Many anticipated that Spain would beat the Netherlands, some predicted that a draw was the most likely result, while a handful of daring punters fancied the Dutch to defy the odds by claiming a narrow victory. However, nobody could have anticipated the 5-1 humiliation that the Spanish ultimately succumbed to. Del Bosque’s team cannot even console themselves with the knowledge that the result flattered their opponents. In truth, it could have been 6, 7, or possibly 8 …
Journalists have been searching for reasons behind Spain’s surprise capitulation. Iker Casillas obviously had a night to forget, while Diego Costa didn’t put his head to best use. Speaking of Costa, since he has been introduced as the spearhead of attack, the World champions are beginning to play a more direct style. The forward is renowned for timing runs to perfection before finishing with aplomb. To have a player of such pedigree hardly sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Costa’s inclusion has caused the Spanish to change tact. Given his aerial threat and sudden bursts of acceleration, they now have an out ball. However, being tempted to find the striker quickly, also increases the likelihood of possession being turned over. Spain may still have had the lion’s share of the ball against the Dutch, but afforded their opponents more possession than is usually the case. The equation is simple: the more of the ball you have, the less you have to defend, and the fewer goals you concede. The likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba are excellent marauding full-backs, but like centre-halves Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique who are accomplished on the ball, these players struggle to shirk their doubters because they are partial to the defensive lapse. A great concern will be how comfortably Arjen Robben surged away from the Spanish rear-guard for the 5th Dutch goal, particularly given the searing pace that the Chileans also possess.
Chile will be eager to capitalise on any chance that the Spanish are still nursing the emotional wounds sustained during Friday night’s mauling. While Spanish supporters were lamentable, the Chilean equivalent were jubilant as their nation set the early pace in group B with a 3-1 win over Australia. Most consider Alexis Sanchez to be the principle threat with his close ball control and mazy runs. Sanchez netted in the opening game and will be looking to add to that tally when he lines up against Barcelona teammates in Rio de Janeiro. Another stand out performer in Chile’s opening encounter was Jorge Valdívia. Aside from his well taken side-footed curling finish, the thirty year old’s technical ability was apparent from the way that he dictated play. Although the creative midfielder has a dubious reputation off the field, he is certainly allowing his football to do the talking on the pitch. The South Americans are no soft touch, particularly when the likes of Cardiff City’s Gary Medel are busy launching themselves into a tenacious tackle or two. When you pair being well drilled at the back and with the quality of being slick in attacking areas, you’re always going to have a reasonable team on your hands.
Verdict: Spain will be desperate to revive their World Cup dream and prove that their implosion on Friday 13th was caused by superstition transpiring against them. Having shipped 5 in that game, they may revert to a less expansive style and guard against the dangerous Chilean counter-attack. This is a special South American side though, and I expect honours to be even at the final whistle.
Prediction: Spain 2-2 Chile