The defending champion is eliminated after suffering its second straight World Cup defeat. Here are three observations in the aftermath of Chile's well-earned 2-0 victory over Spain Wednesday at the Maracana Stadium.
THE REIGN OF SPAIN ENDS. Spain had shown some signs of age during its run of pre-World Cup friendlies, needing a last-minute goal to tie Chile, 2-2, in September 2013 and looking rather lethargic in a 1-0 defeat of Italy in March during which Diego Costa looked particularly inept. Yet still it seemed impossible for the winner of three straight major competitions -- the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup -- to completely collapse so early in Brazil.
Embarassed by the Netherlands, 5-1, in their Group B opener, the Spanish players were unable to rouse themselves against a spirited and determined Chilean team that knew a victory landed it in the round of 16. The first-half goals were scored by Eduardo Vargas, who plays in Spain for Valencia, and Charles Arganguiz, based in Brazil as a member of Internacional.
Spain was let down by many of those players instrumental in its rise to the top of world soccer. A giveaway by Xabi Alonso sparked the sequence from which Aranguiz squared a ball for Vargas to score the first goal; keeper Iker Casillas’ weak punch went straight to Aranguiz, who poked it into the top corner; and with Spain pushing early in the second half to cut into the 2-0 deficit, Sergio Busquets scuffed a sitter wide of the post. Xabi Alonso was subbed at halftime, and Xavi never got off the substitutes’ bench.
Did the heavy load of La Liga and Champions League matches take too much out of the Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid players, who contested the domestic crown claimed by Atletico that went down to the final day of the season and met in the European final won by Real in extra time? Six of the 23 players selected by head coach Vicente del Bosque played in the European final. (A seventh, Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, was suspended.) Another seven players played for Barcelona, whose 1-1 tie with Atletico on the final day of the season gave La Liga title to Atletico. Or did this failure signal that it’s time for a new generation of players to carry forth the tradition established by this group of flair and success?
Spain joins Italy (1950, 2010), Brazil (1966), and France (2002) as defending World Cup champions eliminated in the first round at the subsequent competitions. However, it is the only such team to lose both of its first two group games, and this defeat ends a period of some of the most scintillating soccer seen at the national-team level for decades.
CHILE REWARDS MASSIVE SUPPORT. Many sections of the Maracana Stadium were filled by fans wearing and/or waving red tinged with blue and white trim and the star emblazoned on the Chilean flag.
Chile, which advanced at the 2010 tournament despite a 2-1 loss to Spain in the group phase, returned to the World Cup by finishing third in the South American qualifying competition. It didn’t slack off after a convincing 3-1 defeat of Australia in its group opener, and prevailed despite a fairly quiet game for Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez.
Two players drawn from Serie A champion Juventus -- Arturo Vidal and Mauricio Isla -- helped blunt Spain’s attempts at combination play by closing off passing angles and digging into double teams. Vidal played deeper in his own half against Australia, and his presence further upfield seemed to surprise Spain. He pressed all over the middle third to break up passing plays and put the Spanish back line under pressure with early balls.
Success under Argentine head coach Jorge Sampaoli may elevate him to the grand status bestowed upon his mentor and compatriot Marcelo Bielsa, under whose reign Chile qualified for the 2010 competition.
IBERIAN NIGHTMARE. Spain and neighbor Portugal, which met in the World Cup round of 16 four years ago, are suffering mightily in the group phase. In their three combined games to date, they have been outscored 11-1. On Monday, Germany handed out a 4-0 thumping to Portugal, which faces the USA Sunday in Manaus.