Spain's reign ends in pain

Spain's reign ends in pain

NO ONE could have predicted the disastrous campaign that Spain had in Brazil 2014. Not even after their 5-1 humbling at the hands of the Netherlands in Friday's Group B opener.

Not the media, not opposing teams, least of all not their coach Vicente del Bosque.

"I never thought that we would leave the tournament after the first round," he confessed to the media after his highly touted Spanish armada made an ignominous exit from the World Cup at the hands of unfancied Chile, who won Wednesday's match 2-0.

"We started sluggishly and were not brave enough. It's a pity because I didn't expect that."

What was expected of his men was that they would rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the Dutch destruction, as they did when they won the 2010 World Cup, when they also lost their opening game.

What was expected was that with €675 million (S$1.15 billion) worth of players to choose from, the most expensive 23-man squad in Brazil, there was a winning 11 there somewhere. If not enough to retain the title, then surely enough to see off the challenge of a Chile squad worth just €152 million, some of whom still play in Europe's lower leagues.

Instead, what did happen was Chile showing that hard work and an organised pressing game - which stifled Spain's midfield engine as the Dutch did - is the key to taking apart the holders.

Led by the brilliant Alexis Sanchez up front, the Barcelona forward had a hand in both Eduardo Vargas' strike after 20 minutes and Charles Aranguiz's finish two minutes before half-time.

Said Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli: "I don't know if this is our best-ever victory, as for me the best victory is always the next one. But I think it's unlikely I shall ever forget this win. We showed great courage with the way we played and so you can say we are the rebels of this event.

"Today, we played with a system and an idea. The players believe in the idea and they defend it."

Spain also came into the game with an idea - of defending their legacy.

This was a side that had dominated world football, winning the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008 and 2012. But they also had an average age of 28.2 - one of the oldest in Brazil.

Changes were made to the team in the wake of the Dutch loss. Midfield mainstay Xavi Hernandez and defender Gerard Pique were benched.

But perhaps del Bosque should have also wielded the axe on striker Diego Costa and goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Both had torrid outings again, with the captain Casillas at fault for Chile's second goal, his seventh conceded in Brazil.

Debutant Costa just never looked like he fitted into Spain's passing style of play.

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