This was meant to be their fairytale send off, a chance for a group of genuine legends in the game to make history once more by becoming the first team to win four major international tournaments in a row. But instead Spain looked their age and crashed out of the World Cup thanks to a spirited and lively Chile. The beautiful passing game that has characterized Spain’s playing style was officially posted missing against Chile. Tiki Taka was replaced by misplaced and misjudged passes from an uncharacteristic Spanish team as Del Bosque’s team became only the second team (behind Australia) to be eliminated. It’s the end of an era, one in which Spain dominated the international game and entertained the masses with some of the slickest and most effective football we have ever seen.
Now the inquest will begin as to why Spain has made an early exit. Strange tactical decisions made by Vicente Del Bosque heading into the game will be questions. Deciding to drop Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez from the starting lineup that was shocked by Holland in the first game was unusual, but more so was to keep faith in Diego Costa upfront. The Chelsea bound striker has looked less like the formidable front man that he has become at Atletico and more like a lost boy, unsure of exactly what he is supposed to be doing. Ineffective against Holland and dithering in the first half against Chile, Costa was replaced on both occasions by Fernando Torres, who himself hasn’t had the best few years for club or country. Tactical adjustments made in the two games will also be under the microscope as Del Bosque failed to make full use of the talent at his disposal. Two games played and still no game time for David Villa and Juan Mata. The latter has had a difficult season at Manchester United but possess the vision and talent to pull any team out of a death slide. But the shun of Villa is the one that makes the least sense. The 32 year old had a fantastic season with La Liga winner Atletico, partnering Costa up front so many anticipated that Del Bosque may deploy the duo together for Spain as well. It would have made perfect sense given that Costa operates better as part of a strike force rather than as a lone striker. But Del Bosque resisted and Spain suffered. Trailing 2-0 to Chile at half time, Villa would have appeared to have been the obvious choice with Spain switching to a 4-4-2 formation but again Del Bosque resisted. Preventing Spain’s all time record goal scorer from coming onto the pitch, not even for 20 minutes was criminal by Del Bosque and cost Spain their chance of retaining the World Cup.
The international careers of Fernando Torres, David Silva, Xavi, Iniesta, Xavi Alonso and Iker Casillas are surely over given their disastrous exit. Questions too about Del Bosque, who despite signing a two year extension before the tournament started will be under the spotlight after Spain became the first ever defending champions to lose their first two games. Despite Spain’s glorious history under his reign, which included 1 World Cup and 1 European Championship, the humiliation of exiting this early from a tournament they were one of the favourites to win may result in his exit. Spain need a fresh start, a rethink of their formation and style of play and Del Bosque may believe he isn’t the right man to do that. Chile to be fair were superb. Fast, innovative, creative and effective to the end, Chile has shown the world that they are to be feared in this competition. Hammering Australia was expected but the way that they played against the current world champions with confidence from the start was breathtaking. They now face Holland to see who tops the group and it will be difficult for anyone to call that one. But for Spain, they must pull themselves together for a meaningless game against Australia, competing for only pride before boarding a plane home. It’s not the exit that this legendary team neither wanted nor expected but ultimately it’s the one they deserved for the way that they played in their first two games. Spain will recover, regroup and as a new revamped team take on the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a renewed passion as if they have to prove something. For true football fans however, Spain have nothing to prove, for they will always be the team that show the world through tiki taka exactly how the game should be played and how to win with style.