The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Spain's dominating era over as defending champion's World Cup reign ended in 2-0 loss to Chile
RIO DE JANEIRO - With its superstars aging and its loyal coach slow to blend in young talent, Spain's glorious reign as the superpower of world football was bound to end.
The Spanish weren't favoured to repeat as World Cup champions. But few expected the utter collapse that ended Wednesday with a 2-0 loss Chile, knocking Spain from contention and ending the run of the greatest team of the century.
Chile's pace and skill produced a dominating win similar to so many Spanish victories over the past six years. Spain was outplayed, out-run and out-fought.
The 5-1 beating by the Netherlands Friday was shocking and foretold where coach Vicente del Bosque's team was heading: Home.
"If you think about everything accomplished, and you told me we would be eliminated in group stage, I wouldn't believe you," del Bosque said.
"We have no excuses. It's a sad day for all of the players."
Six of Spain's squad has played at least 100 national team games while winning the 2010 World Cup and the European Championships in 2008 and 2012.
"Success is not eternal," said Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, whose hyperactive energy around the dugout was shared by his team. "This generation could not continue with that success and you can understand it."
"It's very special the fact we were able to play today against the World Cup champions the way we did," Sampaoli said, and "eliminate them with courage, intensity and attack."
Del Bosque acknowledged that his players were "too slow, timid from the start."
Chile twice came close to scoring in the first 90 seconds, and led in the 20th minute when Eduardo Vargas finished a slick move of incisive passing that was truly Spanish in its execution.
The second followed in the 43th when Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas punched a free kick to the feet of Charles Aranguiz, who fired a rising shot right back past the veteran captain, who took much of the blame for the loss to the Netherlands.
"I only ask fans for forgiveness, we did everything we could," said Casillas. The 33-year-old came to the World Cup after a second straight season as second-choice goalkeeper at Real Madrid and a glaring error in its Champions League final win last month.
Spain came to Brazil with a very similar — but older — team to the 2010 squad. They added Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa, but he failed to score and was substituted in both matches.
Spain's "tiki-taka" style of play — keeping the ball for long stretches with short passes, and only shooting when you had a clear opening — had not been working as well in recent years. Brazil defeated Spain 3-0 in last summer's Confederations Cup final, a warm-up for the World Cup.
Spain became the third straight European defending World Cup champion to flop in the group stage. France in 2002 and Italy four years ago also failed to advance, or even win a match.
Spain can at least end that streak in a consolation game Monday against Australia. Chile and the Netherlands will play to decide the Group B winner. Both will advance to the final 16 knockout round, but the winner will be seeded higher.
Xabi Alonso, another Spanish veteran, will likely not start against Australia. He was replaced with 22-year-old Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke after an agonizing first half.
Alonso gave away the ball to Alexis Sanchez to start the move down Chile's right wing by Arturo Vidal and Aranguiz, leading to Vargas' score. Trailing behind the play, Alonso put his hands to his head.
He was booked before conceding another foul, forcing a free-kick that led to the second goal. And his usual accurate passing was off.
Other Spanish players were also guilty of wayward passing and woeful finishing.
Early in the second half, potential momentum shifts were lost when Diego Costa was slow on Andres Iniesta's threaded pass and Sergio Busquets volleyed wide in front of goal.
"We didn't do anything different to what we did in South Africa or the two Euros," said forward Fernando Torres, ineffective as a second-half substitute. "We came with the same mentality, approaching the games the same way."
Perhaps the Euro 2012 final was the high point of the era: A 4-0 dismantling of Italy on a similarly balmy evening in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Then, the team was joined in locker-room celebrations by Crown Prince Felipe. He could not be in Rio de Janeiro. One hour after the match ended in the Maracana, at midnight in Madrid, he formally became king upon the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos.
On Thursday, Spain will wake up to a new king, but no longer rulers of world football.
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