The current World Champions Spain have been the first team to be officially eliminated from this year’s World Cup along with Australia following a 2-0 defeat to a fantastically impressive Chile side.
There was much talk prior to kick-off about the end of an era with regards to the golden generation of Spanish players, famed for their creation of ‘tiki taka’. Such talk appeared premature however boss Vicente del Bosque did make a couple of much needed changes from the 5-1 humbling at the hands of the Dutch.
Gerard Pique was withdrawn for Javi Martinez whilst Spain returned to their successful 4-3-3 system by starting Pedro on the left-wing. The key once again would be whether or not Diego Costa could be brought into the game with regularity.
Jorge Sampaoli named just one change from the side that defeated Australia with Jorge Valdivia sitting out for Francisco Silva who would provide cover in defensive areas. Whilst on paper this was a negative change, it was to ensure Chile could reproduce the levels of intensity which Sampaoli hoped would “induce errors.”
This proved to be the case with Chile so quick out of the starting blocks. The South Americans pressed at a high tempo, high up the pitch just like Spain were capable of doing in years gone by and it looked to have panicked the Spanish backline.
There was an air of caution throughout the Spanish team with the knowledge that defeat would see them eliminated before the tournament was even a week old. The defenders in particular appeared to be wary of the consequence of defeat that their play was slow and limited in creativity.
As the first half wore on Spain grew into the game. Chile lacked the individual quality to retain possession for long periods whilst Spain could, just without any real penetration in the final third, Diego Costa looked worryingly off match pace.
Chile took the lead in the 20th minute of play. After a high octane start the South American side were gifted possession deep in Spanish territory and a passing move between Alexis Sanchez and Charles Aranguiz saw the latter receive the ball in the penalty area. A smart cut inside later and the ball was passed across the face of goal to Eduardo Vargas who jinked past Iker Casillas leaving the Spanish goalkeeper sprawled on all fours before sliding the ball into the net.
The goal shook Spain although it did bring out a desire to come forward from the double European Champions. The match opened up after that with Diego Costa hitting the side-netting from inside the penalty areas just minutes later.
As the first-half progressed it became apparent that Spain’s 4-3-3 system was imbalanced. The inclusion of both Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso in a three man midfield was detrimental to the team’s attacking chances. Busquets is a world class holding midfielder and if there is one player who can be trusted to guard the defence on his own then it is the Barcelona man.
Alonso’s presence slowed the tempo with a real dynamism needed in the centre of the park if the Spanish were going to break down an energetic Chilean defence. The match was crying out for one of Koke or Cesc Fabregas.
Further disaster hit Spain just two minutes before the break. A powerful Alexis Sanchez free-kick was punched away by Casillas straight to the feet of Aranguiz. The Internacional midfielder produced an exquisite piece of control before calmly firing the ball past Casillas with the outside of his right boot.
The task now facing Spain was mammoth. Del Bosque introduced Koke in place of Alonso at the interval and it looked for a time as if it would spark the team into gear.
The first five minutes were impressive for Spain with the ball being kept just outside Chile’s penalty area. All momentum was lost however when Sergio Busquets managed to slice a shot wide at the back post from mere yards out. Once again a setback had taken the sting out of Spain and it looked as if the task would be too difficult.
This proved to be the case with Spain’s cohesion worsening the closer the full-time whistle approached. The Chilean players’ work rate when not in possession of the ball caused them to be first to every uncharacteristically loose pass from Spain.
The introductions of Santi Cazorla and Fernando Torres did little to aid the cause and the match finished 2-0 to Chile which secured both Holland and themselves a place in the knockout stage.
The disappointment from the Spanish defence was palpable with the probability of rejuvenation high. Vicente del Bosque might decide his time in charge is up and a new coach might be brought in to freshen methods up and guide the next, extremely talented, generation to the level needed to compete at the World Cup.
Chile on the other hand march on in the tournament with their work ethic and cavalier style of play likely to cause anybody they may face problems with a potential tie with hosts Brazil likely to excite anyone passionate about the game.