Chile nail in Spain’s coffin, Dutch continue to delight
Tiki taka as a footballing force has been well and truly terminated. Spain’s defence of the World Cup crown, won so stylishly in South Africa four years ago, is over with the Brazil finals not even a week old.
We’ll come to analysing the wreckage of Vicente Del Bosque’s football dynasty later, and how ironic a former Spanish colony, in Chile, inflicting the death knell is, but first our focus should be on who still is in the tournament.
The Netherlands are rapidly gaining that ‘great entertainers’ tag we like to band about in British footballing circles. Two outings at the in Brazil now; eight goals, three conceded, and never a dull moment.
Louis van Gaal had a very different test against Australia, after seeing his Clockwork Orange demolish reigning world and European champions Spain. The Socceroos, with their own exuberant youth sprinkled throughout their side, really raised their game, and again ran out unlucky losers having been beaten by Chile in their opener.
Victory for the Dutch in a topsy-turvy encounter came at a price, however. Main striker and skipper Robin van Persie may have scored again, but is banned for the next outing, a contest that decides who will be Group B winners against Chile. Van Gaal’s charges are odds-on favourites to top the pool at 4/11.
More worryingly, defender Bruno Martins Indi sustained an innocuous-looking, but serious knee injury prompting Van Gaal to change tactics. Three at the back for the Netherlands seemed to be stretchered off with the Feyenoord player, as a reversion to type with 4-3-3 followed.
Falling behind to in-form Arjen Robben, Australia talisman Tim Cahill brought his nation level with his best impression of that Marco van Basten volley. Daryl Janmaat’s handball then gave Soceroos skipper Mile Jedinak the opportunity to turn things round from the penalty spot.
Reliant Robin then equalised for the Netherlands, and substitute Memphis Depay snatched all three points with a long-range drive that Aussie keeper Mat Ryan really should’ve stopped. The Socceroos, who like Spain are out, will largely be a mere footnote in most commentaries, but Ange Postecoglou has seen plenty of future potential in his young ranks.
Versatile forward Matthew Leckie caused the Dutch problems all across the line, while winger Tommy Oar and former Hearts defender Ryan McGowan both caught the eye too. Have 34-year-olds Cahill and Mark Bresciano played their last Australia internationals, or is the swansong to come on home soil at the Asia Cup this coming January?
Moving on to the headline news, the reign of Spain ended in the Maracana – a fitting venue almost a year since that handsome Confederations Cup final defeat to Brazil. An unbeaten qualification campaign papered over this crack in the Del Bsoque edifice, but the Iberian outfit’s modern idols have been brought back down to earth.
An energetic Chile outfit, given an identity by unorthodox Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa that has been continued by successor and disciple Jorge Sampaoli, executed a perfect game plan. Spain were pressed and harassed all over the pitch, forcing sloppiness.
Del Bosque has lived and died by his loyalty to the core of a squad which has enjoyed unprecedented success, but the nature of the Netherlands defeat was a clear indicator that sweeping change was needed.
Iker Casillas retained both his place in goal and the armband simply because of this, while ageing metronome Xavi and defender Gerard Pique were cut. Two alterations were nothing like enough to stop the malaise.
Maybe Spain have numbed themselves at long last, having done so to every opposition faced apart from Brazil, the Netherlands and Chile. They simply look tired of passing with too many miles on the clock for Xabi Alonso, usually so dependable.
Even Manchester City’s creator in chief David Silva was off-colour. It is not as if alternatives the golden generation of Spanish football haven’t garnered attention. While the senior side were in Brazil last summer for the Confederations Cup, the Under-21s retained the European Championship crown in Israel.
Just David de Gea, who injured his buttock in training, and Koke, a second half substitute against Chile, from that youth side made Spain’s World Cup squad. Del Bosque cut like full backs Daniel Carvajal and Alberto Moreno, and ignored the likes of Asier Illarramendi, while Thiago Alcantara was injured.
Diego Costa, off the pace up front after injury, may be wishing he stuck with the country of his birth. After all, Brazil are still in the tournament. Chile clearly capitalised on this Spanish slump, with the only sour note being the loss of scorer Charles Azanguiz to what looked like a medial ligament strain.
The tone was set early on in the Maracana. Roared on by fans so passionate that they were prepared to break into the stadium, Chile attacked with pace and intent; Spain were nervy and lethargic. What will hurt even more is that they lost to a team playing with makeshift defenders, and did so without scoring.
A once unshakable pillar of football faith, tiki taka was trumped by a team ethic typified by the runs of Eduardo Vargas, who netted the opener, and Alexis Sanchez, plus an all-action performance from Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal.
Spain’s fall from grace will be dissected in lurid detail in the coming days. The Netherlands and Chile have both been cut by Coral to win the World Cup into 11/1 and 18/1 respectively.
It’s an industry leading price of 11/5 that the South Americans pip the Dutch to top spot in Group B, and that decider has all the ingredients to make even more compelling viewing.