Much has been spoken and written about the potential ramifications of Spain’s 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands, but for Vicente del Bosque’s side the only one that matters is that they now likely need to rebound from an opening loss to win six consecutive games in order to lift the World Cup. It is a task that only one team has ever managed. The good news from the Spanish perspective is that they were the team to do it, just four years ago.
There is, of course, a significant difference. A 1-0 defeat to a Switzerland side who caught Spain cold after 90 minutes of domination is a far cry from a mauling at the hands of a Netherlands side that saw them on the receiving end of the biggest ever loss for a World Cup holder. It is also far too early to start ripping up the play book, or pronouncing the death of the tiki-taka philosophy that has carried Spain to an unprecedented three successive major tournament wins.
After all, the result could have been very different. Leading 1-0, Spain had an element of control and, had David Silva not wasted a golden opportunity, they could well have gone into the break with a not undeserved 2-0 advantage rather than being pegged back to 1-1.
Del Bosque, does, though, have some major decisions to make ahead of what is now a must-win match against Chile at the Maracana. Foremost among those is what to do with Iker Casillas. The Spain captain showed both the rustiness resulting from not being a first-choice at Real Madrid for the past 18 months as well as the reasons why two different managers have now failed to put faith in him at club level. While an unbelievably good shot-stopper, Casillas’s command of his area has never been the best and now his decision-making is not sharp enough to compensate. Though with David de Gea ruled out with injury, it only reduces the chances further of Del Bosque choosing to dispense with such an experienced, influential member of his squad.
The same is true with Casillas’s Real Madrid colleague, Sergio Ramos, who likewise has always had his vulnerabilities despite his lofty reputation and put in an equally woeful display against the Dutch. More at risk for their place is Diego Costa. A late entrant to the squad after declaring for Spain, the Brazil-born striker lacked sharpness after an injury-plagued climax to the season and still looked out of tune with the Spanish approach. Cesc Fabregas appears a likely starter on Wednesday.
Certainly there will be no room for Spain to slowly regain their composure and form after their Dutch humbling. Not only is a win next up a must, but their opponents have the ability to tear any team apart in an instant. Chile will also pose Spain many of the same problems as the Netherlands did.
After going with a back four in a 3-1 win over Australia, Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli is likely to give the defense more protection by switching to three center-backs against Spain. Like the Dutch, and perhaps even more so, that back line will be high up the pitch as they look to press the opposition. Spain will have to be sharper in possession and better able to match their opponent’s pressure on the ball this time around.
Chile will test Spain’s defensive line again, too. In what to date has been the most attacking World Cup in recent memory, Chile trump every other team in their commitment to pouring forward. With support from wing-backs or full-backs who will be more like wingers, Chile will look to get the ball forward quickly using both the pace and direct running of forwards Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.
Chile’s pre-tournament expectations, fuelled by strong friendly performances away against England and Germany of late, were perhaps tempered somewhat by an opening 3-1 win that was fairly underwhelming. It appeared as though Sampaoli lost his nerve to a degree with leaving such a shaky defense so exposed. Meanwhile, the key question mark over the fitness of Arturo Vidal failed to be answered. Six weeks after a knee operation, the Juventus midfielder lacked the drive that has helped make him the world’s best all-round midfielder. If Chile are to continue to enthrall neutrals in Brazil and get a vital win against Spain, Vidal’s energy to press and support the front two will be vital.
With Vidal at his best, Chile are improved from the side that caused Spain plenty of problems before ultimately falling to a 2-1 defeat. But that looks an unlikely prospect and, although Spain may not be at the same level of 2010, they should have enough about them to just about get the three points they desperately require. Once again, though, there is likely to be plenty of entertainment along the way.
Prediction: Spain 3-2 Chile
Betting odds (Bovada.lv)
Spain win: 5/9
Chile win: 22/5
When and where: The 2014 World Cup Group B match will kick off from the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro at 3 p.m. ET.