How the World Cup Has Gone Wrong for Spain and Right for Chile

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How the World Cup Has Gone Wrong for Spain and Right for Chile
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Spain, the reigning world and European champions, are out of the 2014 World Cup.

Their exit has come not after a brave defeat in the latter stages of the tournament, a cruel elimination on penalties or as a result of inept or potentially corrupt refereeing, but at their own hands, through their own faults, just two matches into the defence of their title.

Both Netherlands and Chile found the tactical and mental cracks in Spain's armour, and both made La Furia Roja pay heavily. The South American side in particular has exposed the areas of the game where Spain have fallen from their heights of four years ago.

 

Off the Ball

Remembering Spain at their best, one of the most memorable traits of the time was the phenomenal, relentless pressing to win the ball back. Whether because of ageing legs or the safety that their possession has for so long offered them, there has been none of that this time from Spain.

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Sam Tighe's tactical analysis of the match shows how Chile did the exact opposite, working like demons to win back the ball and deny Spain the room to move significantly up the pitch in possession, even if sometimes they made five or six passes in succession around the midfield area.

But Spain did not. There was no hounding, harassing or great will to win back possession, neither against Netherlands nor Chile.

It was slow, a little lazy and completely at odds with the tactics that brought them success in the first place.

 

On the Ball

If Spain's approach out of possession was slow, that was nothing compared to the lack of pace compared to their opponents at the World Cup with the ball.

Netherlands sought to fly Arjen Robben beyond the defence at every opportunity. Alexis Sanchez did the same for Chile, ably supported by runners from the second line of attack.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Significantly, both Spain's opponents played with wing-backs in variations of a 3-5-2 system, allowing the wide players to get very high up the pitch. Spain are supposed to do that anyway, at least on one side with Jordi Alba, but their full-backs rarely posed a problem beyond the opposition defensive line, and almost every Spanish attacking midfielder tried to find a way through the defence by passing rather than penetrating themselves with runs.

It didn't work: Spain didn't score a single goal in open play before being eliminated.

 

That Unbeatable Feeling

The mental side of the game cannot be underestimated.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If David Silva scores just before half-time in the opening game, Spain go in two up at the break against Netherlands. Instead, his shot was saved, and Robin van Persie went and scored on the other end—Spain go in on a downer, and going behind soon after was tough to take.

This isn't supposed to happen is a killer feeling, one which can provoke panic and deviation from tactical instruction.

Chile came into the second match with a win behind them already; Spain knew it was all or nothing. The pressure was already there and only increased when the South American side scored the first goal.

The hunger perhaps wasn't there. The ability to come from behind certainly wasn't.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Combined with the actual footballing traits that have deserted Spain bit by bit over the qualification campaign and two excellent tactical managers who figured out how to make the most of Spain's weaknesses, we can see just how everything came together to bring an end to Spain's fantastic time at the top of world football.

Chile, meanwhile, will have their sights set on top spot in the group and the knockout stages beyond.

 

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