SPAIN 0-2 CHILE
World Champions Spain were knocked off their pedestal of international dominance in Rio de Janeiro last night, as they crashed out of Brazil 2014 at the group phase.
Having seen the Netherlands march on to six points before kick-off, the Spanish knew that given their own appalling goal difference, victory was of paramount importance against the South Americans.
After the nature of Spain’s defeat against the Dutch, it seemed likely that Del Bosque would alter his starting XI for the Chile match. He opted for two changes as long-serving Barcelona players, Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique, made way for the towering presence of Javi Martinez and speed demon Pedro. Eyebrows were raised with respect to Iker Casillas retaining his place in goal after a shambolic showing in the opening game, while Diego Costa could count himself a little fortunate to get the nod ahead of either Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres.
If Spain came into the match as a wounded animal, they ended it as a rawhide. They were stripped out of their skins by Chilean hunters who hustled and harried their opponents for the duration of the game. The front three of Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez epitomised Chile’s work ethic as the attacking players regularly tracked back as well as chasing down lost causes in offensive areas.
Pressed for time and space, Spain became uncharacteristically ill-disciplined with their passing and were duly punished when Xabi Alonso squandered possession in the 19th minute. Sanchez needed no second invitation as he hared down the right flank before passing inside to Aránguiz. The next part of the move was majestic as the midfielder had the vision to square the ball to Vargas. He in turn had the presence of mind to take Casillas out of the game with one touch and stab home on the stretch.
The Spanish were rattled but did temporarily improve. Still, Alonso couldn’t atone for his blunder when he harmlessly fired over a half volley in the 23rd minute after useful hold-up play from Costa.
The Chelsea bound forward was the next culprit before the half hour as he fluffed his lines from ten yards out. The chance arose when David Silva surprisingly got above his man to flick the ball into Costa’s path, but the fitness shy hitman was caught on his heels and could only prod a shot into the side netting.
The grimaces worn by España supporters developed into full blown looks of panic when it went from bad to worse for their nation in the 43rd minute. Any keeper learning his trade understands that you must parry or punch the ball away from the danger zone. However, this message appeared to have eluded the veteran between the Spanish sticks when dealing with a Sanchez free-kick. What should have been a regulation stop became another calamitous error from the experienced Real Madrid player. Aránguiz was grateful for Casillas’ generously punched offering when he received possession to the right of the penalty spot. Although he struggled to work the ball from under his feet, the midfielder could still produce a splendidly swerving toe poked finish into the top right corner.
The Spanish left the field for half time in a daze, but the world still expected a response from Del Bosque’s men after the interval, even if only to disprove Gary Linekar’s assertion that the Spaniards “looked less like evolving than dissolving”.
No magical metamorphosis was forthcoming though, because even when the 2010 Champions carved out good opportunities, the finishing touch deserted them. This was evident in the 49th minute when Costa broke the Chilean line of defence but couldn’t gather the ball cleanly and afforded Isla the time to make a goal saving intervention.
Sergio Busquets isn’t renowned for his goal scoring prowess, and he criminally passed up the opportunity to halve the deficit at the back post moments later. However unintentionally, Costa’s overhead kick arrived at the feet of an unmarked Busquets with 53 minutes on the clock. The holding midfielder stuck out a flailing left leg and somehow shanked his finish wide of the post from five yards.
As the reigning champions threw more men forward, it seemed inevitable that Chile would have chances to extend their lead on the break. After a well-crafted move, the tireless Isla couldn’t quite put the icing on the cake. The defender managed to latch onto the scuffed drive from his opposite full-back, but blazed the ball over the crossbar.
Chances for the Spanish to force their way back into the contest were kept at a premium which is testament to Chile’s organisation. Gary Medel was at the heart of their bank of five defenders, and “the bulldog” repeatedly slammed the door shut on the opposition.
With time ticking down, Spain were forced to try their luck from range. First Santi Cazorla’s guided effort was palmed around the post with consummate ease by the eccentric Claudio Bravo. The Chilean keeper then pulled off a stop for the cameras to deny Andres Iniesta from 25 yards, before maintaining his clean sheet with another decent save from Cazorla’s free kick with 88 gone.
With Spain silenced, the race for World Cup honours has been thrown wide open. Chile will be desperate to continue their good form against the Dutch in their last group game and so avoid what seems a likely last 16 encounter against host country, Brazil. They’ll have to do so without the crocked Aránguiz, who is suspected of tweaking a medial ligament, but nevertheless have an unrivalled team spirit that makes them hard not to fancy.
