Three quick thoughts on Spain-Chile (World Cup Group H)
Three quick thoughts following Spain's 2-1 over Chile in Group H play on Friday.
1. El Loco's game plan: The elephant-sized question coming into the game? The strategy employed by Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa (nicknamed "The Madman") against Spain. The team's default position, of course, is attacking football, but needing only a draw to advance, what would it do? To its credit, it attacked. Early, as my colleague Grant Wahl tweeted, Chile was even "out-Spaining Spain," and winger Mark Gonzalez missed a glorious chance that could have put his team up 1-0 in the opening 10 minutes. Despite playing with 10 men for more than 50 minutes, Chile was aggressive, energetic and countered when it could. Midfielder Rodrigo Millar, who came on with Esteben Paredes for Jorge Valdivia and Gonzalez, scored two minutes into the second half on a deflection off Spain defender Gerard Pique to cut the lead in half. Eventually, Spain held the ball to run out the clock, a plot that worked out well for Chile with Switzerland's disappointing 0-0 draw with Honduras.
2. A costly booking: Chile needed only a point at Pretoria's Loftus Versfeld Stadium to finish top of the standings. Instead, it'll face odds-on favorite Brazil in an all-South American matchup Monday in the knockout round. After giving up an elegant goal to Andres Iniesta on a classic Spanish build-up of touch passes, Chile was robbed by referee Marco Rodriguez, who sent off midfielder Marco Estrada in the 37th minute (his second yellow card) for what looked like accidental contact with Fernando Torres (the players' cleats tangled up on the Iniesta run). Some cheap bookings and silly challenges hurt the Chileans (they had three yellows), though Estrada's call was quite harsh. Defender Waldo Ponce received a yellow card and will miss the next game against Brazil. That will be costly.
3. Viva Villa again!: In one of the spectacular goals of this World Cup, David Villa hit a left-footed cracker from nearly the halfway line into an empty net. Here's how it happened: Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo came storming out of his box to knock the ball away from an incoming Torres. The goalkeeper won the ball but it deflected to Villa, who hit a first strike over Ponce and into the empty net. The goal was Villa's 41st for Spain, and his sixth in World Cup play. He needs four goals to overtake Raul for all-time honors among his countryman.
Unfortunately for Spain, Torres once again seemed off a tick. He cracked a couple of shots over the net but had little impact for a player of his quality. He was substituted for Cesc Fabregas in the 55th minute. Spain coach Vicente del Bosque has some big lineup decisions ahead of him against Portugal on Tuesday. The completion of group play concludes a remarkable nine days for Spain, which become only the third team in World Cup history to finish atop its group despite losing its opener (West Germany, 1982, and Mexico, 1994).