Chile scraped through to the knockout stages of the World Cup despite losing 2-1 to Spain in an exciting encounter at Loftus Versfeld.
David Villa scored one goal and made another as Spain overcame ten-man Chile but Switzerland’s failure to beat group minnows Honduras in tonight’s other game saw both teams qualify from Group H.
Chile began the game in a frenzy, playing at a furiously high tempo and dominating territory whilst walking a disciplinary tightrope. Gary Medel and Marco Estrada were booked early on as Chile sought to pressurise Spain when the European Champions had possession.
For their part Spain seemed content to absorb attacking pressure whilst actively seeking to launch quick, incisive breaks against the Chile back three who were regularly exposed. Villa looked lively early on and though Fernando Torres seemed sluggish before being replaced in the second half, Spain looked menacing on the counter attack.
Chile began brightly but couldn’t create the chances to go along with their territorial advantage. Jorge Valdivia struggled to replicate the threat of the unfit Humberto Suazo and they missed the guile of the suspended Matias Fernandez in midfield.
They were punished after 24 minutes when a long through ball towards Torres caught the Chile defence napping. Claudio Bravo rushed from his goal and cleared the ball but could not find touch and David Villa pounced, hitting a wonderful lob over the goalkeeper and into the net from fully 40 yards.
With nerves settled Spain began to find a rhythm, sucking Chile in before exposing the space in behind with swift breaks. Gerard Pique headed a Xavi corner over the bar when unmarked after one such move before decent Spanish penalty claims were rejected after Vidal barged Torres in the box.
Chile had one chance with Beausejour who looked to be clean through on goal until Pique executed a perfectly timed last ditch tackle to block his shot. The game looked to be over just two minutes later however when Spain scored their second goal.
Iniesta played a neat one two with Villa on the left before hitting a wonderfully placed shot across Bravo and into the bottom corner. To make matters worse, Estrada received a harsh second yellow card for a trip on Torres in the build up. Chile were two goals and a man down and began to lose their discipline.
Waldo Ponce was booked for kicking out at Torres before crunching into Alonso right on half time. If the red card for Estrada was harsh on Chile, the fact that Ponce remained on the pitch was more than fortunate.
At half time Marcelo Bielsa had to reorganise his side and also calm them down. Ponce, Medel and Estrada had all incurred suspensions already and anymore indiscipline would only further reduce their chances of making it to the next round in the first place. The coach did a wonderful job.
At 2-0 down, Chile knew that any breakthrough for Switzerland against Honduras would knock them out. They had to score to pile the pressure back on to the Swiss who would then need two goals to qualify. Esteban Paredes was introduced in place of Valdivia up front while Rodrigo Millar replaced Mark Gonzalez.
It was Millar who brought them back into the game. He worked some space on the edge of the box with something close to his first touch before digging out a shot that caught Pique on the knee and looped over Iker Casillas. The goal was fortunate but took much of the pressure off Chile with the score in the other game locked at 0-0.
Spain replaced Torres with Cesc Fabregas as they thought about trying to increase their lead again and added some width with Javi Martinez on the hour. Alexis Sanchez worked hard throughout and deserved the rest that came with his withdrawal for Fabian Orellana with 25 minutes to go.
As the second half went on the two sides began to accept that this was a result that should suit them both and began to back off the gas. Chile began to tire having played with ten men for the best part of an hour and Spain became content to maintain possession and run down the clock. At the end of the game news filterred through that Honduras had held the toothless Swiss in Bloemfontein and both of these sides were through. Spain top the group and face Portugal in the last 16 while Chile travel to Johannesburg to face Brazil.
While the majority of neutrals are more than glad to see the back of a Switzerland side that can be painfully negative, both Spain and Chile will need to up their games against strong opposition in the next round. Vicente del Bosque will be confident that his side have more to show while Bielsa must address some longstanding problems with his.
Chile remain extremely vulnerable to the counter attack and at the set piece. Both are real strengths for Brazil who beat Chile 3-0 and 4-2 in qualifying. Bielsa must also ensure that his side remain calm and avoid picking up needless cards from strict World Cup referees. He will also be desperate for the return to full fitness of Suazo to add some potency to a frontline that has wasted too many chances through the group stage.