Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true: Spain are out of the World Cup 2014 running after just two games. Having lost twice, conceded seven goals and scored just the one, the serial champions of the global game have been exposed as being well past their sell-by date after so many years of lording it on the top shelf. One measure of their decline? This was the night when the back to back kings lost back to back matches for the first time in eight years.
Last night’s visit to that cathedral of the beautiful game, the Maracana, was Spain’s first and will also now be their last of this tournament. Despite what many had predicted, they will not be returning here on July 13 to defend their title. More to the point, one is bound to wonder how long it will be before we see their likes again.
No true lover of the game can take pleasure in bearing witness to great players – not least the always inspiring Andres Iniesta – being humbled and even humiliated in this manner but, equally, there can be absolutely no disputing the right of Chile and, earlier in the day, the Netherlands, to progress out of Group B at Spain’s expense.
The speculation beforehand had been that, in an act born more of desperation than revolution — but still a seismic change for all that — Spain might even be prepared to sacrifice the signature tika-taka style that had made them back to back European, World and European kings. “I hope we can win playing our style at a high level but if not we have to win any way we can,” said Fernando Torres .
Once the football started, Spain struggled to restore the natural order of things on the pitch against lively, brighter opponents. Roared on by their passionate supporters, turning the stands of the Maracana into a tumultuous red sea, Chile began firmly on the front foot, causing panic stations in the Spanish defence in the very first minute before Gonzalo Jara headed just wide from a corner. In the opening exchanges, it quickly became apparent that the South Americans, in unfamiliar all white, were shaper, hungrier, crisper in the tackle and first to every loose ball.
And it took only 18 minutes before Spain were breached in a classic counter-attacking move. Alonso it was who lost possession and Chile were quick to capitalise with quick-passing intent, moving the ball swiftly up the right flank and then into the middle, where Eduardo Varga kept his cool to evade Casillas’s dive at his feet and stab the ball home.
Certainly, the Spanish tried hard to respond but, when it looked like Diego Costa might get them back on level terms, Brazil’s least favourite son – and the preferred target too of boos by the Chilean fans – could only shake the side-netting.
And then, two minutes before the break, Chile’s Charles Aranguiz showed him how it should be done. Casillas, after his Dutch nightmare moment, once more succumbed to the horrors, punching Alexis Sanchez’ free kick directly into the path of Aranguiz, who gleefully returned the ball with interest. Two-nil Chile and now Spain were looking for more than redemption; they were in need of a miracle recovery.
But when, right at the start of the second half, Costa was confounded at close range by the excellent Chilean ‘keeper Claudio Bravo before, freakishly, Sergio Busquets missed the proverbial sitter, the writing was on the wall.
Substitute Santi Cazorla tried to turn the tide but Chile were not to be denied. As their supporters mocked their counterparts by chanting the self-explanatory “eliminado, eliminado”, there was to be no stirring late comeback.
Adios amigos and thanks for the memories.
(4-2-1-3): Casillas; Azplicueta, Martinez, Ramos, Alba; Busquets, Alonso (Koke 45), Silva, Pedro (Cazorla 75), Costa (Torres 65)
(3-4-1-2): Bravo; Medel, Silva, Jara; Isla, Aranguiz(Gutierrez 67), Diaz, Mena, Vidal (Carmona 87), Vargas (Valdivia 80), Sanchez
Mark Geiger (USA)