Spanish carousel comes to an abrupt halt
Chile send champions crashing tamely out of World Cup 2014
Would everybody please get off the carousel – this ride is now shut.
Okay, so technically it was Barcelona Alex Ferguson was comparing to a fairground attraction, after their humiliation of Manchester United in Rome in the 2009 European Cup final, but the analogy works just as well for Spain.
Last night signalled the end of one of the finest eras in International football. Chile were smarter, faster and more intense than a Spanish side who seemed to know their time is up.
After the Netherlands had come from behind to beat Australia earlier in the day, Spain knew it was a game they had to win. It was the perfect opportunity to produce a performance which would quell suggestions the side who had won three major tournaments on the bounce were a spent force.
But Xavi watched from the bench as a slick move and finish from Vargas, and yet another Casillas blunder, helped Chile to a 2-0 lead at half-time.
Spain came out for the second half knowing they had 45 minutes to keep a legacy alive, but they were flat and slow and lucky to keep Chile to two – the defence of their World Cup crown ending with a whimper.
Spain, and Barcelona, had been the supreme force in football for six years.
At club level the Busquets, Iniesta, Xavi triumvirate have been playing with a certain Lionel Messi. For Spain, they’ve been complemented by a supporting cast of Villa, Silva, Alonso et al.
Barcelona’s nadir came in 2013, when Bayern Munich humiliated them 7-0 on aggregate in the European Cup semi-finals.
Even at their best Barcelona were beatable, as Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea had shown at the same stage a year earlier when they somehow scraped through 90 minutes at the Camp Nou with 10 men to reach the final. But this was the first time they had been properly hammered.
Spain, like Barcelona, have lost games in the past. In their 2010 World Cup opener they came up short against Switzerland, but it was just a blip and they went on to win the tournament with ease.
But their 5-1 loss against the Netherlands last week was different, and paved the way for World Cup departure last night – it was their Bayern Munich moment.
Spain, as always, saw most of the ball, enjoying over 60 per cent of the possession and making double the amount of passes the Dutch managed.
But their Tiki-Taki proved toothless in the face of Van Gaal’s total football, and they were humiliated.
Compare last Friday’s games to the 2010 final. In South Africa, the Netherlands were so hopelessly out of their depth they had to try and kick Spain off the pitch, and in the process left us with the tournament’s most enduring image – Nigel De Jong’s studs planted in Xabi Alonso’s chest.
This time round, they knew they could out-football, rather than just out-muscle, La Roja.
Spain however, didn’t play much differently. It was the same football they played in South Africa, just a little older and a little more jaded.
They were the same in the 2012 European Championships, where they had the temerity to win the thing without bothering to play a centre-forward.
But Spain’s possession football, as Chile highlighted last night, now looks outdated - and the rest have moved on.
And now Spain are out of the World Cup, shorn of energy and shorn of ideas.
Iker Casillas reportedly apologised to his team-mates for his role in the opening defeat. He was culpable again last night, and is one of a number of players who may not survive a cull in the wake of their World Cup exit.
But this isn’t necessarily the end for Spain – they haven’t won three successive major tournaments off the back off a system which doesn’t work.