Casillas 4, Azpilicueta 6, Martinez 5, Ramos 5, Alba 4.5, Alonso 3.5, Busquets 4.5, Pedro 4.5, Silva 5, Iniesta 5, Costa 4.5
Subs used: Koke 5, Torres 5.5, Cazorla 5.5
Bravo 7, Isla 7, Silva 7, Medel 8, Mena 6.5, Jara 6, Diaz 7, Aránguiz 7.5, Vidal 7, Sanchez 7.5, Vargas 7
Subs used: Gutierrez 6, Valdivia and Carmona (insufficient time to earn rating)
Man of the Match: Medel
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
International friendlies always throw up a few shock results. However, England’s 2-0 defeat to Chile at a packed Wembley stadium should come as less of a surprise. The South American nation have crept up the FIFA rankings to a lofty 12th position and will be a force to be reckoned with at the 2014 World Cup. This however, is not one of the five reasons that England fans should not despair.
The following on the other hand, are.
1) Lallana is Brazilian.
Of course, it would be an area of concern if Adam Lallana did have Brazilian citizenship. Thankfully I have used a metaphor when a simile would have been more appropriate. One of three debutantes, Lallana was the most impressive as he demonstrated a mesmerizing fleet-footedness that, at times, Rivaldo would have been proud of. Where Southampton team-mate, Jay Rodriguez was panicked and hurried, Lallana looked at complete ease while wearing the prestigious number 9 shirt. He could, and perhaps should, have marked his England bow with a goal at the end of the first period. After neat link-up play with Rooney, he could only drag his effort wide via a deflection having delayed shooting for a fraction too long. Still, his industry and intelligence are likely to have moved him up in the pecking order for a midfield place.
2) Wayne Rooney is a changed man.
Over the summer months, there was an incredible amount of speculation linking Rooney with a move away from Old Trafford. It was said that it would be near impossible for him to rebuild a fractured working relationship with David Moyes, who had succeeded Sir Alex Ferguson at United. How wrong the press can be. The forward has begun the 2013/14 season with a ravenous appetite, hounding defenders to pick their pockets like Oliver Twist. He was instrumental in the Red Devils’ crunch victory over Arsenal and looked equally determined in an England shirt yesterday evening. Playing as a lone striker was always going to be a difficult task but was accomplished on the ball and regularly looked to play the ball through to midfield runners. He’s certainly returning to form.
3) One loss since the turn of the year.
It may be mid-November but yesterday marked the first time that England have succumbed to defeat this calendar year (and it wasn’t even a competitive match at that!) Yes okay, so we have lined up against the fearsome outfit of San Marino, whose population fails to exceed the capacity of most Premier League stadiums. Likewise, we have survived scares against both the Irish and the Scots, but it would be unfair to overlook a victory and a draw against next year’s World Cup hosts. It is pleasing to know that without playing the most swashbuckling soccer, England have been effective at grinding results out. Through both injury troubles and selection policy, the squad has had little time to settle and the results are testament to the character shown.
4) The right-back slot is sorted.
Glen Johnson played the full ninety minutes and confirmed exactly why Kyle Walker will start ahead of him in seven months time. In truth, the intelligent movement of the Chilean attacking line caused problems for all of England’s defenders, yet Johnson’s performance was spectacularly sub-standard. Leighton Baines has been rightly pulled up for allowing Alexis Sanchez to head home the opener, but the Evertonian was not alone in fault. After Wigan winger, Jean Beausejour collected possession, Johnson allowed him to pass the ball out wide. Liverpool’s full-back was then slow to close to cross down and the rest is history. Additionally, the lively Sanchez and Vargas frequently found space on England’s right flank when countering in the first-half and the former-Portsmouth star simply didn’t have the recovery speed to answer. Just when you thought that Johnson’s evening couldn’t get much worse, he was conspicuous by his absence in the other Chilean goal. Pushing for an equaliser, Johnson was caught up the field and as Sanchez coolly lobbed Forster, he can be seen ambling back some 30 yards from goal.
5) We’re better than the French.
Haunted by the tactical deficiencies that cost Harold Godwinson in 1066, English fans still derive great pleasure when our near neighbours are in stuttering footballing form. And that they are, currently embroiled in a real scrap to qualify for Brazil. As St George’s flags hung loosely around supporters’ waists yesterday evening, news that the French were on the receiving end of the same humbling score-line, soon meant that red and white was being brandished across London once again. Further satisfaction was gleaned from their opponents being Ukraine, the nation who England narrowly finished above in Group H – we don’t mention the bore draw played out in Kiev last September.
So there we have it, five reasons to not despair as an England football fan after defeat by Chile. Admittedly, some of the points may not instil much optimism either, but it’s worth remembering from time to time, that England are going to Brazil.