25 June 2010

Spain 2-1 Chile

Ramos Pique Puyol Capdevila
Busquets Alonso
Iniesta Xavi Villa

Medel Ponce Jara
Isla Estrada Vidal
Sanchez Beausejour Gonzalez

Villa 24'
Iniesta 37'
Millar 47'

Disappointing, but not entirely surprising, to see the game end not with a bang but a whimper after the first 50 minutes. 2-1 suited both sides just fine, especially with Switzerland and Honduras unable to conjure a goal between them.

But the first 24 minutes couldn't have been more frightening for the Spanish. After Torres missed two early chances – an awkward header well over and unable to take advantage of Jara letting a long punt bounce, only to see his shot deflected – Chile began to beat Spain at its own game, keeping possession with some lovely touches and perpetually driving towards goal.

And at the same time, Chile stormed into tackles, ensuring Spain had little possession, but also seeing three players incur yellows (including one reminiscent of Beckham's infamous 1998 sending off) before Villa scored a wonder goal against the run of play. Alonso's perfect long-range throughball nearly put Torres in, requiring a Bravo charge outside his box to dive in and clear. But Villa picked up possession 50 yards from goal, looked up, and somehow hit a pinpoint shot with his weaker foot into an empty net. There's a reason he's nicknamed Maravilla.

The strike knocked Chile back and further frazzled tempers, and Estrada should have seen a second yellow three minutes later for a petulant tackle on Iniesta. Chile nearly equalized on the break, with Pique ultimately getting back to deflect Beausejour's shot into the side-netting before a fantastic, finally Spanish move involving Torres, Iniesta, and Villa led to the second. Iniesta dispossessed Jara and found Torres, to Iniesta, to Villa, to Iniesta to pass low into the far corner. 2-0, and Spain had barely looked like a coherent side. Sometimes a coherent side isn't necessary when you have individuals like this team does.

To make matters worse for the Chileans, Estrada was sent off for a "foul" on Torres in the build-up when he clipped the striker's heels. Harsh to be sure, and maybe even accidental, but it's hard to feel bad for a player that should have marched 10 minutes earlier. At that point, commentators began to break out "Battle of Santiago" references, and it seemed a matter of time before Chile lost more men.

But credit to Bielsa for changing it up at halftime, replacing the ineffective Gonzalez with Paredes and attacking pivot Valdivia with midfielder Millar, shifting to what seemed a 3-3-3 formation still in line with Chile's usual strategy. In addition, they cut out the stupid, acrimonious fouls after I was taking bets at halftime as to who'd be sent off next. And it paid dividends immediately. Spain, complacent with a two-goal lead and man advantage, gave Millar time and space at the top of box in the 47th, and saw his shot deflect off Pique to wrong-foot Casillas.

Torres, ineffective and limping, was soon replaced by Fabregas as Spain returned to its usual tiki-taka possession and set up a couple opportunities for Villa, only to see the striker twice unable to control in the box around the hour mark. From there, both sides were increasingly content with matters as they were due to news from the other game. There was little chance of Switzerland scoring one, let alone the two they'd need to overtake Chile on goal difference. Alonso finally needing to go off in the 73rd is the only thing worth mentioning, and honestly, they shouldn't have bothered with the final 15 minutes.

Once again, it's a less than fluent Spanish performance, but it's also two wins from two after the embarrassment against Switzerland. Villa's joint-top scorer after the group stage, scoring three of Spain's four goals and assisting on the other. Iniesta looked far fitter, but the midfield was still narrow and disjointed; they looked to have caught the English passing disease in the first half, although a lot of that was down to Chile's pressing. And the defense still has its moments of madness, evidenced by Millar's soft goal.

So now Spain will face Portugal in an all-Iberian match-up, while Chile meets Brazil. Both look infinitely tantalizing: Spain's possession style versus Portugal's defensively solidity; Chile's fluency against Brazil's counter-attacking brilliance. Both know their opposition fairly well. Chile will see both Estrada and Medel miss the next match, but Carmona and Fernandez will return from suspension, while Spain are the first team to finish the group stage without a booking since 1986. Yet while both of today's teams can be fun to watch, they'll both have to improve to progress further in this tournament.


Noel said...

Another top WC write up, and good on you for it, Nate.

Have to say I'm glad to see Chile still advance--if any squad in this World Cup "deserved" it, I think they did for their at times suicidal dedication to attacking football (and for their at times suicidal to foolishly overeager challenges, too, it must be said, which can almost be fun to watch when it's the other guy's ankles they're trying to break). Given that Brazil have quite possibly been the least impressive South American squad to date, that's a match up I'll be rooting for an upset in.

Spain didn't look entirely convincing throughout, as you say, but my god what a finish by Villa. Nearly fifty yards, on the touch line, with his weaker foot and on the first touch. Forlan's earlier "goal of the tournament" took a deflection, but this one was all class despite that it might seem simple to some.

As for Torres, I find myself wanting to smack a few people around the interwebs for carrying on as though he's Rivaldo. He got studs to his right knee and didn't make a meal of it. He got barged over in the penalty area and didn't make a meal of it. Then some incidental contact ended with him going face first into the ground at full speed and not able to sort himself out to join in the goal celebrations and a few who are already imagining him in Chelsea blue want to crucify him. It was never a yellow card in a million years, but it just as clearly was not an entirely pleasant experience.

Can't believe the whole thing's half over, in any case.

Anonymous said...

No doubt David Villa had a world class finish, but I believe he got the opportunity through a goalkeeper mistake. It wasn't a terrible one (I guess any mistake that allows a goal is terrible, but it's nowhere near Green's mistake,) but the Keeper had no business coming out that far, in that situation. Perhaps if the defender had slipped and fell down or was two or three yards behind Torres. But the defender was step-for-step with Torres, and although I'd fancy Torres in a one-on-one situation, the Keeper needed to trust his defenders.

Jim said...

I've watched the Torres / Estrada incident in the run-up to Spain's second several times in slow motion now (found it somewhere on YouTube) and it seems fairly clear to me that Torres actually trips himself up. He starts sprinting from a slightly awkward position, then his right foot somehow catches his left and down he goes. Impossible to tell whether it's accidental or whether he was trying to get the guy sent off. If it was the latter, it was a strange way to go about it, and as I love Torres more than life itself, I really don't want to believe it either.

nate said...

• I'm afraid for Chile against Brazil, and I don't think it's a good match-up for Bielsa's men. They play how Brazil wants the opposition to play, which was evident in the 3-0 and 4-2 wins in CONMEBOL qualifying.

• It's a decent point about whether the keeper needs to come out there – I think Torres had the defender for pace and it wasn't a bad decision, and once he made that decision, he had to dive in to get the ball. I often credit Reina for being a sweeper-keeper, coming out to clean up, but evidently, Reina's faster than Bravo. And given how Chile had defended, with so many men forward, would you trust your defender – a defender who's already on a yellow (I think)?

• Think you're being harsh on Torres, Jim. I pretty much agree with how Noel saw it. I haven't watched a ton of replays, so I didn't notice Torres holding his face or hamming it up, but there's definitely some contact – incidental, but contact – when Torres was running at full speed. And when you're going that fast, it only takes a touch to send you sprawling. His right foot only catches his left after Estrada made contact.