King Juan Carlos picked a cussed day to slip the crown off his elegant pate, signing the instrument of his abdication hours before Spain, the reigning champion, was ousted from the World Cup by Chile, the first colony to win independence in the 19th century from the Spanish empire.
On Wednesday, Chile also put an end to Spain’s modern football imperium (2008-14 … as history books would put it). Bustling and irrepressible, the Chileans ran at the Spaniards from the very first minute, eager to exploit the frailty of a side that had been roasted and carved up by the Dutch on only the second day of a tournament. If Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie had pulled Spanish pants down in that last game, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal did so Wednesday, yanking hard and exulting in the results of their irreverent efforts.
The final result was 2-0, one of those football scores that obscures as much as it reveals. A 2-0 can be a clobbering; it can also be a close-run thing. This 2-0 was a clear-cut win, a sharp slice through a loaf, no ambiguity, no crumbs. A Chilean victory was never in doubt, and even when Spain had its chance of the match in the 52nd minute, it fell to Sergio Busquets, a central-defensive midfielder who hasn’t scored in 68 matches for his country. He wasn’t about to score Wednesday. With the Chilean goal exposed to him in all its allure, he hit the ball with his shin—his canilla, as Busquets would call it. There haven’t been too many goals scored off a canilla in World Cup history.
This was the end of an era. More than that, it was the end of an aura.
The first Chilean goal was a thing of beauty produced by a team not known for beauty. Xabi Alonso, the Spanish midfielder who has had a tournament to forget (after only two games), was brusquely dispossessed. The ball ended up at the feet of Eduardo Vargas, who cued the ball past Iker Casillas, Spain’s goalkeeper-on-the-verge-of-extinction, with an outstretched, irrefutable foot. Not since 2002 had Spain conceded in back-to-back games in a World Cup, and one could feel La Furia Roja—the Red Fury—turn a tender and demoralized shade of pink. The second goal came on the brink of halftime, after Casillas punched a ball right back at the feet of Charles Aranguiz. Aranguiz buried it into the net: Gracias, po’ huevon, as the Chileans would say; thanks a million.
Was this a sad day for football? Perhaps, although not as triste as the day when The Netherlands took Spain apart. That was a shock. Wednesday’s match report is a chronicle of a death foretold. Spain took the field bereft of ideas and inspiration, with fewer Barcelona players in the starting 11 than in any Spanish side in ages. One senses that Vicente del Bosque, the coach, was going through the motions: He looked pained, and distracted. This was the end of an era. More than that, it was the end of an aura. Teams don’t fear Spain anymore.