|City||Rio de Janeiro|
|Stadium||Estádio do Maracanã|
Spain, the world champions, the double European champions, the team of the decade, are out of the World Cup . The reign of Spain is over because they were plain. And they were out-played.
For the tipsters and the hipsters that is some sobering reality but Vicente Del Bosque and his demoralised squad will return home after their final group game next week following the most desultory defence of this magnificent competition in its long, illustrated history.
It was the end of an era. Not for tiki-taki but for this group of players – the likes of Iker Casillas, Xavi Hernández, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso – and possibly for Del Bosque, who will struggle to recover from the humiliation delivered in such exhilarating style by this wonderful, vibrant, cooky Chile who no one will want to face because of the embarrassment and damage they can inflict.
Even Jorge Sampaoli, their coach, called them the “rebels of football” and they ransacked the high priests, the demi-gods of the game who were proven to have feet of clay as they were exposed on the greatest stage of all and with football at its spiritual home of Brazil.
Their welcome was cruelly short-lived as the Chileans – with a back three of two midfielders relegated with Cardiff and Osasuna and a centre-back released by Nottingham Forest – sent them packing amid a cacophony of relentless belief from their supporters who blinked disbelieving at the end and turned Cocacabana until an all-night party.
Spain simply face the hangover. Del Bosque blamed this exit on two halves of football – the second half against Holland (when they lost 5-1) and the first half here (when they trailed 2-0) but the sight of his players being sent out early for the second period of the game and standing arguing among themselves showed how far and how quickly it had all unravelled.
The focus of the anger, from Javi Martínez, appeared to be the hapless goalkeeper Iker Casillas who had gifted Chile their second goal after being fortunate to retain his place following his wretched display against the Dutch. He may still just be 33 but it is inconceivable to consider he will add to his 155 caps now.
It was not just the old, with Xavi Hernández dropped, but the new also who let Spain now. Diego Costa was not fit but this was not the performance of a player worthy of Spain’s efforts to persuade him to play for them ahead of his native Brazil and neither was this the performance of a £32 million striker set to lead Chelsea’s forward line. In two games Costa touched the ball just 21 times – and often sloppily at that.
The recriminations will be long and hard although the legacy that this generation of Spanish players has created should not be easily overlooked. But football – like any sport – is a remorseless beast and their time has past. It is as simple and brutal as that.
Spain were harried and hassled and desperate as Chile’s legions of swarmed around the Maracana hours before kick-off and their team swarmed around the champions who tried to go toe-to-toe with them in high-risk, high-line football.
Maybe it could have been different had Alonso, who went on to have a traumatic game, and was hauled off at half-time, taken the first tangible chance after the ball broke to him clear to goal. Instead his first-time shot was parried by Claudio Bravo, Chile’s excellent decisive goalkeeper, and Alonso’s afternoon deteriorated.
Then midfielder lost the ball and quickly Chile built their counter-attack – and scored. It was the team goal of the tournament, with wonderful combinations down the right as the brilliant Alexis Sánchez squeezed a pass through to Charles Aránguiz. Spain were in trouble and the ball was squared, with great awareness, to Vargas who steadied himself, rounded Casillas and fired into the net.
It was a sweet vindication of the football demanded by Sampaoli but although Spain were severely shaken Costa immediately presented another chance to Alonso only for him to sky his shot before Silva guided a header to Costa. He dragged his effort wide.
Again Spain were punished. And it was over. Chile were open in defence but it meant it also opened up for them in attack. Alonso was booked and then he was punished once more conceding a free-kick for, frankly, being too slow and tripping Sanchez. Casillas insanely punched Sanchez’s effort back into the penalty area and there was Aranguiz to accept the gift and send the ball past the shell-shocked goalkeeper with an improvised toe-poke.
Spain were ragged, distraught and in disarray. They need a response and should have delivered it when Andres Iniesta picked out Costa. On goal he delayed with a clumsy first touch – and Mauricio Isla deflected his eventual shot. They continued to push. Bravo punched a Sergio free-kick, Arturo Vidal headed it aimlessly across his own area and Costa’s over-head kick sent the ball to the far post. There was Sergio Busquets with an open goal only for him to slice wide. Incredible.
Surely that was the moment when Spain realised it was over? By now the contest was being playing wholly in Chile’s half while it was made all the more thrilling as when they did have possession they attempted to pass their way out of danger.
From one such passage they almost opened Spain up again. For once it was Del Bosque’s players being goaded with the “oles” and the desperately out-of-touch Costa gave way – the equally forlorn Torres – while Chile threatened with a flowing move resulting in a cross-shot which Isla reached only to guide over the bar. Soon after and Sanchez broke through to send a cross which was headed wide by Vargas.
Time was running out for Spain but substitute Santi Cazorla forced Bravo into a fine finger-tipped save with a curling shot. Soon after and Bravo was acrobatically diving to push out Iniesta’s fierce drive and the desperation rose. Again Bravo stood the test – parrying Cazorla’s low dipping free-kick. There was no reprieve. But there were tears and the world champions were out.