Chile 1-2 Spain
Spain beat ten-man Chile 2-1 to finish top of Group H and book a Round of 16 meeting with Portugal, while their opponents’ courageous display was rewarded with a date with Brazil.
Goals from David Villa and Andres Iniesta, coupled with Marco Estrada’s dismissal, appeared to give the European champions an impregnable lead at the break, but Rodrigo Millar’s deflected strike got the South Americans back into a game they were desperate to win to guarantee a place in the knockout phase. As it transpired, Switzerland’s inability to beat Honduras ensured Marcelo Bielsa’s side advanced – something the Chilean players discovered, to their immense relief, after their faces had been pictures of desperation upon the final whistle in Tshwane/Pretoria.
A capacity crowd at Loftus Versfeld Stadium anticipated a beguiling duel between two footballing sides, whose players swiftly began satisfying those expectations. Chile’s Alexis Sanchez drew gasps from the spectators with an eye-catching drag-back, while Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta served notice of his return to fitness and form by nonchalantly side-stepping two opponents and freeing Villa.
The contest’s first chance fell to Fernando Torres, who raced in behind the Chile defence but, under pressure inside the area, blazed over. A better one then fell to Mark Gonzalez. Jean Beausejour squared the ball across goal and, although it was marginally behind the 25-year-old winger, he will have been disappointed at his failure to get a decent connection on a close-range shot.
Chile continued to push the pace until the 24th minute. That was when the Europeans took the lead. And that was when Villa became the first Spaniard to reach ten goals in major international competitions. Xabi Alonso started the move, robbing Jorge Valdivia of possession and launching the ball forward. Torres gave chase, outstripping the last Chilean defender and forcing Claudio Bravo to race from his line and, while sliding, divert the ball away from the Liverpool striker’s path. Unfortunately for the Real Sociedad goalkeeper, his clearance dropped into the path of another clinical Spaniard and Villa, from 40 yards, duly curled the ball into the unguarded net.
Thirteen minutes later, Spain moved into a two-goal lead. Alonso carried the ball through the midfield and fed Villa, who broke into the area and, after drawing two opponents to him, cut the ball back for Iniesta to effortlessly pass it into the bottom-left corner of Bravo’s goal. The referee, Marco Rodriguez, then red-carded Estrada, who had tripped Torres as he was galloping into the penalty area seconds before the goal.
Logic said that it was curtains for Chile. Bielsa, their indomitable coach, said otherwise. He remodelled his tactics, electing to attack through the centre rather than from the wings, introducing Millar and Esteban Paredes for Valdivia and Gonzalez in an adventurous double substitution. It immediately reaped dividends. Two minutes after the restart, Millar’s shot deflected off Gerard Pique and looped over goalkeeper Iker Casillas and into his net.
Thereafter, however, Chile struggled to unravel their opponents’ tactics and, when they did, Parades wasted half-chances. Villa fluffed better ones, his touch deserting him twice in quick succession around the hour mark. Vicente del Bosque’s side then intelligently played possession football. Gradually, they exhausted their adversaries, who were already a man down. Bielsa bellowed instructions from the touchline, but Spain’s impeccable ball retention left the Chileans unable to execute their coach’s orders.
There were looks of relief and delight from the Spaniards upon the final whistle. There were ones of uncertainty from the Chileans. That was until they heard the news: they were through to the Round of 16.