Saturday, May 26, 2018
Sports

Defending champ Spain ousted from World Cup

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — With its stars aging and its loyal coach slow to blend in young talent, Spain's reign as the superpower of world soccer was bound to end.

The Spaniards weren't favored to repeat as World Cup champs, but few expected a collapse. On Friday, they lost 5-1 to the Netherlands. On Wednesday, they lost 2-0 to Chile to be eliminated — before even playing their final group game.

"If you think about everything we accomplished and you told me we would be eliminated in group stage, I wouldn't believe you," coach Vicente del Bosque said. "We have no excuses."

Spain's the first defending champion eliminated with one game left in the group stage. It's a bitter end for a dynasty that has been ranked No. 1 in the world for years and won the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 plus the 2010 World Cup.

"Success is not eternal," said Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, whose team clinched a spot in the knockout stage. "This generation could not continue with that success. It's very special the fact we were able to play against the World Cup champions the way we did … and eliminate them with courage, intensity and attack."

Del Bosque acknowledged his players were "too slow, timid from the start."

Chile twice almost scored in the first 90 seconds and took the lead in the 20th minute when Eduardo Vargas finished a move of incisive passing that was Spanish in its execution.

The second goal came in the 43rd when goalkeeper Iker Casillas punched a free kick to the feet of Charles Aranguiz, who fired in the rebound.

Midfielder Xabi Alonso exemplified the struggles of Spain's veterans. His giveaway led to the first goal. Trailing behind the play, he put his hands to his head as the ball went in. He earned a yellow card. And he conceded the foul that prompted a free kick that led to the second goal. His usual accurate passing was off, and he was taken out at halftime.

"We didn't know how to maintain our hunger or that conviction needed to win a tournament," Alonso said. "The joy and success we've experienced is over. We lost our know-how, which has helped us win so many of these … games."

Said Casillas: "I only ask fans for forgiveness. We did everything we could."

Netherlands 3, Australia 2: The Dutch had to work much harder for a win against the Cup's lowest-ranked team than defending champ Spain in Porto Alegre. Robin van Persie tied it in the 58th. Soon after, substitute Memphis Depay's shot from about 25 yards put the Netherlands ahead for good and into the knockout stage. Australia is 62nd in the world. Said van Persie: "In a tournament, you can't play every game fantastically from beginning to end."

Croatia 4, Cameroon 0: Mario Mandzukic scored twice as Croatia kept alive its hopes for advancing in Manaus. Mandzukic missed the 3-1 loss to Brazil after picking up two yellow cards during qualifying. "I don't want to think too much about goals," he said. "We wanted to win, and the goals came as a reward." Cameroon, which was eliminated, played without its star, forward Samuel Eto'o, because of a right knee injury. Midfielder Alex Song was ejected for elbowing Mandzukic in the back in the 40th minute. The frustration boiled over in injury time when Benoit Assou-Ekotto head-butted teammate Benjamin Moukandjo.

     
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