less threatening.

For the Dutch and Coach Louis Van Gaal, success has brought different challenges. After the Netherlands lost all three group-play games in the 2012 Euros, Van Gaal was named to replace Bert van Marwijk for World Cup qualifying, and he led the Dutch to an undefeated campaign in which they outscored their opponents by 29 goals in 10 games.

That, ironically, helped Van Gaal win a three-year contract to take over at England's Manchester United — a job the coach always wanted but one it proved inconvenient to take less than three weeks before the World Cup.

"After two years I'm totally sick of being national coach," said Van Gaal, who was planning a retirement in Portugal filled with family and golf unless the right Premier League offer came along. Now that it has, he's having to keep his eye on developments with two teams.

Van Gaal, quick-tempered and a stern disciplinarian, says he can handle it.

"It was always a wish for me to work in the Premier League. To work as a manager for Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, makes me very proud," said Van Gaal, who probably will make his debut in front of the Manchester United bench in July when the team meets the Galaxy in a friendly at the Rose Bowl. "This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions. Together I'm sure we will make history."

But first the World Cup.

Brazil will mark the 62-year-old Van Gaal's first appearance on soccer's biggest stage, filling in the one glaring hole on a resume that includes titles in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany as well as a Champions League crown with Ajax in 1995 — and one major setback, which was failing to qualify the Dutch for the World Cup in 2002, the only time they've missed the tournament since 1986.

Van Gaal is already beginning to build synergy between his responsibilities with the national team and his new club team by saying Manchester United striker Robin van Persie would remain the team's captain.

"Always, you make a player captain when you have ... more or less the same philosophy, not only about football tactics but also about life," Van Gaal told the Associated Press. "So I think that's very important. I believe that Van Persie and Van Gaal [have] the same philosophy."




FIFA World ranking: 59.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2006).

How qualified: AFC Group B runner-up.

It's a fact: Australia holds the record for the most one-sided international win in soccer history with a 31-0 victory over American Samoa in World Cup qualifying in 2001.

The skinny: Australia was the first team to arrive in Brazil, setting up camp in Vitoria 16 days before the tournament opener. And the Socceroos figure to be among first to leave too. New Coach Ange Postecoglou was hired in October to lead a regeneration of the national team program, and he got started on that last month when he left 36-year-old defender Lucas Neill off his roster. Only two of Australia's likely starters in Brazil are older than 29 — including Tim Cahill of the New York Red Bulls —- while six are 25 or younger.


FIFA World ranking: 13.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Third place (1962).

How qualified: CONMEBOL round-robin, third place.

It's a fact: Chile's last three national team coaches have come from neighboring Argentina.

The skinny: Chile could be one of the surprise teams of the tournament. It has played one of the toughest schedules of any World Cup team over the last nine months, beating England and Costa Rica, losing by a goal to Germany and Brazil and playing Colombia and Spain to draws. To get out of group play, it will have to eliminate a 2010 finalist, either Spain or the Netherlands. Sound impossible? A popular TV ad backing the team in Chile stars the miners who were trapped underground for 69 days in 2010 and ends with the slogan "For a Chilean, nothing is impossible."


FIFA World ranking: 15.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Three-time runner-up (1974, '78, 2010).

How qualified: UEFA Group D winner.

It's a fact: The Netherlands is the only country to reach three World Cup finals without winning one.

The skinny: The Dutch won't have to wait long for a chance to avenge their loss in the 2010 Cup final: They open against Spain, a 1-0 overtime winner in South Africa. And though the Netherlands will have the likes of Arjen Robben, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie at its disposal, playmaker Rafael van der Vaart is out with a calf injury. The question now is which team shows up in Brazil, the one that went unbeaten in World Cup qualifying or the one that was winless in group play at the 2012 Euros?


FIFA World ranking: 1.

Last World Cup: 2010.

Best World Cup finish: Champion, 2010.

How qualified: UEFA Group I winner.

It's a fact: With wins in the last two Euros and the 2010 World Cup, Spain is the only country to win three consecutive major international championships.

The skinny: Spain is growing old — five potential starters are 30 or older — and complacent. It was blitzed by Brazil in last year's Confederations Cup. But it remains as talented and fundamentally sound as any team in the world. Still, Coach Vicente Del Bosque will face pressure to split parts of his aging Golden Generation, such as 34-year-old Xavi, off his starting 11. Then there is Diego Costa. Does he automatically start if his hamstring heals in time? Given Spain's problems up front, there may be no choice if Spain hopes to become the first repeat winner in 52 years.


June 13: Spain vs. Netherlands at Salvador; Chile vs. Australia at Cuiaba.

June 18: Spain vs. Chile at Rio de Janeiro; Australia vs. Netherlands at Porto Alegre.

June 23: Australia vs. Spain at Curitiba; Netherlands vs. Chile at Sao Paulo.

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