Rio de Janeiro: Five things we learnt from reigning champions Spain’s humiliating exit from the 2014 World Cup, after losing 0-2 to Chile:
Three of the last four World Cups have seen the holders crash out in the group stage. France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 both surrendered the trophy without a fight. Prior to this century, it had only happened twice before, to Italy in 1950 and Brazil in 1966. But Spain have taken it to a whole new level, becoming the first champions to lose their opening two matches. Every other previous holder kept their hopes alive until at least the final group game. Such embarrassments could become more and more commonplace as the overall strength of the World Cup’s 32 teams continues to improve during the coming years.
Tiki-taka is dead
Every tactic has a use-by date and the era of keep-ball is well and truly over. Recent results in the Champions League have shown that possession is now almost meaningless. Goals are being scored with fewer and fewer passes as teams launch lightning counter-attacks from virtually anywhere on the field, getting in behind defences before they have time to get set. Chile exploited this turnover of possession to devastating effect in their brilliant opening goal on Wednesday night, winning the ball on the halfway line and surging forward in numbers as Spain were left floundering. Like in their thrashing by Holland, Spain bossed possession but Chile defended with the ball in front of them virtually all evening.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and it would have taken a brave manager to axe his captain and star striker but both Iker Casillas and Diego Costa looked mentally shot. Casillas seems to have a bad case of the yips following his error in the Champions League final, despite his blushes being spared by his Real Madrid team-mates. What possessed him to punch Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick straight out to Charles Aranguiz would tax even Steve Peters. Costa was again a shadow of the player who terrorised defences in La Liga and the Champions League last season. Chelsea will be desperately hoping his miserable two matches are a case of not being fully fit. Otherwise, they could have another Fernando Torres on their hands.
There is being committed and there is needing to be committed. Chile’s fans pushed the limits of sanity with their rampage through the Maracana an hour before kick-off but, boy, do they care about their team. Argentina supporters raised the roof during Sunday’s win over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Chile’s sent it into orbit. They transformed the Maracana into a Santiago fan fest, cheering virtually every Chilean move, jeering those of Spain and singing and bouncing almost non-stop for 90 minutes. The Spanish can hardly have played in a more hostile atmosphere, even away from home. If there was a World Cup of fans in Brazil, Chile would surely win it hands down.
You heard it here first (probably). This most unpredictable World Cup could throw up its most unpredictable winner. Chile look like they would give anyone a game in Brazil. Unlike most teams at this tournament, they have a goalkeeper in Claudio Bravo who is completely in the zone. Their defence is not the most organised, but more than makes up for it with utter dedication. Their midfield looks ready to die for the cause and they have quality and persistence in both Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal. Never mind Belgium, Chile are emerging as the tournament’s real dark horses.