Spanish daily Marca said it best, and certainly said it most succinctly. Its front-page headline simply read, "The End."
After three successive international tournament victories, 2010 World Cup winners Spain became the first side to be knocked out out of this year's competition, following their abject 2-0 defeat to Chile (well, Australia were knocked out at the same time—but let's not let the facts get in the way of a good tale).
Following the surprising and harrowing 5-1 defeat to Netherlands in their opener, and the Oranje's subsequent win over Australia earlier on Wednesday, Spain knew that a defeat against Chile at the famous Maracana would put them on an early flight home from the competition. Yet even this do-or-die scenario did not seem to lift them, with Vicente del Bosque's side putting on another perplexingly lifeless attacking display as their opponents zipped around them on the way to a deserved triumph.
Once Eduardo Vargas had put Chile with ahead a smart finish the writing looked to be on the wall, and the font was all the bigger when Charles Aranguiz punished Iker Casillas for a weak save. At that point Spain needed to score twice just to keep their campaign alive for another few days, but even then they could muster no such response.
Out with a whimper, a stunning dynasty brought to its knees in remarkable fashion.
There have been poor defending champions in recent times—France went out at the group stages in 2002, as did Italy in 2010—but none quite so inept, unexpectedly so, as this. Spain have produced two performances so woeful as to create genuine questions about the desire and team spirit of the squad; that given all the talent within their ranks there had to be more to this than initially meets the eye.
Surely there must have been something wrong in the camp to cause this sort of fall from grace? Del Bosque strenuously denied that was the case—perhaps we will only learn the truth in the fullness of time.
“I would never, ever have thought we’d leave the tournament after the first phase," Del Bosque told reporters, via The Telegraph. "Sometimes you see teams who are not dedicated but that was not the case.
"I want to think about what happened and have time to think things over. The truth is we have been together for 25 days and have trained well. We thought we were fit and okay and had difficulty choosing a starting team."
Spain had difficulty choosing a 23-man squad, let alone a starting XI, such is the wealth of options at their disposal. But surely now the changes will come. That might include style as well as personnel—tiki-taka has brought the country untold riches in recent years, but in Brazil its best practitioners suddenly looked toothless in the final third. They still had the same amount of possession, the same sublime touches on the ball...they just seemingly had lost any idea about how to translate that into decent chances on goal.
Spain's demise means a new winner will be crowned back at the Maracana next month. With Brazil and Argentina, the other presumptive favourites, yet to really set the tournament alight with an eye-catching performance, many countries will suddenly be wondering if they can drive on to make this tournament theirs.
Among those will be Chile and Netherlands. After all, they have already killed the king. Why not now steal the throne for themselves?
Results in brief - Day Seven
Australia 2-3 Netherlands
(Cahill, Jedinak; Robben, Van Persie, Depay)
Spain 0-2 Chile
Cameroon 0-4 Croatia
(Olic, Perisic, Mandzukic (2))
1. Notes from Day Seven
Brazil's biggest embarrassment... Prior to this tournament, most would have presumed being dubbed "just as bad as Spain" would end up being an oddly phrased bit of praise. For Cameroon, however, it is an insult that does not even do justice to the inadequacy of their performance against Croatia. Needing to win to stay alive, they conceded an early goal and then saw Alex Song sent off for a petulant elbow to the back of Mario Mandzukic.
After that it was dispirited chaos—Volker Finke's side scarcely bothering to defend as the 4-0 scoreline was run up, before Benoit Assou-Ekotto seemed to headbutt Benjamin Moukandjo (yes, his team-mate) following a disagreement in the closing moments.
The Cameroon players initially refused to fly out to Brazil for this tournament, as they wanted their proposed bonus payments for playing in the competition to be raised before they made the flight across. Perhaps now we know why they wanted to get that settled in advance...
The difficulty repeating... The inquest into Spain's demise will go on for some weeks, if not months, but in both their games it appeared they were both mentally and physically weaker than their opponents. Winning three international tournaments is a tiring exercise, while most of the players involved have also often been fighting for Champions League and domestic league titles for the past few seasons without a break. At some point all that exertion is going to catch up with you.
No shame in this defeat... Australia are out of the World Cup but, unlike Spain, they can take great credit from their efforts. They fought brilliantly to get back into the match after a nervy start to their first game against Chile, a response that looks all the better considering Spain's subsequent inability to repeat it against the same opponents.
Then against Netherlands on Wednesday they actually went ahead after going a goal down, thanks in part to Tim Cahill's blistering strike. They could not hold on, but they certainly acquitted themselves well. The Socceroos do not deserve to go home without at least a point to their credit—hopefully they get that against Spain in their swan song.
Adjusting expectations... Having come on so strongly against Spain, Netherlands looked less like potential winners as they were made to work for victory over Australia. Four goals conceded in two games is not a promising statistic, even if the eight goals scored puts them out in front in that category. Knockout stages are often more about defence than attack, so Louis van Gaal will know he still has plenty of work to do.
Robin van Persie's second yellow card of the tournament also means he is banned for the final group game against Chile, a potential blow considering the loser of that game will likely be asked to face Brazil in the last-16...
2. Quote of the Day
We were very courageous in the way that we played and you could say that we are the rebels of this tournament.
Today we played with a system and an idea. The players believe in one idea and defend it. We will see if it is the best Chile team ever, that is something we can only say after the tournament is over.
- Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli (per Eurosport)
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
Tim Cahill, take a bow (just a shame it was not enough to even get a point against Netherlands).
5. A good day for...
Jorge Sampaoli. Two games, two wins, two impressive and eye-catching performances. Chile did not come into this World Cup with the same "dark horse" buzz as either Belgium or Colombia, but they have arguably outperformed both on their way to securing their progress to the knockout stages of the competition.
Many of called Sampaoli "Marcelo Bielsa-lite", a nod to the tactical esteem with which his predecessor was and is held. But Sampaoli obviously learned well when he was at Bielsa's side, and has now got his side playing in an organised, efficient and aggressive style that will surely trouble any side.
The coach of the last South American side to surprise at a World Cup, Paraguay's 2010 World Cup coach Gerardo Martino, ended up at Barcelona a few years later. For Sampaoli, bright things might be ahead.
6. A bad day for...
Volker Finke. Disorganised defending, undisciplined players (seriously, Alex Song, what were you doing?) and two defeats in two games. Not good for a manager hoping either to keep his current job, or earn gainful employment on a touchline elsewhere...
7. Tomorrow's schedule
Colombia vs. Ivory Coast (Group C: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. EDT)
With both sides victorious in their openers, this game serves as a great, almost risk-free chance to put one foot in the knockout round. Colombia showed their attacking threat in a comfortable beating of Greece, but Ivory Coast were impressively dogged and resilient to come from behind against Japan. Which side best summons those qualities again may add another three points to their haul.
Uruguay vs. England (Group D: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. EDT)
A contrasting contest follows, with both sides having lost their opening contest and thus knowing they surely must win if they want to get out of their group. Uruguay have Luis Suarez back, but the great Liverpool forward will do little to help the slightly suspect defence they showed against Costa Rica. England will be confident of exploiting that back line—hoping this time a good performance brings tangible rewards.
Japan vs. Greece (Group C: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. EDT)
The Losers Brigade: Part II. Like the game before it, this one features two sides who lost their openers. Again, defeat cannot be an option for either side. Greece were outclassed by Colombia, while their defensive style does not necessarily lend itself to a "must-win" scenario. But Japan, as good as they are on the ball, looked lightweight at times against Ivory Coast. Can either side find a way around their own deficiencies?
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