Spanish Inquisition - World Cup Holders Crash Out
Story of the game
Going into the match, Chile were riding high on a wave of World Cup belief and optimism following their 3-1 victory over a resilient Australian side. Polar opposites however were Spain; thrashed 5-1 by the Netherlands and doubts over many of their senior players. To remain in contention for qualification from the group, Spain had to at least draw but to stand a realistic chance, victory seemed essential. The defending World Champions made 2 high profile selection decisions in the hours prior to the game, dropping stalwarts Gerard Piqué and Xavi from the starting line-up in place of Javi Martinez and Pedro. These supported attacking intentions, but would they come to fruition.
Spain did not make a strong start in the game and failed to impose themselves on proceedings. Everyone knows that physicality is not their strongest suit, but what we usually take for granted is their precise passing and interchange of positions. Even this however was not up to their usual standard. Their entire team were culprits, but chief among this was the regular passing maestro; Xabi Alonso. He did not seem to be on his game at all and countless attempts went astray, while set piece deliveries were also being over hit. In such a closely fought competition such as the World Cup, you cannot afford errors such as this.
It was from one of these misplaced Alonso passes that Chile’s first goal came from. Picking up the loose ball in midfield, Chile were able to break with great speed, leaving Spanish covering defenders in their wake. The speed at which the ball was interchanged between attackers was outstanding and it was not long before Charles Aranguiz found himself in the Spanish penalty area. With a disguised pass, he cut the ball back to Eduardo Vargas who took a touch to steady himself under pressure, then made no mistake in slotting the ball past the sprawling Casillas in the 19th minute. You could see Spanish shoulders visibly slump as the strike hit the back of the net and Chile’s belief began to grow exponentially. Spain’s World Cup lives were hanging by a thread.
From such seasoned winners, you would expect an immediate fight back and to launch a siege on the Chilean goal for the remainder of the first half. This did not happen however as they were repeatedly caught out by Chile with too many players committed in attacking positions without the desire or legs to get back. Realistically, the South Americans looked the more threatening with Iker Casillas certainly the busier of the two goalkeepers.
Spain were looking to re-group at the interval and come out all guns blazing in the second half to charge towards victory, however this plan was stopped dead in its tracks by Chile’s second 2 minutes before the break. Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez cut in from the right flank and won a free kick after being dragged back in a dangerous area. Sanchez himself took the set piece which was decent enough and forced Spain’s captain to make a save, but it wasn’t particularly testing. Inexplicably, Casillas punched the ball weakly straight back out into danger where it was picked up by Aranguiz. Another terrific first touch to set himself before pulling out an impudent finish past a hapless Casillas with the outside of his right boot. Cue scenes of disbelief amongst Chile fans and all those watching around the world.
Spain brought on Koke for the ineffective Alonso at half time to try and add an attacking impetus but that never really materialised. Claudio Bravo did have saves to make in the Chilean goal but you never felt that they were put under a sustained period of pressure. Diego Costa missed a great chance when slipped through by a beautiful pass from Iniesta but couldn’t convert. Sergio Busquets is not the greatest finisher in the world and this was shown quite clearly when he failed to make contact with a bouncing ball with only a gaping net ahead of him. The World Cup is not the stage for missed opportunities and teams often pay the price.
Chile could have easily had a third at the mid-point of the second half when a rapid break-out by the South Americans ended with a cross-shot across the area towards the marauding Mauricio Isla. Stretching to his absolute maximum, the right back couldn’t get a solid enough contact and was only able to divert the ball over the top.
As it was, the outcome of this World Cup game was resolved for quite some time as Spain were not able to summon the resolve or the required quality to get back in the match. After a questionable six minutes of injury time, the referee drew the game to a close and with it, ended the period of Spanish dominance. Quite possibly a turning point in world football, the winners of every major competition for 6 years now need to seriously re-think the direction in which they are heading, which may quite possibly spark an exodus of experienced stars. I would not be surprised at all if we have seen the last games in a Spanish shirt for Xavi, Alonso, and Torres.
Spain: Casillas (capt), Azpilicueta, Martinez, Ramos, Alba, Busquets, Alonso (Koke – 45’), Pedro (Cazorla – 76’), D. Silva, Iniesta, Costa (Torres – 64’).
Chile: Bravo (capt), Isla, Medel, Jara, Mena, Aranguiz (Gutierrez – 64’), Silva, Diaz, Vidal (Carmona – 88’), Vargas (Valdivia – 85’), Sanchez.
1. Iker Casillas – 5. Looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders following the howler against Netherlands. Hardly his usual unflappable self, the inexplicable punched clearance of Sanchez’s free-kick was the direct cause of Chile’s second.
22. Cesar Azpilicueta – 6. Biggest compliment I can pay him is that he went unnoticed while almost everyone around him made mistake after mistake.
4. Javi Martinez – 5. Looked ponderous on the ball and didn’t correct the errors that Piqué had brought to the side in the previous match.
