This week ought to be a time of celebration for Spain. King Felipe VI is being crowned Thursday, after the official abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos I, on Wednesday. But instead, the country will be thinking about something else that happened on Wednesday -- something that will also go down in the history books, but for a far less joyous reason: Spain’s early elimination from the World Cup after a 2-0 loss to Chile.
It’s only the fourth time in the soccer World Cup’s 84-year history that a defending champion goes home unceremoniously after an elimination in the first round. And Spain had gone to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup as a favorite, widely thought to be in a good position to defend the 2010 title it won in South Africa. On Wednesday, Spain should have been celebrating a victory against the far less vaunted Chilean team.
Instead, the Spaniards are out of the cup. Not even a lopsided victory next week in their third and final match, against Australia, would net them enough points to advance to the round of 16. They are now dead last in their group of four. The Chileans, who had won their first match against Australia by 3-1 last week, are already sure of advancing -- as is the fourth team in the group, the Netherlands, which humiliated Spain 5-1 last week and then beat Australia 3-2.
The significance of such a humiliation -- seven goals to one scored in two matches, an enormity in soccer -- was not lost on the Spanish press, which reacted emotionally. The biggest sports daily in the nation, Marca, went with a simple one-word headline: Crashed! and put it over a picture of goalkeeper and team capitain Iker Casillas staring forlornly into space, while a teammate hides his face under his jersey. The story itself was just as harsh, accusing the outgoing champions of having shown the world “another unbelievable ridicule,” a merciless reference to the five-goal drubbing suffered from the Dutch.
“It’s a sad goodbye,” Marca said, adding that the team of coach Vicente del Bosque had given “a very poor image.” The squad “screams for a generational change,” read the story -- and that was just the front page summary.
“That was good while it lasted, but everything ends in life,” Marca said of the national team’s cycle of domination (it won the 2012 European championship as well). And because you can’t have a World Cup without vaguely war-related metaphors, the newspaper noted the match had been “a national agony.”
The country’s newspaper of record, El País, was more composed in its reaction, simply saying in its main headline on the Web: “Spain out of the World Cup after falling to Chile.” But even the normally subdued País could not avoid words commensurate with the magnitude of the loss: It was “a calamitous effort,” “the nightmare of Brazil,” and, again, “the most complete ridicule.”
Casillas was quoted by the paper as saying, “I demand forgiveness from the people.” The paper’s sports writer in charge of live-blogging the match caught the spirit perfectly: “Sad night, but you have to get up and think of the future. Life goes on. A strong hug to everybody,” Rafael Pineda signed off.
El fútbol is that serious a deal, yes. And the new king of the Spaniards, knowing well who his subjects are, may very well mention in his coronation speech Thursday a sentiment similar to what Pineda wrote. Felipe VI, meeting the press on Wednesday, asked half-jokingly if the journalists had any ideas for the speech -- and it’s hard to imagine that the new king’s advisors will not tell him to talk constructively about the defeat, and a future rebirth, as a metaphor that a nation coming out of a dire economic crisis could use as inspiration.
It’s tough to lose like this (and to not one but two formerly Spanish-dominated nations, by the way, though the king won’t say it), but life goes on.