One Spanish newspaper declared after the nation's second group game that "We won! But this doesn't look like Spain," and there's no need to change the headline this morning.
Vicente del Bosque's side escaped the same fate as France and Italy, not to mention the fate of a last-16 encounter with Brazil, but a light has gone out in the European champions and, with Portugal in wait in Cape Town on Tuesday, they're fumbling about for the switch.
The result was paramount: "We were very much disturbed when we lost against Switzerland; we've had to swim against the current and we've found it very difficult," Del Bosque said last night. But the malaise of Fernando Torres was evident again before Del Bosque removed him because of "a spot of muscular bother," as he described it. The problem is unrelated to Torres' knee injury which he has required two operations on this year, though the striker's single most significant contribution to the evening was the theatrical fall which saw Chile reduced to ten men before half time, never fully to recover.
In a match which seemed to have brought together two brands of passing game – Del Bosque's intricate and eye-catching tiki-taka and the ambitious, short-passing style of Marcelo Bielsa, who has some remarkable talents for a manager who has described himself as "a collector of failures" – Chile offered the moments which took the breath away. This was a game Spain had to win to survive in the tournament and for the first 15 minutes, when Jean Beausejour was delivering back-flicks and feints and generally running amok, hearts would have been in boots from San Sebastian to Seville. The course of the night might have been different had not an early Gerard Pique tackle on Beausejour not been so immaculately timed. It was Spain's Matthew Upson moment, you might say.
Thankfully, Chile's fine, short-passing game will be seen again at this tournament. But Bielsa must hope that he can quell the Chile temperament before his side meet Brazil in Johannesburg on Monday. "Hot" best describes it, and though the Torres dive which earned Marco Estrada a dismissal looked cynical, Estrada should have been dismissed for a hack at David Villa, minutes after he was booked for aiming something similar at Sergio Busquets. Torres was also denied possibly the most stonewall penalty of the tournament when Arturo Vidal barged into him.
The dismissal meant that two Spanish moments of 2008 vintage proved enough to do the job. The first arrived after Alexis Sanchez tried some clever footwork and forgot about the ball, allowing Xabi Alonso to punt it up to Torres. Claudio Bravo raced out of his goal to block but the ball ran out to Villa whose sixth goal at a World Cup – a Spanish record – was surely his most accomplished. The clipped shot from 30 yards wide on the left sent the ball spooling back over Bravo and bouncing into the net. Given that 40 games have passed since Spain last lost from a winning position, the nation had grounds for hope.
Torres was at the axis of the move which gave Spain their second, laying the ball back for Villa who, as the Liverpool player plunged to earth, laid left for Andres Iniesta to guide home a right-footed shot. The Chilean prospects looked as barren as the Atacama desert as they surrounded Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez when he had blown for half-time, though Bielsa's devotion to an attacking philosophy remained undimmed.
Rodrigo Millar's introduction into the equation was one of two after the interval and following an immediate swipe at mid-air when he ought to have pulled a goal back, Millar dispatched a shot from the edge of the area which took a heavy deflection off Pique and looped in. Spain's willingness to reduce the game to a possession contest reflected the fear of a side shaken by the Swiss. "After Chile scored we were a little doubtful. Perhaps the players were a little conservative," Del Bosque said. That will not do next week.
Chile (3-1-3-3): Bravo; Medel, Ponce, Jara; Estrada; Isla, Beausejour, Gonzalez (Millar, h-t); Sanchez (Orellana, 65), Valdivia (Paredes, h-t), Vidal.
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas; Sergio Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila; Xavi (Martinez, 73), Busquets, Alonso; Iniesta, Torres (Fabregas, 55), Villa.
Referee M Rodriquez (Mexico).Reuse content