For Chile, it may be the beginning of something special. For Spain, it's a gloomy end to a glorious era.
Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz scored first-half goals as Chile eliminated defending champions Spain from the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 victory Wednesday evening in front of a partisan crowd at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
With the win, Chile moved level atop Group B with the Netherlands on six points each. Both the Dutch and the Chileans are now assured of advancing to the knockout stages and will play for first place in the group on Monday in Sao Paulo.
Chile, whose best World Cup finish was third place on home soil in 1962, now have a chance to advance as group winners, which would be a considerable feat after they were drawn with both finalists of the 2010 tournament. Doing so would likely mean Jorge Sampaoli's side avoid Brazil in the round of 16, though the Selecao could still finish second in Group A as well.
Spain, meanwhile, have been mathematically eliminated from contention, marking the earliest exit for a defending World Cup champion, per ESPN Stats & Info. Vicente del Bosque's team will finish their disappointing campaign against Australia, who have also been eliminated, on Monday in Curitiba.
Spain is the 1st defending World Cup champion eliminated with 1 game left in group stage #ESPvsCHI— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 18, 2014
3 of the last 4 World Cup champions have gone out in the group stage the following tournament.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) June 18, 2014
Unlike Australia, though, Spain will have deep regrets about their two performances so far in Brazil. After losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in their opener, Spain were decidedly second best against Chile, while goalkeeper Iker Casillas was guilty of making an error for a second straight match.
B/R's own Guillem Balague was critical of Spain's play all over the pitch:
We don't defend as an unit, we are imprecise in the pass, lacking confidence, we rush the last pass (no time for full backs to arrive). Bad— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) June 18, 2014
As Spain try to move forward, it seems likely the squad will receive an overhaul as the ageing Xavi and Casillas make way from the team that won European titles in 2008 and 2012.
On the brink of elimination, Spain sweated out a nervy start as Jordi Alba deflected inches wide of his own goal in the first minute. From the ensuing corner, Chile's Gonzalo Jara headed wide from an unmarked position in the middle of the box.
After settling in, Spain had a big chance of their own in the 15th minute as Xabi Alonso pounced on a loose ball in Chile's box and tested Claudio Bravo from close range. But the Chilean goalkeeper made himself big to keep out Alonso, and the match remained scoreless.
The save paid off five minutes later as Chile went ahead with a flowing team move. The chance started when Alonso lost possession in midfield, and then Alexis Sanchez unlocked Spain's defence with a fine through ball to Charles Aranguiz on the right. Aranguiz rolled the ball across to Vargas, who held up the ball to beat the onrushing Casillas and then poked in before Sergio Ramos could intervene.
In the view of Deutsche Welle's Jonathan Harding, it was the top team goal of the tournament so far:
That's got to be the best team goal of the tournament. Intricate, composed and lightening quick from Chile.— Jonathan Harding (@JonBloggs66) June 18, 2014
Chile 1-0 on Eduardo Vargas goal https://t.co/le0MjpaIPW— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
Chile were well worth their lead, but Spain created the next clear chance in the 27th minute, Diego Costa bouncing a half volley inches wide following good play by David Silva in the build-up.
Just before half-time, though, Chile heaped further misery on the champions with a second goal.
Casillas, who took the blame for Spain's opening loss to the Netherlands following a costly error, was at fault for the second time in as many matches, punching a Sanchez free-kick away when it seemed possible to hold the shot. The rebound fell invitingly for Aranguiz, who blasted in high at the near post to make it 2-0 heading into half-time.
2-0 Chile !!! https://t.co/i9FPS4I0JC— gifdsports (@gifdsports) June 18, 2014
Spain seemed doomed, but the defending champions came out for the second half with renewed fight. Costa had another big chance in the 49th minute after Andres Iniesta sliced open Chile's defence with an angled pass, but the big striker's shot was deflected wide.
Two more chances followed four minutes later, beginning with Ramos' curled free-kick, which flew straight at Bravo. Then, after Chile failed to clear their box, Costa directed an overhead kick toward the back post, where Sergio Busquets missed a simple tap-in.
Chile weren't finished attacking, though. First, Eduardo Vargas tested Casillas with a low shot from distance, before Mauricio Isla fired wildly off target at the back post from Eugenio Mena's cross.
Spain threatened again in the 80th minute, with Bravo turning Santi Cazorla's low shot around the post. Bravo saved again from Iniesta four minutes later, tipping away the Spanish midfielder's curling effort from distance.
The end was in sight for Spain, and by the time the final whistle sounded, it was already time to begin the inquest. After such a long run of success, Spain now have some soul-searching to do.
|Koke (for Alonso, 46')||N/A||6|
|Fernando Torres (for Costa, 64')||N/A||6|
|Santi Cazorla (for Pedro, 76')||N/A||6|
Ratings by B/R UK
|Felipe Gutierrez (for Aranguiz, 64')||N/A||6|
|Jorge Valdivia (for Vargas, 85')||N/A||5|
|Carlos Carmona (for Vidal, 88')||N/A||5|
Ratings by B/R UK
Del Bosque: "We must take a decision over what is best for Spanish football - and that includes my situation." #ESP— Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop) June 18, 2014
Casillas: "We ask people's forgiveness. We are responsible but also the first ones to feel the pain and the frustration." #ESP— James Masters (@Masters_JamesD) June 18, 2014