2014 FIFA World Cup: What we learned, Day 7
Defending World Cup champion Spain was eliminated by Chile while the Netherlands won its second game over Australia.
At the end of each day of action at the 2014 World Cup, our writers weigh in on what we learned from each match.
Spain's dominance is done. Six years is a long time to be top dog, but after Wednesday's stunning flameout, Spain became the first defending World Cup champion to be eliminated after just two games. It wasn't just eliminated as much as it was beaten into submission. Seven to one. That was the goal disparity against the Netherlands and Chile. Its last game against Australia carries the same weight as a friendly but it could give them a chance to save face against an inferior squad. It could also cause even further embarrassment as Australia clearly isn't intimidated by the name recognition in Group B.
So many stars likely played their last meaningful game for La Roja, ending spectacular national careers with one massive failure. Andres Iniesta and Xavi were mainstays in the midfield, but they're respective national team runs are likely done. Fernando Torres and Iker Casillas are likely finished as well. Maybe we should've seen Wednesday's result coming after the first debacle, but it's hard to imagine a Spanish team not at the peak of the football world.
Chile earned this: As much as the story will be Spain's unraveling, Chile deserves a ton of recognition for the way it consolidated its defense and took advantage of the few chances Spain afforded it. There were so many combinations as Spain was attacking with either Xavi Alonso, Pedro or Diego Costa that La Roja's strikers were just outnumbered two-to-one. It was gang defense. All of Chile's players bought in and blocked shots, stood in for tackles and made Spain abandon its preferred tiki-taka style. Sure Spain tried, but Chile stuffed its final third. (It didn't hurt that Sergio Busquets missed a wide open goal or that Costa couldn't pull the trigger when he had an angle in the second half).
The first goal was gorgeous as Charles Aranguiz tapped it back to Eduardo Vargas, whose first touch to the right caught Casillas off balance. Vargas toe-tapped it in as he was falling backwards. The Chileans can thank Casillas for the second goal. Alexis Sanchez booted a free kick and Casillas punched it directly in front of the goal. The resulting tally couldn't have been easier. Again, just another Spanish mistake in a World Cup full of them.
Chile is a serious threat: Once viewed as a tournament darkhorse, Chile is one win away from taking Group B and potentially avoiding Brazil at home. Not that the Brazilians have looked particularly strong, but that's not a game I'd like to play, even with the number of Chilean supporters in Brazil. The winner could face Mexico while the loser could take on the host country. Next Monday's game has massive implications.
The Dutch are beatable: We probably already knew this, but after the Netherlands' performance against Spain their beatability was in question. Not anymore. Australia pushed them to the brink, dominating much of the game and even missing on some almost certain goals. Holland was opportunistic and, well, better, but they certainly didn't look to be the world-beaters they were a week ago. They'll get Chile next, though they'll be without Robin Van Persie who received his second yellow card Wednesday.
Tim Cahill's goal was awesome: Watch it again.
No Van Persie: Netherlands captain Robin Van Persie has scored a goal in each of the first two games of the Cup, but he won't be available against Chile after receiving his second yellow card Wednesday. It may not matter, in the big picture, as a Chile victory over Spain Wednesday locks up a spot for Holland in the knockout stage.
Even if Chile loses it will take a minor miracle for the Netherlands to be kept from the knockout stage.
Applause for Australia: This is a squad ranked 62nd in the world that very, very nearly beat a Netherlands team that appeared invincible after its first match. Australia didn't hang back and let Holland bring the game to them; they attacked and pressured the Dutch, keeping them out of sorts throughout. Some bad breaks and bad luck would end up dooming the Aussies, but they're effort and approach deserve major kudos. It would have been easy to pack the box and lose this game 1-0 or 2-0, but Australia came out fighting and almost pulled off the monster upset.
Croatia could get through: This would take, most likely, a win next week over Mexico, but Croatia looked quite strong Wednesday. Some of that may have been due to Cameroon's general incompetence and inability to keep 11 men on the field; or it could have been due to the fact that star striker Mario Mandzukic was on the field. He wasn't against Brazil, and, remember, there was a pretty friendly whistle for Brazil that day. Beating Mexico is a tall order, but Croatia has the horses.
Cameroon is a wreck: Nothing went right for Cameroon's side Wednesday. They were without striker Samuel Eto'0 and, later, Alex Song. On top of that, there was some fighting between teammates in the closing minutes. Just an all out disaster for Cameroon, who barely managed any scoring opportunities.
They'll have a chance to earn back some goodwill against...Brazil. That should go well.
Mandzukic is a difference maker: He scored twice Wednesday, and one can't help but think what he could have provided against Brazil. He'll get a chance to show that against Mexico, but this Croatia side looks twice as powerful with him in the lineup. Again, Cameroon may have had something to do with that. We'll see next week.
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