And so Spain’s World Cup defense ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Spain maintained the ignominious tradition of recent European winners by crashing out of the World Cup at the group stage. In 2002 France didn’t manage a single goal in three games, while in 2010 Italy finished bottom of their group (even below that world power New Zealand) after two draws and a defeat. Spain won’t even manage that, after slumping to defeats against the Netherlands and Chile.
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It’s a sad way for coach Vicente del Bosque to (presumably) bow out, but, like a vampire at an old folks’ home, this Spanish team is badly in need of fresh blood. The more fragmented and inept their play became during the Chile game, the more ironic that gold lettering seemed on the back of their shirts.
And yet, before David Silva missed a glorious chance to put his side 2-0 ahead against the Netherlands in the first game, we were marvelling at the strength-in-depth on the Spanish bench – Villa, Fabregas, Mata, Koke, de Gea … plus the likes of Isco, Negredo and Navas who didn’t even make the cut.
Two Spanish teams won Europe’s top two trophies (and a third made the Champions’ League final), but here the national team looked almost as bankrupt as the country’s economy. You might call it the Barcelona effect – where immensely talented players suddenly look tired, jaded and, dare one say it, disinterested.
The only problem with that is the fact that Chile’s center forward, Alexis Sanchez, also plays for the Catalans, and he was a constant threat and source of energy Wednesday night.
Poor old Diego Costa is having a World Cup to forget. Abused by the crowd, he had the touch of a mallet and the ferociousness of a duckling. A far cry from the player who bullied defenders for fun at Atl?tico Madrid in 2013. Chelsea fans will anxiously await to see if they’ve signed another Spanish forward who’s lost his mojo.
Compare Spain’s departure with that of Australia’s. The Aussies were the lowest-ranked side in the tournament, but they gave Chile and the Netherlands far tougher games than the defending champion managed. Tim Cahill scored the goal of the tournament against the Netherlands (a wonderful volley from the edge of the penalty area), and the Socceroos even had the temerity to take the lead early in the second half. They’ll be (soccer) rueing their missed chances.
Netherlands are proving hugely entertaining to watch (that’s 11 goals in their two games so far). Sure, the likes of Germany offer sound defense as well as offense, but any team containing match winners such as Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie can probably afford to surrender the odd goal.
Meanwhile, things are heating up in Group A. Any one of three teams can top the group: Brazil, Mexico or Croatia, who thumped Cameroon 4-0 in Wednesday’s other game. The Indomitable Lions failed to live up to their nickname and were mauled by an efficient Croatia. The game will make the headlines for the head-butt by Benoit Assou-Ekotto at the end of the game – on his own teammate, Benjamin Moukandjo. Luckily, like everything else the Africans did during the game, it wasn’t very well executed.
Finally, give a cheer for Colombia and coach Jose Pekerman as they face the Ivory Coast Thursday. Not only is the Argentine the only Jewish manager at the World Cup tournament, he also received a staggering 400,000 votes in the Colombian presidential elections at the weekend. Sure, he wasn’t actually standing and it was a protest vote by disenchanted Colombians – but still, hundreds of thousands of votes! Wait a minute: A popular Diaspora Jew who’s not Israeli but knows how to lead people? Bibi, we’ve found your next Israeli presidential candidate!
Colombia vs. Ivory Coast, 7 P.M.
Japan vs. Greece, 1 A.M.
Eng-er-land vs. Uruguay, 10 P.M.