Spain v Chile: Vicente Del Bosque’s sluggish Spain in danger of quick exit


The mantra adopted by Luis Aragones’s Spain at Euro 2008, right at the start of their historic run of three tournament wins, was a simple one: Pensamientos positivos, meaning positive thoughts. It served them well as they put a cycle of failure behind them and created a winning mindset. But positive thoughts were thin on the ground in the wake of the World Cup holders’ thrashing by the Netherlands.

The front page of sports daily Marca was funeral-black, while “Humiliation” was the headline in El Mundo. Yet if Spain’s heaviest World Cup defeat since a 6-1 thumping by hosts Brazil 64 years earlier was not bad enough, it could soon get worse for the holders. If Spain lose to Chile at the Maracana on Wednesday, they will become the first defending champions to suffer elimination after just two games since that last Brazilian World Cup in 1950 – and the Italy team in question, in fairness, were defending a title won by an entirely different group of players 12 years earlier.

The same hardly goes for Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, who started with seven World Cup winners at the Arena Fonte Nova but ended a stunning evening looking very much like a team at the end of an era. Iker Casillas, a hero in South Africa four years earlier, is no longer first choice at Real Madrid and you could see why as he was caught out of his goal for Robin van Persie’s opening header and laid on Van Persie’s second goal with some suspect footwork .

He apologised for the “worst personal performance of my life” but he was not the only guilty party. Spain conceded only three goals in qualifying and have gone 10 competitive knockout matches without conceding yet, as Gerard Pique admitted, they were “destroyed on the counter-attack”. 

Centre-backs Pique and Sergio Ramos performed poorly while the Spanish midfield could not respond as a younger, vibrant Dutch side sped the ball past them in the second half. If Spain’s success has been, to a large extent, made in Barcelona, it seems inevitable that the decline of that great team would have some knock-on effect on the national team’s fortunes. Spain recovered after losing their opening game in South Africa four years ago, but for Fernando Torres that freak result against Switzerland could not compare with the “total disaster” of Friday 13th in Salvador.

“In South Africa it was a big surprise but we felt it was not merited,” said the Chelsea striker. “This result was a fair reflection of the whole game and we have to be humble and admit we were outplayed in almost every area.” Though Torres argued that “in football you often have a second chance”, the problem for Spain is this second chance is their final chance. A draw against Chile will be of little use, given it would leave them three points behind the South American side – 3-1 winners over Australia on Friday – and potentially six behind the Dutch, who face the Socceroos in their second game.

In short, if the Spanish fail to win they will almost certainly become the third reigning champions in recent history to fall at this stage, after France in 2002 and Italy in 2010. If they do get through, they would most likely meet Brazil in the  round of 16.


Torres warned that Chile would not be easy opponents. Louis van Gaal’s tactics showed how to punish the Spanish with pace and in Alexis Sanchez , Chile have their own speed merchant.  “I’ve seen Chile a few times in the last few years,” he added. “I am not sure they’re the best team to face in a situation like ours. Chile know we will be coming out to win, their coaches, players will want to play on our anxiety.”