Spain played one bad game over two matches and went out of the World Cup which will now have a new champion. The earliest there will be a team successfully defending its World Cup title again will now be 2018.
Spain's Sergio Busquets reacts after missing a chance to score a goal during their World Cup Group B match against Chile at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. (Reuters Photo)
It wasn’t meant to be like this for Spain. They had rehearsed their lines well but somewhere at half-time against Holland forgot the script. By the time they remembered it, Chile had put two past a man once revered as St Iker. Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz had sealed the deal for Chile who, alongwith Holland, have now qualified for the pre-quarter finals.
When Xabi Alonso had converted the penalty against Holland, an end like this seemed inconceivable. They could have made it 2-0 but instead it was Robin van Persie who equalised with a head-volley. Spain then slipped in the rain and as Holland ran riot, it seemed the losing team was playing for the clock.
They looked vulnerable at the back, paid the price for playing a high line and had no answer to the brilliance of Arjen Robben.
Against Chile, Spain started just as listlessly they ended their first match. Despite the changes rung in by coach Vicente del Bosque, benching the great Xavi Hernandez among them, Spain couldn’t really take the game to Chile. It didn’t help that the early half-chances were wasted, if anything Spain needed that early goal at the Maracana on Wednesday night. It would soothed nerves and helped a team whose self-belief was in tatters.
Instead a goal happened at the other end. And it exposed chinks in Spain’s inner defence that they haven’t been able to set right since Carles Puyol called it a day. Simply put, Javi Martinez and Sergio Ramos weren’t good enough. Gerard Pique made way for Martinez but Spain ended two games having taken in an incredible seven goals.
In front, Diego Costa seemed overawed by the occasion. Pedro Rodriguez couldn’t stretch the opponents out of their defensive shape and with Spain choosing to channel their attacks more down the right attack, Chile managed to contain them all right. All that left Andres Iniesta and David Silva with too much to do and Chile knew if they could keep those two from breaking away, Spain would be could be contained.
Things changed in the second half but for Spain it was one of those nights when the ball wouldn’t just go in. Like the Chelsea-Barcelona game or any game that Barcelona lose, statistics here didn’t tell the tale. Spain had more possession, more corner-kicks, more shots on goal but ended up losing. As time kept running out, Spain, somewhat uncharacteristically, even tried playing long balls.
Like Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in last year’s Champions League, Chile succeeded because they managed to add muscle to their overall game. Just as the German teams unhinged Real Madrid and Barcelona, Chile pressed hard without any let up in intensity. And though, Real managed to turn things around last season, it was through set-pieces, remember. Chile also seemed more comfortable interspersing long passes into their game. It fetched them the second goal.
Also, in the structured set-up of Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez doesn’t often get the space to showcase his stuff. With Chile, he does and that often makes a telling difference.