There was a rather surreal quality to the final quarter of an hour hour of this game. Both sides realised that, with Spain winning 2-1 and Switzerland unable to break down Honduras, they were both through. Spain duly stopped passing further forward than midfield and Chile stopped chasing them. It was, in its way, a fitting end to a match that had been played at such breakneck speed.
While Spain can consider themselves worthy winners they should also count themselves lucky. Chile were much the better side until a goalkeeping error gave Spain an ill-deserved lead, then a combination of Chilean ill discipline and a gullible referee reduced Chile to ten men.
Andres Iniesta was available for selection again, coach Vicente Del Bosque playing him on the right of a front three that, as against Honduras, had Fernando Torres at its centre and David Villa on the left.
Chilean coach Marcelo Bielsa once again went with the unique 3-3-1-3 formation that has so confounded their opponents in this World Cup and theirs was much the better start. Jean Beausejour played a neat one-two with Valdivia and squared along the six-yard line only for Mark Gonzalez to fluff his lines. Alexis Sanchez came close too, his lob drawing a fine save from Iker Casillas. Chile’s speed of passing and movement was tying Spain in knots.
Fernando Torres had two early chances – nodding over from a cross, having a shot blocked – and is still visibly struggling his way back to match fitness. But he made his presence felt when he chased down Gerard Pique’s hopeful ball over the top. Torres had a yard on his defender but was hardly posing much of a threat as he charged towards the ball on the left touchline, making Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo’s decision to come charging 30 yards out of his goal all the more curious.
Bravo slid and took the ball away from Torres but sent it right to the waiting David Villa ten yards away. It was an open goal but Villa still had much to do and he did it perfectly, curling a left-foot shot first time that dropped into the corner of the goal. Barcelona’s new £35m signing now has three goals in this world cup and one suspects there are still a few to come, though this one came very much against the run of play.
With Spain moving the ball so well and at such speed, and Chile pressing with such aggression and intensity, someone was probably going to get hurt, and so it proved. Chile picked up several cards in quick succession, Medel and Ponce picking up their second yellows of the tournament, and thus missing Chile’s second round match against Brazil. If they could have few complaints with theirs – indeed, Ponce’s tackle on Alonso arguably deserved a red – Marco Estrada certainly could with his second.
Spain’s second was very much Iniesta’s goal, as he exchanged passes with Torres then Villa before sidefooting home from the edge of the area. However as Torres had charged into the box he went down under challenge from Estrada and stayed prone on the floor as Spain wheeled away to celebrate.
Referee Marco Rodriguez did not hesitate in brandishing a second yellow, followed by a red, at Estrada. Replays showed that at best the contact had been accidental and at worst there had been none at all, Torres kicking himself in the heel but getting a man sent off with his reaction. Estrada can join Kaka and Valon Behrami in the ever-expanding group of players sent off by duplicitous opponents at this World Cup.
That pretty much killed any notion of this game being an even contest which was a great shame. After Portugal and Brazil spent ninety minutes alternately falling over and complaining in their 0-0 draw earlier that afternoon this had been a close-fought, thrilling contest that was delicately poised until the sending off.
Chile struggled manfully and pulled a goal back just after half-time, substitute Rodrigo Millar’s shot taking a big deflection off Pique to wrongfoot Casillas. But Chile’s pressing game understandably faded as the second half wore on until, eventually, both teams dropped down into second gear and ran out the clock.
Cesc Fabregas had a brief run around after replacing Torres, who del Bosque later described as having a muscle injury, which I assume is some Spanish colloquialism for not being able to hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. Never mind though, Nando, you can always just get someone sent off.
The result meant that despite the opening loss to Switzerland, Spain qualify as group winners and will not face Brazil unless both teams make the final. They will however have their work cut out against Portugal on Tuesday. Chile face Brazil and may just stand a chance, if they can keep all eleven players on the pitch.