By Ken Boehlke
Netherlands vs. Australia (Group B)
2 way line – Netherlands -1.5 (-135) Australia +1.5 (+115)
3 way line – Netherlands (-400) Australia (+1125) Draw (+485)
Total – Over 3 (-105) Under 3 (-115)
Pick: The Netherlands provided the most stunning upset of the first set of matches with their 5-1 drubbing of defending champions Spain. The Robin van Persie “Flying Dutchman” goal will likely go down as this World Cup’s best goal. However, it’s just three points, and they must focus their attention to the Socceroos. The Oranje were awesome for the entire 2nd half but there were some concerns in the opening 45. Far too often there were spaces in between the midfield and the defense, and it allowed Spain multiple first half chances. Lucky for the Dutch they are afforded somewhat of a tuneup game in the form of Australia. Expect them to go back to their offensive approach, but without a doubt the focus of Louis van Gaal will be on shoring up the defense before the knockout rounds.
Australia impressed in their opening match with Chile. Sure they lost it 3-1 after the Chileans put a late clincher by goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, but they looked dangerous going forward regularly. Tim Cahill proved he’s up to the task and has to be double marked any time the ball is hit towards his head. Obviously it’s a majorly uphill climb for the Socceroos having already taken a loss and now face Holland and Spain. They understand advancing out of the group is now about a million to one, but they still have a chance to wreak havoc on goal differential. It’ll be interesting to see how often the Australians attack in their second match. They clearly won’t be able to hold up defensively over 90 minutes, but at the same time, they know going forward will leave them even more exposed. It’ll probably just be a try-not-to-get-embarrassed type of effort. Pick: 3 way bet – Netherlands (-400)
Total: The Netherlands covered the total themselves in the first match, and Australia put one in and had multiple other chances. However, the Socceroos could approach this match with a much more defensive mindset than they deployed against Chile, and Holland will certainly want to prove they can be even better defensively. That being said, it’s still hard to project a game with fewer than three goals. The floodgates are open for the Dutch and Australia’s habit of conceding often isn’t about to disappear. The only fear is the fact that goal differential is no longer a concern for Holland, so two may suit them just fine in exchange for focusing more on their defensive shape. Pick: Under 3 goals (-115)
Spain vs. Chile (Group B)
2 way line – Spain-0.5 (-140) Chile +0.5 (+120)
3 way line – Spain (-140) Chile (+360) Draw (+300)
Total – Over 2.5 (-145) Under 2.5 (+125)
Pick: The defending champions are laying face down on the mat after taking a haymaker from the hands of the Dutch. The Spanish were solid in the first half and even led the match for a short period, but once the miraculous van Persie goal went in, Iker Casillas and the rest of the Spanish team crumbled like Saltine crackers after being hit with a hammer. The good news for Spain is they are down, but certainly not out. After losing their opener in the 2010 World Cup, they stormed back and won six straight including a 2-1 group stage victory over Chile. In their second match, look for them to hold much more possession and play forward as a unit rather than directly through Diego Costa. Wouldn’t be surprising if Spain employ the same formation as Germany dominated Portugal with by using a “false number 9,” or a striker who’s job is to distribute rather than score. The Spanish looked terrible for 45 minutes, they won’t look that bad again.
Poor, poor Chile as they draw the unfortunate task of attempting to take on a team known as the Red Fury when they are extra furious. The Chileans looked menacing for the first 20 minutes of their opener with Australia but came crashing back to earth and were in danger of blowing a two-goal lead on multiple occasions. Their style dictates playing the ball from the outside in utilizing their wingers to create chances in the box. In the match against the Aussies they simply went away from it and relied heavily on Alexis Sánchez. Sanchez was brilliant in the match and must match or even improve on his performance if the Chileans want to steal a point or three from Spain. They’ll try to go back to what got them here, but that’s an awfully tough task against the Spanish. The plan will have to mold more into a counter attacking style that looks to take advantage of the moments in which Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, or César Azpilicueta find themselves too far forward. Chile are good enough to get a point off Spain, but the order is a tall one after the Spanish embarrassment Friday. Pick: Spain (-140)
Total: Goal differential is often a reason to trust the over in group stage matches. However, since Spain have already fallen down four in the category, they understand points will be their only saving grace. They’ll obviously look to take a lead as early as possible, but Chile’s attack is strong enough that Spain will have to respect it and not commit to many numbers forward. When Chile get the ball, they’ll need to get moving positively with it quickly, otherwise they’ll spend a lot of time inside their own third. Sanchez will be the key to whether or not the score gets to the total. If he scores, it’s almost unfathomable the number stays under. If he doesn’t, which Spain will try their damnedest to assure, it’ll be tough for Chile. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (+125)
Croatia vs. Cameroon (Group A)
2 way line – Croatia -0.5 (-145) Cameroon +0.5 (+130)
3 way line – Croatia (-145) Cameroon (+450) Draw (+260)
Total – Over 2.5 (-105) Under 2.5 (-115)
Pick: Croatia will head to the Amazon off a performance they can certainly be proud of. Getting three points off the hosts in the opening match is nearly impossible, but they showed well, and who knows what might have been had Fred not put in his nomination for an Academy Award. Luka Modrić was superb in the match against Brazil and he’ll have an extra option to pick out moving forward with Mario Mandžukić returning from suspension. It’s hard to believe goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa can be any worse, and he’ll certainly be less active in the match with the Cameroon side still not looking like much a threat to score. Croatia went through an odd few days after the match when the media posted some naked pictures of players around a pool. They’ve since stopped talking to the media, and only time will tell how it’s affected their play on the field. The Blazers should be able to replicate their performance against the hosts against this much weaker Cameroon side.
The Indomitable Lions looked anything but indomitable in their first match with Mexico. They spent almost no time in the attacking third and flirted with disaster on multiple occasions before El Tri finally got it right. Cameroon were expected to play a fast pace, short passing, style that would be difficult to defend. Against Mexico, they showed anything but that. Knocking the ball around without much conviction and rarely were any positive runs made in the attacking third. To make matters worse, Samuel Eto’o has been ruled out of the match against Croatia. Losing the best player on a team can rarely ever be painted as a positive, but maybe for Cameroon it’ll allow the rest of the field players a bit more freedom and open up the attack a little rather than focusing in on Eto’o. After all, they were so bad in that opening match, any change has to be a good one. Pick: Croatia (-145)
Total: Unless Cameroon change their tune majorly from their first effort three goals in the game will remain a tall task. Croatia will return it’s best true striker in Mandžukić so they could be even more promising going forward than in the game against Brazil. Volke Finke wants his team to play quickly and progress down the field as a unit, but they looked disjointed and at times almost confused at what to do with the ball Friday. Aside from Eto’o, expect a few more tactical changes in hopes of breathing some life back into the Lions. As for Croatia, they are down in goal differential and will want to beat up on Cameroon to make it back. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-105)