World Cup Group B | Curitiba | Mon 23 Jun | 5pm
The dead rubber nobody saw coming.
A puppy with a gammy paw. A child’s doll abandoned in some rubble. An old lady struggling through a blizzard and dropping her paltry shopping in a puddle.
Nope: nothing can make us feel more melancholy than a World Cup dead rubber featuring a generation of players we have grown to revere, but who were unable to pull off one last heist, and ended up looking doddery and clueless.
Spain’s humping by the Netherlands could have been a fluke, we thought: they’d just been caught cold by a team hungry for revenge. Surely they’d respond with a roaring riposte against Chile? Dead wrong. Like the time Bjorn Borg decided to make a comeback after 10 years out of tennis, still using his wooden bat, then got duffed up by some graceless no-mark fitness instructor with a graphite super-racket, it was clear that these kings were finished.
La Roja must now put themselves through years of soul searching, naval-gazing and self-hatred, England-style, trying to work out what went wrong. In fairness, major surgery probably isn’t needed. Their squad is still dripping with talent and £32 million Chelsea forwards, and their world-beating system shouldn’t be discredited yet: they just need to find the personnel to get it working again. The conundrum is how to make the transition. It’s something that had stumped many a major footballing dynasty (including Brazil and Germany) and could take a decade or three.
The Spaniards would probably rather sit in a lift with Robbie Savage, as the former Birmingham and Leicester foul machine explains to them the many ways in which they are rubbish, than go out and play Australia. But there are contractual obligations to be kept, and faces to be wiped clean of egg. Vicente del Bosque’s men have their pride and won’t want to exit stage right with three defeats.
Meanwhile, it’s possible to feel a pang of sympathy for the Socceroos, who were written off as whipping boys pre-tournament but gave both the Dutch and Chileans thunderingly good games. Tim Cahill has already gifted the tournament one of its greatest goals, and the Aussies would certainly have qualified from some of the weaker groups. With nothing to lose, they’ll fancy a crack at delivering the final knockout blow to the holders.
Ange Postecoglou’s positive, attacking young team will take the match to Spain and see it as a valuable learning experience; the question is whether Del Bosque will field a second XI as he starts exploring his options for the future of Spanish football – of which their FA assures him he will be a part – or give his old-timers one last run round. Either way, it’s toodle-pip to a side we expected nothing from, but who gave us a treat, and adios to a group of legends we expected everything from, but who gave us nada.
What the local media say
"The ending was horrible. It had to come sometime, it was assumed, but never could such a painful, so unrecognisable and vulgar farewell be imagined. Goodbye, World. Spain is out and their punishment is the humiliation of having to play next Monday against Australia in the game of shame between the first two teams eliminated from the championship" - AS.com.
“For Australia now there is nothing left to play for save pride. But if anyone was in any doubt whatsoever that Tim Cahill is Australia's greatest Socceroo, surely there can be no dispute now. It could be said that, like the Thane of Cawdor in Macbeth, nothing became his (footballing) life like the leaving of it, so dramatic was his goal.” - Sydney Morning Herald.
Key battle: Mathew Leckie vs Sergio Ramos
Matthew Spiranovic (of Western Sydney), Adam Taggart (of Newcastle Jets) Mathew Leckie (of Bundesliga 2 side FC Ingolstadt) and arguably half the rest of the Socceroos squad will now find themselves on shopping lists this summer after some wonderful World Cup performances, but it is Leckie who has caught the eye most. A constant threat to the Chile and Netherlands defences, he’s fast, direct and has a proven goalscoring and assist record at club level, albeit in the lower leagues he is now expected to depart from.
The Socceroos’ breakout star of the tournament can now hurtle himself at some of the most prized defensive real estate in world football and see how he gets on. Ramos’s pace, positioning and street smarts were all severely tested (and in Arjen Robben’s case, blasted through) during the last two matches; should the Real Madrid stopper play, he’ll have another stern test on his hands.
Facts and figures
- Australia have only won 1 of their 7 World Cup games against European opposition (2-1 vs Serbia in 2010).
- Spain join Italy 1950, Brazil 1966, France 2002 and Italy 2010 as reigning World Cup champions to exit the following tournament in the group stages.
- In his 126 minutes of World Cup action so far, Diego Costa has failed to muster a single shot on target (only 5 shots in total).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
The Socceroos to scent blood and KO the Spanish 1-0. Tim Cahill, meanwhile, to be knocked unconscious by an angry corner flag.