Rio de Janeiro, 19 June-2014, AFP: Spain’s six-year reign as the world’s pre-eminent team ended on Wednesday as Chile sent them crashing out of the World Cup with a 2-0 win in Rio de Janeiro.
Spain had been seeking a fourth consecutive major title, but instead they became only the fifth defending champions – after Italy in 1950 and 2010, Brazil in 1966 and France in 2002 – to go out in the World Cup’s first round.
First-half goals from Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz took Chile into the last 16 and condemned Spain to become the first team with Australia to be eliminated from the 2014 tournament.
On the back of the 5-1 humiliation by Netherlands in their opening game, it proved a miserable return to the Maracana for Spain, who fell 3-0 to Brazil in last season’s Confederations Cup final on their previous visit.
Coach Vicente del Bosque, architect of the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship triumphs, reacted to the Dutch drubbing by dropping Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez, but his side looked every bit as ponderous.
Instead it was Jorge Sampaoli’s effervescent Chile whose football caught the eye, with the intricate build-up to Vargas’s opener a cruel echo of the ‘tiki-taka’ football with which Spain once ruled the world.
With Xabi Alonso and Iker Casillas at fault for each of the goals, it was a sad end for Spain’s golden generation, but when the tears have dried, Spanish fans will be able to look back upon the greatest period in their nation’s footballing history.
Chile will now contest top spot in Group B against the Netherlands, who have also qualified for the last 16, but for Spain all that awaits is a dead rubber against Australia in Curitiba on Monday.
Aranguiz punishes Casillas
While red was always going to be the predominant colour inside the Maracana, Spain’s fans were vastly outnumbered, with some ticketless Chile supporters ever storming the stadium media centre in an unsuccessful bid to force their way into the ground.
Chile’s fans prolonged their national anthem by chanting a deafening a cappella chorus after the music had stopped and in the early stages, Spain were all at sea.
Within a minute, Alonso was obliged to nick the ball off Vargas’s toes after Arturo Vidal had barged through, while an unmarked Gonzalo Jara headed narrowly wide from the subsequent corner.
Briefly, Spain rallied, Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo darting from his line to block from Alonso, but in the 20th minute the South Americans landed a sucker-punch at the other end.
Alonso conceded possession with a weak lay-off, but from them on it was all Chile’s own work, with Alexis Sanchez sliding a pass through for Aranguiz, who centred for Vargas to skirt Casillas and poke home.
Alonso lashed a shot over and Diego Costa ruffled the side-netting as Spain sought a response, but there was no zip to their passing and in the 43rd minute, Chile added a second.
Sanchez’s free-kick lacked power, but Casillas could only box it as far as Aranguiz, who deftly brought the ball down and toe-poked home from 15 yards.
Del Bosque sent on Koke for Alonso at the interval and Spain improved, but Sergio Busquets could only shin Costa’s overhead kick wide from five yards after Bravo had fisted a Sergio Ramos free-kick into the air.
Mauricio Isla spurned a chance to make it 3-0, sliding the ball over the bar from Eugenio Mena’s cross-shot, while Spain’s best chance at the other end saw Bravo palm a long-range curler from Andres Iniesta over the bar.