Chile 1-2 Spain
In a must win game for Spain, the reigning European Champions beat dark horses Chile this evening in Pretoria to advance into the last sixteen stage. Thanks to victories in their opening two games and seeing Switzerland failing to beat Honduras, Chile progressed behind Spain in Group H on goal difference.
The teams and tactics
After beginning the tournament with Andrés Iniesta in the team, Vincente Del Bosque went for some much needed width in the second game against Honduras which they won 2-0. However tonight he reverted back to Iniesta who played in an attacking left side role alongside David Villa and Fernando Torres in attack. Chile were forced into two changes as Mati Fernandez and Carlos Carmona were both suspended after picking up two yellow cards along the way. In came the lively Jorge Valdivia and Marco Estrada.
With their much debated 3-3-1-3 formation, Chile greatly outplayed Spain’s line-up from the beginning. Bielsa’s men enjoyed much of the possession in the early part of the game, as Alexis Sanchez and Mark Gonzalez pushed Spain’s only threats of widht (full backs Capdevila and Ramos) well back leaving them short of options and ideas.
As the attacking full backs were left with the attacking threat of Chile, David Villa was Spain’s only player out wide, a problem experienced against Switzerland in their opening game. Jesus Navas created the perfect wide option against Honduras (a la Milner for England against Slovenia) but like Milner, gave the ball away too often and against a team like Chile, that may have weighed heavily on the manager’s decision to bench him again.
However Bielsa’s unorthodox formation countered that of their opponents yet again, resulting in exciting football that constantly posed a threat.
Goalkeeping error changed the game
However Chile’s hard work was taken down a peg after a rush of blood from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. The Real Sociedad ‘keeper, and Chile captain, rushed well outside his box to deal with a long ball forward to Fernando Torres which was already being covered by a defender. In an attempt to clear the ball, Bravo knocked the ball to Villa who took it first time from just inside the Chilean half and it bobbled accurately into the unguarded goal to the dismay of every Chilean player and supporter in the stadium.
The ridiculous stunt from Bravo changed the game from a Chilean perspective. What was already a game of many hard tackles and challenged multiplied and numerous players risked themselves getting red carded and suspended. Gary Medel received a yellow, ruling him out of the last sixteen tie with Brazil, while Ponce and Estrada also picked up yellows.
Estrada’s red card a turning point
A too regular trend in this year’s World Cup has been how dismissals have changed games. After picking up an earlier booking, Estrada appeared to have tripped Fernando Torres as he was running into the box. On closer review, it was a shameful and blatant dive from the striker struggling for form. This can be seen clearly in a GIF which is currently circulating Twitter, (thanks Gabriele and ZM).
As expected, the one-man disadvantage directed proceedings from here.
Second-half changes helped Chile, but Spain see win through
It’s fair to say Bielsa is a superb tactician, and has his squad well drilled and rehearsed if any mishaps come their way. The coach brought on Rodrigo Millar (for Gonzalez), and Esteban Paredes (for Valdivia) at the break and these changed were beneficial to Chile regaining a foothold in the game and made it 2-1 through Millar, just a minute after coming on.
However it wasn’t enough for Chile and Spain made the required changes to withstand the Chilean attack and hold on to the lead set by Iniesta in the first half.
The Last 16 is now complete!
The sixteen places left in the World Cup are now complete and Spain’s topping of Group H mean they face neighbours Portugal in a mouth-watering clash which will be played on the 29th of June. Chile meanwhile face a tough task against Brazil, but with some important players back from suspension in midfield they’ll be set out better where it matters most. It goes without saying that Bielsa will have something up his sleeve against Dunga’s men, and certainly will be looking to air his revolutionary tactics against the one-man striker and narrow midfield of the Brazilians.
It’ll also be interesting to see how they counter the attacking threat of Maicon, who has been Brazil’s brightest player so far. Chile could be the first team to completely take him out of the attacking side of things, if they can get on the ball as much as they have done and can stop Brazil from playing around comfortably.