Adios Spana – read one placard held by a Chilean fan in the crowd just as the match between the defending champions and Chile was coming to an end. But it was a sad goodbye to an otherwise brilliant football side. As Spain’s journey in the 2014 FIFA World Cup came to an unpredictable halt, there were alarm bells for many others including England, who have a must-win match against Uruguay tonight. All 32 World Cup teams are well endowed and any team can spring a surprise on its day. However, amongst a host of possibilities, Spain’s exit in the first week of the world cup was not one of them. Spain had a disastrous start to the world cup, when they suffered a 1-5 drubbing against the Netherlands but regardless, they were expected to shake off the challenge from Chile. In the other hugely entertaining match yesterday, Australia and the Netherlands played a game with a break-neck speed and for long the teams stood level at 2-2, until the Dutch brought off the winning goal. But the teams played at a pace that reminded spectators of Australia’s hockey rivalry with the Dutch. With their victory against Spain in the opener, Netherlands are through to the round of 16 irrespective of the result from their remaining match with Chile.
The setting was perfect at Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous Mercana stadium as Spain faced Chile for their second Group B match. For the first 15 minutes, Spain attacked Chile but made finishing errors, either shooting wide or losing the ball and this included Xabi Alonso’s point-blank drive being brilliantly saved by Chilean goalkeeper Bravo. This was not the only poor display by Alonso. Later he gifted the ball to the Chileans, from which Chile scored their first goal through Eduardo Vargas. At times, it seemed that the Spanish side was weighed down by fatigue of the mental kind and it showed in their movements on the field. In contrast, Chile was charged up and the players ran like 100m sprinters. Surprisingly, Spain had a higher ball-possession percentage but they lost at crunch times. Chile’s second goal was also a gift from Spain. Instead of catching or clearing away a free-kick taken by Sanchez, Spanish goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas punched it in the path of an obliging Aranguiz, who hit it powerfully back into the goal to make it 2-0 for Chile. The match was extended for 6 minutes as injury time but Spain looked like having already accepted the defeat.
In the other Group B match between Australia and the Netherlands, played earlier, Australia dominated initially but in the final analysis, the teams were evenly matched. The game provided a thrill since it was played at a fantastic pace. Just when the Australians looked like achieving a breakthrough, Arjen Robben broke away from Australian Alex Wilkinson in the 20th minute, ran towards the goal and beat the Australian goalkeeper in style. But the lead was short-lived as Australia equalized in 21st minute from Tim Cahill’s magnificent goal. Ryan McGowan sent a long pass to Cahill, who controlled his shot beautifully to make it 1-1.
That the Australians had the edge was proved as they went 2-1 ahead in the 54th minute from a penalty award, which came when Daryl Janmaat used his arm to block a cross from Oliver Bozanic. Minutes later, it was the turn of the Dutch, when a lapse in the Australian defense allowed Memphis Depay’s cross to go to Robin van Persie. The striker was quick on the move and drove home past Ryan into the goal to make it 2-2 in the match. The Oranje were charged by the Persie’s equalizer and took the game in Australia’s half. With about 20 minutes left, the Netherlands went for a rapid counter-attack in which Depay’s curler went past Ryan to put the Dutch in front 3-2. Australia had their chances in the closing moments but they missed the scoring.
With holders out of contention and the brilliant Australians losing in a thriller, the Group B proved to be the Group of death, rather than all the clamor about Group G, drummed up by the media in the last six months.