World Cup Group B | Rio de Janeiro | Wed 18 Jun | 8pm
Feeding time for the vultures.
“It is not a good omen – we can’t lower our heads and think we had bad luck,” muttered a glum Vicente del Bosque into his ‘tache. “The wide concern is how easily Spain’s unique style was negated,” mused The Telegraph. “Their reputation as international chokers was resurrected – Spain are racked by doubts and anxiety,” judged the Daily Mail.
All words uttered shortly after Spain lost the opening game of World Cup 2010 against Switzerland. That tournament, you may recall, panned out pretty well for La Roja, as they strolled their way to glory playing some of the most dazzling possession football the planet has ever seen.
The coroners may be prodding Spain’s corpse again (“heavy legs… shaky in the back region… lack of hunger… a burst Busquets”) after their malarial nightmare of a dismantling at the hands of Holland, but the patient is not dead yet. Ponder that, up until 44 minutes into the match, and a Robin van Persie wonder-goal that no defence could have negated, you were probably cooing in wonder at Spain’s oh-so-familiar possession game, just like us.
Del Bosque’s boys have the personnel, experience and management to turn round their shocking situation, get out of Group B – perhaps even beating Brazil in the last 16 – and win the tournament (which you can now get 15-1 on, gambling addicts).
But what has clearly evaporated is Spain’s sense of untouchable invincibility – and that must be hugely heartening for a Chile outfit (the other La Roja) who go to the Maracana knowing that if they beat the champs and the Dutch overcome Australia, they will already be in the last 16 (as the favourites off to get pelted with veg at Madrid Airport.)
It’ll certainly be a different match to their enjoyable 3-1 defeat of the Socceroos. Chile hogged possession in that game, and won’t see nearly as much of the Brazuca against Spain. But the Latin Americans’ high-tempo, bustling style has worked excellently against sides who favour a patient build-up in the past, and their attacking full-backs, who thunder upfield when Chile do get the ball, look well equipped to capitalise on the sort of sluggish defending that got Spain in a pickle on Friday.
All in all, one of the biggest tests of character that Del Bosque & Co. could possibly imagine, in a Maracana rammed with Diego Costa-baiting locals. What could possibly go wrong?
What the local media say
“Never in history has a defending champion been punished so in a World Cup finals. Never. A team with a star never took such a punch to the face. Netherlands’ revenge for the last final was so tough. The hammering at the Arena Fonte Nova has a place in the blackest moments in the history of the Spain team.” - Marca.
Key battle: Iker Casillas vs Alexis Sanchez
A fascinating clash of styles will decide this war, but the battle between the Barca hitman and the Real Madrid stopper could prove decisive along the way. Casillas embodies Spain’s golden generation, and his errors against Netherlands embodied their collapse on the night – unexpected, unfamiliar and humbling. We almost started to feel a bit sorry for him, before remembering that he’s a devilishly handsome professional footballer with a trophy room bigger than our house and the world’s most attractive partner.
There’s little Schadenfreude to be gleaned from the poor performances of a humble, likeable chap, however, and the glovesman – who told Spain to blame him for Friday – should have the mental fortitude to bounce back. In Sanchez, however, he’s looking to stop a rampant attacker who has been involved in seven of the last eight goals that Chile have scored (six assists and one goal). Should Sanchez finally snuff out Iker’s international career, there will be little shame in it.
Facts and figures
- Chile have never beaten Spain in their 10 previous encounters (D2 L8).
- Spain have won the 2 previous meetings with Chile at the World Cup: in 1950 (2-0) and in 2010 (2-1). The game in 1950 was played at the Maracanã; which is where this encounter is taking place.
- Spain have not lost back-to-back internationals since October 2006 (2-3 v Northern Ireland and 0-2 v Sweden).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Spain restore some pride, but a tussle of styles ends 1-1, setting up a decisive third round of games.