Having collapsed spectacularly in their rematch of the last World Cup final, Spain needed to salvage their campaign with at least a point against the bluster of Chile. Jorge Sampaoli was evidently licking his lips as the events of the first round unfolded, with his side even better equipped than Netherlands to face the Spanish.
Javi Martinez and Pedro Rodriguez were drafted into Vicente del Bosque’s side as Gerard Pique and tiki taka’s poster boy Xavi failed to impress in the opening game, while Chile copied the Netherlands’ 3-4-1-2, albeit with Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez playing wider, as Jorge Valdivia made way for defender Francisco Silva and Arturo Vidal took his place at the tip of the midfield.
The Netherlands had proved an unusual opponent for Spain by pressuring them in midfield when they had the ball rather than sitting back and sticking rigidly to a defensive shape, but Chile did it even better. The Dutch had perhaps been fortunate not to concede more as they had surrendered a fair few chances to the Spanish despite their impressive victory, yet Chile for the most part limited Spain to a handful of hard-fought chances. Unlike the Dutch, their front three also harassed the Spanish defenders when they had the ball and their strategy of through pressing made it near impossible for Spain to get the ball forward.
This can be seen in their opening goal: Xabi Alonso gave the ball away under pressure, as the Chilean players kept close to all his passing options. With plenty of players already up the pitch pressing the Spanish defence, Chile broke rapidly, moving the ball from player to player at speed as the Spanish panicked for Vargas to finish calmly.
Strangely for a team groomed on passing football, Spain’s best chance of getting a goal was probably going to come from a set-piece due to this Chilean team’s weakness in the air, yet they consistently failed to put any decent balls into the box whenever they won a free-kick or corner.
That was all there was to it. Chile eased off in the second half as they did against Australia, but still kept control of the game as they sealed qualification. With that, the holders are embarrassingly knocked out in the first round. While it’s too simplistic to say this Spain side is finished whenÂ it has so many world class players, its current cycle is over and new blueprints must be drawn up to regroup.