Holders Spain, who first showed signs of vulnerability at the Maracana a year ago, were eliminated from the World Cup on Wednesday when a 2-0 Group B defeat by Chile at the same stadium ended one of the greatest dynasties of the modern game.
On the day when Spain’s King Juan Carlos signed his abdication papers, the country’s footballers were forced off their throne as first-half goals from Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz earned Chile a stunning victory in front of tens of thousands of their ecstatic fans in a 74,000 crowd.
The South Americans reached the last 16 along with the Netherlands and confirmed the pre-World Cup talk that they could advance deep into the tournament with a brilliantly disciplined and inspired display against a tired-looking Spanish side who go out along with Australia.
The Dutch, who beat Spain 5-1 last Friday, and Chile each have six points and they meet in Sao Paulo on Monday. Spain face Australia in Curitiba bidding to avoid finishing bottom.
“We cannot complain we did not deserve to go out, they were better than us,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told Spanish TV.
“The team showed character, we pressed forward but we had little luck in front of goal.
“We were certainly inferior to our rivals here at the finals. It is not the moment to think about the future. Little by little we will make the necessary assessments.”
Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal, who had a fine match, was unsurprisingly in upbeat mood.
“Spain came with a lot of desperation after their first match, but we showed we are at a very good level,” he said.
“We didn’t come for a holiday, we came to fight for the championship.”
Spain became the third champions in the last four World Cups to be eliminated at the first hurdle and their departure will almost certainly end the long international careers of their greats Xavi, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso.
Xavi, for so long the fulcrum of the side that won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and their first World Cup in South Africa four years ago, did not even make the starting lineup after the Dutch debacle.
In contrast, Chile, who had never beaten Spain in 10 previous meetings, looked sharp and confident from the start and even faster and more fluid in the second half.
With more composure in front of goal following a series of rapid-fire counter-attacks, they could easily have scored more, confirming the suspicion first raised at the Maracana a year ago when Brazil crushed Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup final.
At the time that seemed a possible dress rehearsal for the World Cup final, but Spain never hinted they could win this match let alone the tournament on a night that belonged to Chile, a former colony of the Spanish crown.
The Chileans swept into the lead after 20 minutes following a counter-attack on the right which set up Aranguiz to provide the cross for Vargas who danced around Casillas before firing home.
Casillas, who had a poor game against the Dutch, was at fault again for the second goal, punching an Alexis Sanchez free kick straight back to Aranguiz who swept the ball past Casillas with a spinning shot with the outside of his right foot.
Spain had their chances, notably through Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba late in the game, but never remotely looked like saving the match.
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