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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Defending champ Spain stunned by Chile

By The Associated Press

Defending champion Spain, the dominant global football power for the past six years, was eliminated from World Cup contention Wednesday with a 2-0 loss to Chile.

Spain’s famed passing game failed against a high-tempo, tenacious Chile team, its era ending in the storied Maracana Stadium filled mostly with Chilean supporters. ...

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Defending champion Spain, the dominant global football power for the past six years, was eliminated from World Cup contention Wednesday with a 2-0 loss to Chile.

Spain’s famed passing game failed against a high-tempo, tenacious Chile team, its era ending in the storied Maracana Stadium filled mostly with Chilean supporters.

Eduardo Vargas tricked goalkeeper Iker Casillas into diving the wrong way, then shot into an unguarded goal in the 20th minute. Charles Aranguiz scored in the 43rd when the ball landed at his feet after Casillas punched out a free kick.

Spain’s second loss, after a 5-1 rout by the Netherlands, ended any hope of advancing. Chile and the Netherlands will both advance, regardless of who wins the game between them.

Spain won the European Championship in 2008 and 2012, in addition to the 2010 World Cup.

Spain came to Brazil with a very similar – but older – team than the one that won those titles. They added Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa, but he failed to score a goal.

Their “tiki-taka” style of play – keeping the ball for long stretches with short passes, and only shooting when you had a clear opening – had not been working as well in recent years. Brazil defeated Spain 3-0 in last summer’s Confederations Cup, a warm-up for the World Cup.

Spain became the third straight European defending World Cup champion to flop in the group stage. France in 2002 and Italy four years ago also failed to advance, or even win a match.

Badly needing a win, del Bosque stayed loyal to captain Casillas despite the veteran goalkeeper’s errors against the Dutch.

Two pillars of Spain’s title runs, Barcelona pair Xavi Hernandez and Gerard Pique with a combined 194 appearances, were left out.

Xabi Alonso probably should have joined them. His agonizing first half typified Spain’s problems and his errors led to both goals.

And Alonso’s selection left a younger version of his former self, Atletico Madrid’s Koke, on the bench until the logical change was made at half time.

Alonso gave away the ball to Alexis Sanchez to start a move down Chile’s right wing by Arturo Vidal and Aranguiz, leading to Vargas’ score. Alonso trailed behind the play and put his hands to his head.

Alonso was booked in the 40th before conceding another foul, on Sanchez, three minutes later 22 yards (meters) out.

When Casillas punched away Sanchez’s curling free-kick, Aranguiz trapped the ball then flicked a rising shot spinning away from the goalkeeper’s reach.

Alonso had Spain’s best early chance, a 15th-minute shot smothered by Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

Often wayward in its passing, Spain missed two clear chances early in the second half.

Costa was slow on Andres Iniesta’s threaded pass in the 49th, and Sergio Busquets was guilty of a glaring miss, volleying wide from five meters in the 53rd.

After Bravo pushed away shots by substitute Santi Cazorla and Iniesta, Chile’s win was sealed.

NETHERLANDS 3 AUSTRALIA 2

Memphis Depay scored a late clincher as Netherlands withstood Australia’s unsettling challenge in a comeback win to move to the verge of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the World Cup.

Netherlands followed up its 5-1 rout of defending champion Spain with a closer-than-expected win against Australia, which is almost surely out of contention after two straight defeats.

Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, who each scored twice against Spain, added to their tallies before and after Australia’s goals. Substitute Depay scored in the winner in the 68th.

CROATIA 4 CAMEROON 0

Mario Mandzukic scored two goals to keep Croatia in the mix at the World Cup with a win over 10-man Cameroon, which will be going home after the group stage.Mandzukic, who returned to the team at the Arena da Amazonia after sitting out the opening loss to Brazil through suspension, headed in a corner from Danijel Pranjic in the 61st minute and then knocked in a rebound in the 73rd of the Group A game.

Ivan Perisic also scored one goal and made another for Ivica Olic.

Cameroon was reduced to 10 men after midfielder Alex Song was given a red card for elbowing Mandzukic in the back in an off-the-ball incident in the 40th minute.

U.S. preparing

After arriving back at their rooms at 4:45 a.m., victorious American players skipped breakfast Tuesday, slept late, went for medical tests and turned their attention to Portugal.

The U.S. opened the World Cup with a thrilling 2-1 win over nemesis Ghana on John Brooks’ 86th-minute goal. But Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Matt Besler and Alejandro Bedoya all got hurt to various degrees. Altidore, taken off on a stretcher after straining his left hamstring, appears unlikely to play against the Portuguese this weekend.

“We’ve got to see how he now reacts the next couple days,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We’re full of hope that he comes back still in this tournament.”

Players hope to become the first American team to win consecutive World Cup games since a 2-0 start at the very first tournament in 1930.

“Woke up today, this morning, and you look at your Instagram and Twitter and you see the videos that people posted,” Bedoya said of fans back home celebrating Brooks’ goal. “It’s really cool, and I’m sure everybody feeds off this energy.”

The match drew 11.09 million viewers on ESPN, a record for men’s soccer on the network. And after decades when U.S. soccer fans felt outnumbered – even at home games – players took notice of the raucous red, white and blue-clad crowd at Arena das Dunas in Natal.

“It was an incredible feeling, the support we had from the fans in the stadium along with the fans in every part of the country. We felt that,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, whose corner kick was headed in by Brooks. “It just makes me want more of it.”