One of the most decorated sides in the history of international soccer has become the first team to be knocked out of this year’s World Cup.
Spain was mathematically eliminated Wednesday with a 2-0 loss to Chile at the Estádio Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, ending an unprecedented six-year run of dominance on the global stage.
Chile struck first in the 20th minute when Alexis Sanchez threaded a long through ball into the area, redirected quickly by Charles Aránguiz to Eduardo Vargas, who sidestepped Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas before slotting it home — a sequence that began with an uncharacteristically sloppy giveaway from Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso.
Chile doubled its lead right before halftime on a opportunistic finish from Aránguiz, who drove home a Sanchez free-kick attempt initially punched away by Casillas, the longtime Spanish captain.
The defending champions had their chances in the second half — a point-blank misfire in the 52nd minute will surely haunt Sergio Busquets — but Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo stood tall to preserve the shutout.
The win ensures the Chileans will advance to the knockout stage along with Holland with one game remaining in group play.
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Spain had been looking to become the first team to repeat as World Cup champions since Brazil in 1958 and '62. They entered the tournament at No. 1 in the FIFA world rankings after winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 — becoming the first side in history to win three consecutive major tournaments.
But while the Spanish were rated among the top contenders here — oddsmakers had installed them as third betting favorites behind Brazil and Argentina — there was a sense this year's World Cup was a tournament too far for Vicente del Bosque's men. Was the aging midfield core of Xavi Hernandez, Andrés Iniesta and Xabi Alonso still capable of executing the high-pressing possession soccer that had laid waste to all international comers over the past six years?
The answer was an emphatic no.
In Friday's group-opening match against the Netherlands, Spain looked sharp for the first 35 minutes — jumping out to 1-0 lead on Alonso's 27th-minute penalty — before suffering a humiliating 5-1 loss highlighted by Robin van Persie's highlight-reel header. That left Del Bosque's squad in desperate need of a win Thursday to keep their repeat hopes alive.
It wasn't to be.
It was a shocking denouement for a team built on a pedigree of possession and a tightly wound defense: Spain conceded more goals in the first three halves at this World Cup (seven) than in all 20 matches at Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 combined (six).
The loss ensures Spain will be the third defending champion to crash out of the group stage in the last four World Cups, joining France in 2002 and Italy in 2010.
Image Credit: AP