Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Spain crash out as irresistible Chile prove to be too much of a handful

Eduardo Vargas scores Chile's opening goal in the first half past Spain's goalkeeper, Iker Casillas.
Eduardo Vargas scores Chile's opening goal past Spain's goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, in the first half at the Maracanã. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/FIFA via Getty Images
Spain’s era came to an end at the Maracanã, graveyard of great expectations. This was not 1950 and Iker Casillas is not Moacir Barbosa, nor is Charles Aránguiz Acides Ghiggia, but it was historic. The world and double European champions became the first team to leave the 2014 World Cup, knocked out of a major tournament for the first time in eight years.
As the second half slipped away, so did Spain’s vital signs. Casillas, the captain who lifted the trophy four years ago, wore a haunted look. Diego Costa, the man Spain had ‘signed’, had departed to insults, unable to score. And Xavi, the ideologue of a philosophy this team espoused, never even took to the field. There was symbolism in his absence. He will probably not be back; Casillas may not be either. Between them, they have 289 caps and every medal there is.
There was a certain sadness in seeing a golden generation end it this way, broken and beaten, but there was joy in being caught up in the dynamism of a Chile team that may yet make an even greater impact on this tournament. There was joy in their fans too.
The Maracanã was packed with Chileans – there were even more here than there should have been after some had burst into the stadium via the media centre – and Chile’s players attacked the way their fans had: by stampede. The tone had been set from the start: there were two chances inside the first 80 seconds and they were good ones, too, for Eduardo Vargas and Gonzalo Jara.
Spain had anticipated this: they had suffered often against Chile, even if they had not yet been beaten by them, and had talked about the importance of overcoming the first wave of Chilean pressure, both in terms of position on the pitch and the minute on the clock. Momentarily it appeared that Spain had succeeded, but then, on 20 minutes, they were sliced open as if by the sword of Zorro.
Alexis Sánchez, Arturo Vidal and Aránguiz combined on the right, sprinting forward, Aránguiz cleverly cut the ball towards Vargas to take one touch away from a scrambling Casillas, and scored. It was a brilliant goal and one that defined Chile: fast, aggressive, incisive and collective. Oh, and extremely skilful too.
Spain looked lost, slow to the ball, imprecise in their passing. Andrés Iniesta kept his head, but all around him team mates were losing theirs; fouls were committed not so much out of resistance as impotence. Costa hit the side netting but there was little else.
Chile would not rest; they could smell blood and they raced around still, seemingly stuck on fast forward. But Jorge Sampaoli’s players are not just intense, they are intelligent too. Every time Chile ran at Spain, space opened up; every time Spain approached Chile – it does not seem right to say ‘ran’ – space was swiftly closed.
Chile made it 2-0 and effectively ended the contest just before half time. Sánchez was fouled by Xabi Alonso and took the free-kick himself. The ball swung towards Casillas, who chose to punch. If the idea was questionable, the execution was awful. The ball fell straight to Aránguiz, who controlled well and toe-poked it into the net. The abyss opened before Spain, and before their captain in particular.
Andrés Iniesta found Costa near the penalty spot early in the second half, but his shot was closed down and then Jordi Alba shot wide from distance. And then Sergio Ramos curled a simple free-kick that Claudio Bravo, like Casillas before him, chose to punch. He got away with it, but only just. As the ball went back into the area, Costa’s overhead kick across the face of goal found Sergio Busquets but, stretching, he steered the ball wide from four yards. Any hope Spain entertained of staging a comeback deserted them there.
Santi Cazorla, on as a sub, curled wide and Iniesta’s shot was pushed over by Bravo, who then saved a Cazorla free-kick. But Spain knew this was a lost cause, only awaiting the final whistle, and the best opportunity of a second half that was played out to backdrop of Chileans celebrating was actually at the other end, where Sánchez put his close-range effort over the bar.
At half time, Spain’s coach, Vicente del Bosque, had replaced Alonso with Koke. His surname? Resurrección. There would be none.
The Guardian

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