Spain take on the Netherlands this evening at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. The opening match of Group B is one of the most eagerly-anticipated fixtures of the group stages, and a re-run of the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, which Spain won thanks to Andres Iniesta’s dramatic injury-time winner.
Almost four years have passed since the most famous night in the Spanish national team’s history, but Vicente del Bosque’s starting line-up remains much the same. Talismanic captain Carles Puyol recently retired, while Jordi Alba has replaced Joan Capdevila at left-back. But all eyes will also be on Spain’s new boy Diego Costa, who controversially rejected the chance to represent the country of his birth - Brazil - in order to play for La Furia Roja.
Costa has already had shouts of “traitor” hurled in his direction during training from one or two Brazilians this week - and it’s safe to say the Atletico Madrid forward, who scored 36 goals in 52 appearances for the La Liga champions during the 2013/14 campaign, should expect to receive a hostile reception from some of the locals in Salvador.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal will hope this works in his side’s favour. The vastly-experienced Dutchman, who will take charge of Manchester United after this summer’s showpiece international tournament reaches its conclusion, says his team only have a 20 per cent chance of reaching the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals because of the lack of quality and experience in the squad.
Van Gaal does, however, have several world-class operators at his disposal. Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder all started at the Soccer City stadium on July 11 2010 and will be itching to set the record straight tonight..
Spain: Casillas; Azplicueta, Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi; Silva, Iniesta; Diego Costa.
Netherlands: Cillessen; Janmaat, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind; De Guzman, Sneijder, De Jong; Robben, Van Persie.
Spain head into the match as the marginal favourites and Del Bosque has sprung no surprises with his starting line-up, which features the Chelsea-bound Costa in attack. The World and European champions’ trusted midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez will be expected to dictate the tempo of the match and dominate possession of the ball. New Chelsea signing Cesc Fabregas, however, only makes the bench.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, has left promising central midfielder Jordy Clasie out of his starting eleven, deploying an unfamiliar 5-3-2 system instead of his trusted 4-3-3 formation. Jonathan de Guzman and Nigel de Jong - who many believe should have been sent off for a dangerous challenge on Alonso at the 2010 World Cup final - make up the Oranje’s central midfield duo with Sneijder in a more advanced position.