10 Defining Moments in Spain's 2014 World Cup Campaign

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

10 Defining Moments in Spain's 2014 World Cup Campaign

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Two-time European Champions and current World Cup holders Spain crashed and burned in the group phases in Brazil.

    Tipped by some to win a fourth straight major international tournament, Vicente del Bosque's side never really got going and are now preparing themselves for a new era of Spanish football.

    Several moments can be pinpointed to define their disappointing summer, but, in the end, perhaps it was just time for them to give someone else a chance.

    The following slides look at the most significant moments of their World Cup campaign.

10. David Villa's Tears

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    This first one isn't particularly relevant to Spain's early exit from the World Cup, but David Villa leaving the pitch in tears in their final match against Australia felt pretty significant.

    Villa had confirmed he would retire from La Roja after the World Cup, something Vicente del Bosque later admitted he hadn't realised, per SPORT, and he had already scored when his manager decided to take him off just before the hour mark.

    Clearly distraught, tears rolled down the former Barcelona forward’s cheeks as he left the pitch.

    It might not have contributed toward Spain's downfall in any way, but it signaled the end of their all-time top goalscorer's international career.

9. Squad Selection

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    With hindsight, it's easy to throw around accusations.

    But could Vicente del Bosque have done a better job of picking his squad before the tournament started?

    Most notable among his decisions were the ones to include his ageing stars, possibly through loyalty, and to leave out striking options such as Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente, who has been brilliant at Juventus.

    It's difficult to issue too much blame here, though─imagine the furor if he'd left out the very players who'd rewarded Spain with so many riches over the last six years.

8. Koke Starting vs. Australia

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    Spain's team against Australia had an average age of 29, hardly a side for the future but plunked in the middle was Atletico Madrid's Koke.

    At 22, the midfielder is expected to be the face of La Roja for the next decade.

    His inclusion in the final group game was arguably the first day of the rest of his international career.

    Having signed a new contract at Atleti, to ward off interest from Barcelona, per SPORT, Koke is set to continue his ascent as one of the best midfielders in Europe.

7. Diego Costa's Nationality

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    Again, hindsight is a lovely thing, and it could purely be coincidence, but were Spain slightly better when they played without a forward?

    For the first time in a long time, La Roja favoured a style with a more traditional centre-forward up front in the shape of Brazilian-born Diego Costa.

    And, with him in the side, they seemed more willing to pump balls long and into the channels.

    It certainly didn't help them contain possession but all good things come to an end and perhaps it was just their time to relinquish their crown as the kings of football.

    Or perhaps Costa hadn't fully recovered from the injury which saw him depart the Champions League final in the first half.

6. Casillas’ Mistake

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    There was something quite sad about watching Iker Casillas stumble and let Robin van Persie in for his second as Spain crumbled against Holland.

    That wasn't the only thing the Real Madrid stopper did wrong in Brazil, either.

    Casillas' career has wound up in a funny place, reduced to a role as Madrid's cup keeper, his reputation has taken an unfair hit over the last 18 months.

    And, judging by his World Cup showings, it's quite possibly affected him.

5. Torres Coming on vs. Chile

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    It felt quite symbolic that Vicente del Bosque threw on Fernando Torres as Spain chased an unlikely comeback against Chile.

    Torres had scored the winning goal at the 2008 European Championships, but his career has nosedived since a £50 million move to Chelsea.

    Del Bosque, however, has always stuck by him.

    And as Spain's golden generation fought to keep themselves afloat, it was Torres who La Roja's boss turned to in their hour of need─of course, he couldn't produce.

4. Xavi Dropped

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    The face of Spain's style was incorrectly labelled the face of their failure in Brazil by some.

    Their defeat to Holland was “the fault of an ageing Xavi Hernandez” and Vicente del Bosque reacted by dropping the 34-year-old for La Roja's decisive match against Chile.

    Despite Xavi's exclusion, Spain still lost, so he obviously wasn't the only problem they had.

    But while it could be argued his sacrifice from the line-up was wrong, it was still a very significant moment in Spanish football history.

    One of the principle architects of Spain's success is unlikely to be seen in his country's red again.

3. Chile's Early Goal

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    We can talk all day about systems, squad selections and whether Brazilians should play for Spain, but, in the end, football, in its simplest terms, is about goals.

    And the truth is, Spain conceded too many.

    Having leaked five against Holland, it was vital that they kept things tight against Chile to restore their confidence─they could go in search of a goal later.

    However, the game was barely a baby when the South Americans opened the scoring against a tired, unacquainted Spanish back line.

    A second goal came in the first half, too, and Spain never looked like putting up a fight.

2. Van Persie Header

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    The most important goal scored against Spain at the World Cup was that phenomenal header by Robin van Persie.

    A Xabi Alonso penalty had initially got their campaign up and running, with the Dutch, despite impressing early on, seemingly falling under Spain’s spell.

    But with half-time approaching, Daley Blind's wicked early ball was superbly headed home by Van Persie in a movement previously seen in a Superman movie.

    The belief Holland took from that goal rocked Spain in the second half as goals two, three, four and five stunned the world champions.

1. Silva Miss

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    Every time David Silva shuts his eyes, he must see the chance he had to put Spain 2-0 up in their opener against Holland.

    Moments before Robin van Persie's equaliser, the Manchester City creative midfielder had an opportunity to enhance Spain's cushion, but he instead saw his dinked shot easily saved when one-on-one with Jasper Cillessen.

    Then the Dutch squared things up.

    If Silva had scored, it could quite possibly be Spain preparing for a World Cup quarter-final with Costa Rica now.

    Those really are the margins of football.