By Ken Boehlke
Netherlands vs. Chile (Group B)
2 way line – Netherlands PK (-120) Chile PK (+100)
3 way line – Netherlands (+155) Chile (+180) Draw (+230)
Total – Over 2.5 (-130) Under 2.5 (+110)
Side: The Netherlands have been one of the most impressive sides through their first two group stage games. The thorough dismantling of Spain followed by a goal scoring thriller with Australia has the Oranje through to the next round and set up to play a winner-takes-the-group match with Chile. The game has a lot of meaning though as the loser is likely destined for a date with Brazil to open the knockout stage. The Netherlands are built perfectly for a match against Chile. They have pressed their opponents through the midfield and then attacked off turnovers. Chile has succeeded by playing the ball from the defense through the midfield and then on to the attack. The Dutch will jump all over Chile in the center of the field and should be able to take the ball away often. One concern however is Holland has leaned on winning one on one battles to get the ball from the midfield to the attacking third. Against Australia it worked without any issues, against Chile it may be a different story.
The Chileans saw what the Netherlands did to Spain and mirrored it incredibly well. They pressed the Spanish in the midfield and made getting the ball to Diego Costa difficult. Chile will go back to their original style where they get the ball wide and then let Alexis Sanchez do the damage when the ball is served into the center. Holland has been poor in defense throughout the first two matches because when the high pressure system overreaches, space is created behind the midfielders. It then puts the defense in an exposed position and the Dutch back line are not meant to defend one-on-one in space. Chile should be able to find the same space Spain and Australia took advantage of and Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas, and Arturo Vidal will have plenty of room to work. Chile will have opportunities in the match, it’s just a question of how well they can handle the pressure through the midfield in order to keep the Oranje away from the Chilean goal. Pick: 2 way bet – Chile PK (+100)
Total: Both styles encourage goal scoring, but they both also allow their opponents to have numerous opportunities as well. The Dutch have done well getting forward off turnovers and have two players, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, that believe every shot they take will ripple the net. Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez has broken out and announced himself as a bonafide superstar on the international level. Both teams will challenge each other in the midfield and will look to get forward instantly when the ball is gained. Should be a wide open match in which the goalkeepers can’t relax for even a few minutes. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-130)
Spain vs. Australia (Group B)
2 way line – Spain -1.5 (+115) Australia +1.5 (-135)
3 way line – Spain (-260) Australia (+660) Draw (+400)
Total – Over 3 (-125) Under 3 (+105)
Side: The most disappointing team in the 2014 World Cup will play it’s final match of the tournament against another team that’s already been eliminated. Spain will use a much different lineup as they will essentially empty the bench to get some players a little extra experience. The good news for Spain is that they could field about six teams that would be more talented than the first team of Australia. There’s been no time to change the style of play so they will go right back to the well with the possession-passing style of play. Diego Costa will probably not be in the squad, so they’ll likely try the no striker approach. Spain will want to save face before they head back across the Atlantic so they’ll attack this game as one they surely want to win.
Australia have done well in the tournament despite losing both matches and being eliminated within a week of the World Cup’s opening kick. Tim Cahill has looked spectacular both with his head and with his feet. However, he’ll be out of this final group stage game with a yellow card accumulation suspension. That leaves Australia incredibly thin on the attack. Mathew Leckie has been the other standout for the Socceroos but it’s hard to imagine his success will continue when he becomes the focal point with Cahill out. Tactically there’s not much Australia will be able to do in order to challenge the possession of Spain. The good news is, they don’t have anything to lose so they won’t be afraid to get out on the break and try to score some goals. All in all, they’ve deserved more from their first two matches, and have a nice chance playing an already eliminated Spain. Unfortunately they are without their one high level player, so getting any result out of this one would be a shock. Pick: 2 way bet – Spain -1.5 (+115)
Total: This could be one of the most open games of the entire group stage. Spain will want to score and score often in an attempt to wash away the sorrows of their early exit, while the Socceroos have shown an affinity to attack and it shouldn’t stop in a game that has no meaning. Spain will control the ball on the Australian side for a majority of the game so their chances will be plentiful. Australia will attempt to counter any time they steal the ball and will not be concerned about throwing numbers forward. The game should be back and forth with little time spent in the center third. The total is high, and the price isn’t forgiving, but the over is the way to go. Pick: Over 3 goals (-125)
Brazil vs. Cameroon (Group A)
2 way line – Brazil -2.5 (-105) Cameroon +2.5 (-115)
3 way line – Brazil (-1100) Cameroon (+2000) Draw (+950)
Total – Over 3.5 (+100) Under 3.5 (-120)
Side: The Seleção have put together back to back pedestrian efforts. They had multiple chances against Mexico, but Guillermo Ochoa could not be beaten on that day. The match ended in a 0-0 draw and it leaves Brazil in a position few could have expected, needing a result in the final group stage match. However, all they need is a draw to move on, and getting it against Cameroon should not be any problem, but there’s as always in soccer games, anything can happen so the Brazilians have to approach the match like they would a knockout game. Mexico presented a nice blueprint for Cameroon to attempt to replicate in order to keep the Brazilian attack at bay. The basic strategy will be to keep the wing-backs tight and use outside midfielders to drop back and cover the wide areas. Oscar and Neymar were rendered ineffective because of the plethora of players they had to take on every time each received the ball. In this match, Brazil will probably push even more men forward as they won’t be particularly concerned with the Cameroon counter attack. Plus, once they get that first goal, things will open up, something they took advantage of against Croatia, but never got to see against Mexico.
