The reign of Spain is over; Netherlands looks good
Thursday, June 19, 2014 12:00 AM
BY JOHN LEICESTER
AP Sports Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The king is dead. The World Cup will have a new champion.
Just like France in 2002 and Italy in 2010, defending champion Spain is going home tail between its legs after losing 2-0 to Chile on Wednesday.
But the Netherlands, the other winner on Wednesday, defeating Australia 3-2, look like an increasingly good prospect to take the throne Spain vacated.
Croatia and Cameroon played in the late game Wednesday.
Chile delivered the mortal blow to an uninterrupted 6-year era of dominance for Spain, the European and world champions whose dazzling footballers ran out of puff in Brazil. They were made to look vulnerable last week in losing 5-1 to the Netherlands and then simply plain ordinary by a physical and quick Chilean side.
Fevered Chilean supporters rocked the Maracana Stadium with chants of “Chile, we love you!” They will be able to recount how they saw their team put two goals without reply past one of the greatest teams global football has ever seen.
Demolishing Spain showed the Dutch can be spectacular. Toughing out a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Australia showed them to also be resilient and cool under pressure — vital qualities for the knockout rounds that start June 28.
With no points from its first two games, Spain will play for pride when it meets Australia — also winless in its first two games — in their last match Group B match on Monday.
Then it will be “adios” and a return home to the inevitable post-mortem of how a team that played like clockwork in defending its European title two years ago could fall so far, so quickly.
In Brazil, the advancing age of key players, grievous mistakes from captain Iker Casillas and others, and coach Vicente del Bosque’s failure to read the writing on the wall fatally threw the Spanish machine out of gear.
But Spain’s demise was also a reminder of how fiendishly difficult it is to retain the World Cup and for coaches to keep teams fresh and motivated in the four-year gap between tournaments.
Only Italy — winners in 1934 and 1938 — and Brazil —champions in 1958 and 1962 — have won back-to-back World Cups.
Del Bosque came to Brazil with a goalkeeper, Casillas, who is no longer undisputed No. 1 at his club, Real Madrid, with a midfield playmaker, Xavi Hernandez, who at 34 is passed his peak, and with a new striker, Diego Costa, who has been a major disappointment, not finding the net once.
Costa’s presence was meant to introduce a muscular new threat up front for a team that often played without a recognized center-forward in winning Euro 2012. But instead, Spain looked unbalanced in Brazil. Not once has it scored in open play. Spain’s only goal against the Netherlands was a penalty that Xabi Alonso put away.
Alonso was awful against Chile. Del Bosque took him off after the first half. Together, Alonso and Xavi — benched and unused Wednesday after an ineffectual game against the Netherlands — as well as Casillas and defender Sergio Ramos have played a total of more than 500 games for Spain. But Spain simply looked jaded in Brazil. Attacks against Chile were sluggish and predictable. Chances went to waste.
Australia, the World Cup’s lowest-ranked team, proved a far tougher opponent for the Netherlands than the Spanish were last week.
Arjen Robben opened the scoring for the Netherlands before Tim Cahill brought the sides level a minute later with a stunning volley that was one of the best goals from the tournament so far.
Mile Jedinak then converted a 54th minute penalty and Robin van Persie equalized for the Netherlands with his third goal of the tournament.
A goalkeeping blunder by Maty Ryan handed substitute Memphis Depay his first international goal and the Netherlands the winner.