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Mighty Spain Goes Out Meekly

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Mighty Spain Goes Out Meekly

spainThe chants at the game between Spain and Chile began slowly, first from one side of Estadio do Maracana, then from the other. By the time the final minutes had ticked off the clock Wednesday, tens of thousands of fans had joined in.

“El-im-in-a-do! El-im-in-a-do!” – eliminated – said those fans, who were leaping so wildly in their red shirts that they made the stands look like a supersize swath of roiling scarlet cloth.

But those fans were not wearing the red jerseys of Spain, the defending World Cup champion and two-time European champion. They were wearing the red shirts of Chile, which eliminated Spain from this tournament in the first round, after Spain had played two games. No past World Cup defending champion had been knocked out of the tournament so quickly.

Watching Chile‚Äôs 2-0 victory unfold was like seeing a prizefighter clobbered in the face again and again, then seeing him fall to the canvas and struggle to rise as the referee counts to 10. There’s a sense of pity in seeing a legend fall so unexpectedly, and appear so helpless.

It all happened so fast. First came the Spaniards losing to the Netherlands, 5-1, in their opening game. Then came Wednesday’s match, in which a death knell clanged for most of the game’s 90-plus minutes.

Spain missed a few good chances early, but Chile struck first, in the 20th minute, thanks to Xabi Alonso’s ill-advised and lazy back pass at midfield that sprang Chile down the right. Eduardo Vargas took a pass from Charles Aranguiz. He then sent the ball flying past goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who was probably pretty sick of seeing the Brazuca – the tournament’s official ball has its own name – whiz by him and being unable to even get a hand on it.
In the 43rd minute, Casillas did get a hand on it: He punched away a shot from the goal, but the ball landed right under Aranguiz’s right foot, as if sucked there by a magnet. How fortunate for Chile, which was already feeling pretty confident. Aranguiz rocketed a shot past Casillas again, adding yet another terrifying scene to his World Cup nightmare.

Spain tried, it really tried, to flip the switch against Chile and let its famous, elegantly mechanical style of play take off on autopilot. But its tiki-taka was on display in only fits and starts, as if its batteries were running out.

Every time Spain tried to make its signature short passes, Chile would find a way to disrupt them. Arturo Vidal, the midfielder from Juventus, would appear out of nowhere, snatching the ball and running away with it like a playground bully.

The Chileans were faster and, frankly, seemed more passionate about winning. Spain’s coach, Vicente del Bosque, saw that, too.

“I would have never, ever thought that we would leave the tournament after the first round,” he said. “We started sluggishly and were not brave enough, really. It’s a pity because I didn’t expect that.”