The Indomitable Lions were embarrassed by Croatia in a must win spot for Cameroon. They allowed a goal in the 11th minute and then had star player Alexandre Song sent off after an idiotic elbow to the back of a Croatian player. From there, it all went down hill and Croatia just kept piling on. Cameroon will look to play the spoilers in the final game of their World Cup. There’s just nothing to believe they will be able to either hold possession nor be able to slow down the waves of Brazilian attacks they’ll face. Against Mexico they barely even attempted to get forward, then in the match with Croatia they couldn’t because they only had 10 men. This time they have no choice but to try and get the ball out of their own zone. Cameroon will look to counter any time Brazil find themselves with too many people forward. They could possibly steal one, but winning the match or even earning a draw seems like a longshot. Pick: 2 way bet – Brazil -2.5 goals (-105)
Total: Brazil want to get back to the beautiful style they are used to showing off to their fans. They’ll control the pace of the match and throw numbers at Cameroon at every turn. Cameroon has to try and play a much more proactive game if they want to return to their country without facing complete ridicule so they will give everything they have to score a goal against the hosts. It’s the first 3.5 goal total of the tournament, but it still appears to be too low for a Brazilian who must show they can score goals before the knockout stage. Brazil could easily get four goals themselves and Cameroon could add one as well. Pick: Over 3.5 goals (+100)
Croatia vs. Mexico (Group A)
2 way line – Croatia PK (-130) Mexico PK (+110)
3 way line – Croatia (+140) Mexico (+200) Draw (+230)
Total – Over 2.5 (+110) Under 2.5 (-130)
Side: Croatia has been about as impressive as can be for a team that only has three points in two matches. They completely dominated Cameroon and they deserved much better than a 3-1 defeat in the tournament opener with Brazil. Mario Mandžukić’s return has the Blazers looking like a threatening side in attack. The combination between the central midfield of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić with Mandžukić was spectacular in the game against Cameroon. The midfield really did well in the match against Brazil as well, but the lack of elite striker up front left them hindered when they would play the ball through the defense. Mexico has been excellent defensively thus far, but was opened up on a few occasions against Brazil. Look to see Croatia attempt to attack them directly through the center of the defense. Croatia will look to buck the nasty trend of European sides struggling against non-European competition, and the final difference may be Mandžukić’s height in what should be a hotly contested elimination style match.
Miguel Herrera deserves loads of praise for the turnaround he’s engineered with this Mexican side. El Tri entered the tournament coming off a horrifying qualifying campaign and a disastrous Confederations Cup on this same Brazilian soil last Summer. Mexico approached the Brazil game much differently than they did their opener with Cameroon. Against Brazil they appeared to be playing for the scoreless draw while their first match they were the aggressor. They’ll likely fall right in between these two in the finale with Croatia. If the defensive shell worked against Brazil and all they need is a draw, who’s to say it can’t work against Croatia. But at the same time they’ll open themselves up to the crafty midfield of Croatia and the shark like finishing prowess of Mario Mandžukić. Mexico have looked okay getting forward but they still appear to be confused when the ball enters the penalty area. It’s better when Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez comes on, but they continue to rely on Miguel Layún taking long range shots. Croatia have been organized at the back and goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa appears to be back on track. There’s no beating Mexico if Guillermo Ochoa recreates his masterpiece against Brazil, but banking on that is like expecting to be struck by lightning twice. Pick: 3 way bet – Croatia (+140)
Total: Croatia should be able to get into the final third of Mexico with relative ease, but the Mexican back four has been so good that breaking them down will be a much different story. Add in the wrinkle that all El Tri need to advance is a draw and this one could be a defensive struggle. Even an early Croatian goal should not disrupt the total staying low in this match. If Croatia score, Mexico will have to do all they can to answer, but the moment they do, the shell will return and the match will close back off. The Blazers were great going forward against Cameroon, albeit against a side that played 60+ minutes with 10 men. Mexico are having trouble scoring, and know that another scoreless draw sends them through. That’s a recipe for an under. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (-130)