RIO DE JANEIRO — No dynasty lasts forever.
Defending champion Spain limped out of the World Cup with a 2-0 loss to Chile on Wednesday, ending its hopes of becoming the first team in 52 years – and third in history – to win back-to-back titles. It's also the first time since 1998 that Spain has failed to make it out of the group stage, and it must beat Australia in the final game to avoid its worst showing ever in the tournament.
Charles Aranguiz and Eduardo Vargas scored for Chile, which beat Spain for the first time in 11 tries.La Roja advanced to the round of 16, and it will play the Netherlands next Monday to determine the winner of Group B.
Spain, meanwhile, will head home wondering how its reign came to such an abrupt and disappointing end.
For six years, it's been the best team in the world, with no one else even coming close. Its European championships in 2008 and '12, along with its trophy in South Africa four years ago, made it the first country to win three major titles in a row. It also was the first to win back-to-back European crowns.
But it wasn't just its record that made Spain so special. It was the elegance with which it played, a possession-based style that built from the back through the midfield with one precise pass after another. They were supremely patient, preferring to play the ball back and start over rather than take a forced or rushed shot.
The style was dubbed "tiki taka," a nickname as pleasing to the ear as Spain's game was to the eye.
Though Spain went unbeaten in World Cup qualifying – no small thing with France in its group – there have been signs of trouble. Vicente del Bosque refused to tinker with his star-studded lineup, even though Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Xabi Alonso were all over 30.
There was a 3-0 loss to Brazil in last summer's Confederations Cup, followed in November by a stunning upset at the hands of lowly South Africa. And then came the nightmare first game in Brazil, when Spain was routed 5-1 by the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2010 final.
The Spanish looked listless and – dare we say it? – old against the Dutch, unable to withstand their withering attack or thread their way through the stifling defense. Casillas – dubbed "Saint Iker" for his brilliance in goal in 2010 – looked lost, and many suggested he be benched against Chile for the sake of his psyche.
"One problem is that we have been so used to having everything go our way," Del Bosque said earlier this week. "In the face of tough matches we should be prepared to face adversity."
But whatever confidence Casillas had was gone after Chile scored its first goal in the 20th minute, taking Spain's hopes of advancing along with it.
Casillas got in front of Aranguiz and took away his shot, but it left him out of position. So Aranguiz simply slipped the ball to Vargas, who left Casillas flat-footed as he poked the ball past Alonso and into the net.
Another Casillas mistake led to Chile's second goal, too. Chile was awarded a free kick from about 23 yards after a stupid foul by Iniesta – never grab someone's shoulder when the ref is right there. Alexis Sanchez floated the ball over the wall and Casillas punched it clear, but it went right to Aranguiz, who trapped the ball with his right foot and then followed with a gorgeous finish.
The Spanish played with more life in the second half, but even they knew it was too little, too late.
Claudio Bravo punched a Spain free kick away in the 53rd, but the ball floated to Diego Costa. Trying to keep the possession alive, Costa did a half bicycle kick and the ball fell right to Sergio Busquets. But Busquets botched the shot, and he fell to the grass on his knees, his head bowed.
Someone else will soon be king.
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