5. Sergio Ramos – 6. Wasn’t exposed as blatantly as the previous match, but still not his best performance. Rarely looked comfortable at the back and a couple of opportunities came and went at the other end.
3. Jordi Alba – 5. Nowhere near as effective going forward as he usually is, seemingly stifled completely by Chile’s right flank. Quite solid in defence but occasionally suspect.
16. Sergio Busquets – 5. Only slightly better than Alonso but he was still the culprit in terms of misplaced passes at some points. His game was summed up by the horrific miss from 3 yards out in the second half.
14. Xabi Alonso – 4. One of the worst displays I have ever seen Alonso produce. His usually perfect passing frequently went astray, set piece delivery was constantly over-hit, and he showed no desire to track Chile’s players towards his own goal. Rightfully sacrificed at half-time.
11. Pedro Rodriguez – 6. Worked hard all day and never stopped running. He wasn’t fed the ball frequently enough to have a full effect but he was slightly frustrating when he did receive it.
21. David Silva – 5. Looked off the pace all match, and never found the space to work. His style simply didn’t suit the circumstances and the game rather passed him by.
6. Andres Iniesta – 6. Carried the greatest threat for Spain due to his capability of slipping in a killer ball at any time. Most notably, he set up Diego Costa only for the forward to fluff his lines.
19. Diego Costa – 5. Got in a couple of times behind Chile’s defence but didn’t put his chances away. Lacked the sharpness necessary to be a real thorn in their side and was brought off in the second half.
17. Koke – 5. Came on at half time for Alonso and had plenty of opportunities to impose himself on proceedings but he did not live up to the promise.
9. Fernando Torres – 5. Nothing less than we have grown to expect from Chelsea’s striker; clumsy, disinterested, and no end product.
20. Santi Cazorla – 6. In the short time he was on the pitch, he looked lively and hit a long range free kick which had Claudio Bravo scrambling.
1. Claudio Bravo – 7. His defence kept most of Spain’s attacks away from his goal, but he was up to the task for those that did get through. Especially towards the end, he pulled off a couple of important saves.
4. Mauricio Isla – 7. Had an obvious desire to push forward at every opportunity and yet was not exposed in defence. Nearly converted a sweeping counter attack in the second half to sew up the match.
17. Gary Medel – 8. The Pitbull well and truly lived up to his name, constantly snapping away at Spanish attackers. He always found a way to nick a foot in at the last moment.
18. Gonzalo Jara – 6. Not flashy or noticeably brilliant, but didn’t let anyone down all game.
2. Eugenio Mena – 6. Wasn’t as effective overall as Isla on the opposite side but he stuck to his task manfully.
20. Charles Aranguiz – 8. Assisted Chile’s first with a brilliant reverse pass after a burst into the area, and scored the second with a sumptuous curling finish past Casillas. Injury forced him off but his influence on the game was significant.
5. Francisco Silva – 7. Pressured Alonso and Busquets well, always forcing them to rush their passes which often resulted in inaccurate distribution.
21. Marcelo Diaz – 6. His work wasn’t as obvious as that of others, but his role in the team was important nonetheless.
8. Arturo Vidal – 8. Popped up absolutely everywhere, chased forwards and back and put his body on the line for the team. This is even more impressive considering the meniscus injury he suffered not that long ago. His efforts typified the Chilean attitude.
11. Eduardo Vargas – 7. Lively throughout and never stopped running even when fouled on several occasions. The scorer of the first goal stayed incredibly composed under pressure to take a good first touch and slot the ball home. This capped off a fine performance.
7. Alexis Sanchez – 8. Chile’s star man showed no signs of a disproportionate ego, working as hard as anyone for the team. He added definite quality in attacking areas, turning defenders inside out with his quick feet and searing speed.
16. Felipe Gutierrez – 6. Entered the field for the injured Aranguiz and while he didn’t bring the same quality to the party as his team mate, work rate did not suffer.
10. Jorge Valdivia – N/A.
6. Carlos Carmona – N/A.
Man of the Match
It is difficult to single out a member of the Chile side because they all performed so magnificently for the whole 90 minutes. Gary Medel was relentless at the back, never giving Spanish forwards the room or comfort to work. Arturo Vidal showed no signs of recovering from serious injury during his energetic display and the petulance he exhibited when being substituted against Australia was nowhere to be seen. Charles Aranguiz set one goal up and scored the other, seemingly unplayable at times. You just have to hope that the injury which forced him off has not ended his World Cup. I would give Man of the Match to Alexis Sanchez by a sliver, purely for the perfect combination of quality, flair, and work ethic. Never giving defenders a moment’s peace, he hassled and harried until he got his rewards. This World Cup display has provided yet more confusion for me as to why Barcelona did not play him more frequently, and convinced me that any team who sign him are obtaining a world class player. With Chile’s progression to the World Cup knockout stages now confirmed, expect to see much more of him tearing opposition defences apart.