Africa has lost one of its five representative countries in the World Cup, while the champions were humiliated by a shock defeat by Chile.
Champions Spain crashed humiliatingly out of the World Cup on Wednesday after a second shock defeat, along with Cameroon that lost 4-0 to Croatia, while 2010 runners-up the Netherlands continued their perfect start with another high-scoring win.
Thrashed 5-1 by the Dutch in their opening game, Spain’s normally composed and incisive team again looked a spent force, allowing Chile to score twice in the first half then hold firm for a totally deserved, glorious win.
“It is difficult to explain,” bemoaned Spain captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who was at fault on both goals and is likely to be among an old guard jettisoned for fresh faces.
“We ask people’s forgiveness. We are responsible but also the first ones to feel the pain.”
The undisputed kings of global football in the last six years, Spain won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and their first World Cup in South Africa. But their supremacy is no more and an ageing team needs to be rebuilt.
Chile, who had not beaten Spain in 10 previous games, looked sharper and more aggressive from the start.
Eduardo Vargas turned Casillas and avoided lunging defender Sergio Ramos to score the first goal after 20 minutes, before Charles Aranguiz struck the second just before halftime, sending the red-clad hordes of South American fans delirious.
Seemingly perennial nearly-men the Netherlands, who have lost three World Cup finals including to Spain in 2010, continued their storming start to the tournament with a thrilling 3-2 victory over Australia.
In a fantastic end-to-end match in Porto Alegre, Socceroos veteran Tim Cahill smacked in a spectacular volley that should be a contender for goal of the World Cup.
“I want to leave a mark for all the kids back in Australia and around the world to be inspired,” he said.
Youngest Dutch scorer
It was not enough, however, to stem the Dutch, who came from behind to win with a long-range strike by 20-year-old substitute Memphis Depay that made him the youngest player to score in his nation’s long and illustrious World Cup history.
With maximum points and eight goals scored, coach Louis van Gaal was one of the happiest men in Brazil.
The Netherlands, hoping to finally shed their unwanted tag of being the best country never to win the World Cup, and Chile have now both secured berths in the last 16.
They meet on Monday to decide the Group B winners.
Cameroon’s torrid World Cup also ended on Wednesday when they were trounced 4-0 by Croatia in the Amazonian heat of Manaus. Having lost captain Samuel Eto’o to injury, a miserable campaign for the ‘Indomitable Lions’ was compounded by a needless sending off for Alex Song after he hit Mario Mandzukic.
Croatia, no doubt motivated by a sense of injustice over a penalty awarded to Brazil in their opening defeat by the hosts, were ruthless, Mandzukic helping himself to a double.
Brazil and Mexico each have four points in Group A, and Croatia three, meaning a win for them against the Mexicans in Recife on Monday would take the European side into the last 16 for the first time since they reached the semi-finals in 1998.
The tournament has been a spectacular affair so far, with daredevil teams bringing goals galore and pacy end-to-end football that has eclipsed the duller fare in South Africa.
The football action has also taken attention away from sporadic political protests against Brazil’s government and worries about whether infrastructure would be ready.
Pele, Maradona miss games
This would not be South America, though, if everything went perfectly and about 200 Chilean fans stormed the media centre at the Maracana stadium just before the game on Wednesday.
Journalists are not the only ones to be inconvenienced.
Former Argentina captain Diego Maradona, who is working as a TV pundit in Brazil, said on Wednesday he was denied entry to the Maracana for his team’s weekend game against Bosnia.
That followed discomfort for another soccer great, Brazil’s Pele, who had to listen to the first half of the hosts’ 0-0 draw with Mexico on his car radio due to being stuck in traffic.
While fans in Brazil have been thrilled by the action, there has been tragedy for soccer lovers in Africa where Nigeria’s Boko Haram and Somalia’s al Shabaab operating in Kenya have killed several dozen people enjoying World Cup games together.
Islamist militants also marred the last World Cup with bombs killing nearly 80 fans watching football on TV in Uganda.
For Thursday, there is an attractive lineup of matches.
First up, Colombia and Ivory Coast clash in Brasilia, both buoyed by opening day wins in Group C.
Colombia may prove to be South America’s surprise package, thrashing Greece 3-0 in their first game in an attacking display that belied the absence of top striker Radamel Falcao.
Ivory Coast are looking like Africa’s best hope after a promising 2-1 win over Japan inspired by veteran Didier Drogba who came off the bench when they were losing.
The second game of the day is a more desperate affair, with England and Uruguay smarting from opening defeats and hoping to justify their reputations with a first win in Group D.
Japan play Greece in Thursday’s final match.
The Japanese may have been distraught at letting a lead slip to the Ivorians, but they at least know how to cope with defeat.
The Asian champions found some solace and had a good heart-to-heart in a shared jacuzzi session. “We told each other how rubbish we were but not to let it get to us. It’s good to finish things off with a laugh,” said striker Yoshito Okubo.
Anyone else needing cheering up might want to head for Belo Horizonte. Binmen there are entertaining fans by singing and tapping out samba rhythms as they trundle through the street after dark picking up rubbish.
“This is the home of music and football!” said one rubbish-collector Matheus Pinto, 20, wearing Brazil colours over his working garb as he tapped out samba on the back of a lorry. – Reuters