Embattled title-holders Spain will need a big win against Chile at the Maracana Stadium on Wednesday to recover from their 5-1 drubbing against Holland and avoid an embarrassingly early exit from the World Cup.
Barely a month ago, Spanish football fans were revelling in their nation’s unchallenged football supremacy.
And at club level, Madrid had provided both Champions League finalists, while Seville had clinched a third Europa League title in a thrilling final.
But it took just 45 gruelling minutes against a ruthless Dutch side last Friday for the nation’s confidence to come crashing down.
After the 5-1 mauling, Spain’s world-beaters looked understandably shell-shocked.
As for the Spanish press, it was scrambling for words to describe the “nightmare”, “cataclysm” and “humiliation” witnessed on the pitch.
Suddenly, a nation spoiled by success awoke to find its ageing heroes were on the verge of premature retirement from international football.
Mea culpas aplenty
The team’s players and coaching staff have accepted the stinging criticism graciously and vowed to make amends on Wednesday as they take on Chile in a make-or-break encounter in Rio de Janeiro.
"Just as we have been showered with praise when we have done well, when we have performed badly it is normal that we are criticised," coach Vicente Del Bosque told reporters on Tuesday.
"I have read what has been written about us and in most cases it has been reasonable."
Iker Casillas, the veteran captain and goalie, felt obliged to issue an apology after his catastrophic showing against Holland.
It is unclear whether the 33-year-old keeper will feature in Spain’s starting line-up, which is likely to include several changes.
Pedro Rodriguez is expected to replace David Silva up front, while Cesc Fabregas could slot in for Brazilian-born Diego Costa, who was mercilessly booed by the home crowd last week.
Forwards Juan Mata and Fernando Torres are also in contention to come into the team.
But Del Bosque is unlikely to overhaul a team he has enjoyed so much success with since taking the job in 2008.
‘Live or die’
If they are to avoid a shock early exit, Spain will need to win – and win big – against a tricky Chilean side with World Cup ambitions of its own.
Regarded by some as South America’s third-best team after Brazil and Argentina, Chile have three points on the board courtesy of their 3-1 win over Australia.
A win over Spain would see Chile reach the knock-out stages and condemn the holders to an ignominous exit.
Crucially, their goal average (+2) is far superior to Spain’s (-4), meaning a draw on Wednesday would still leave them in a commanding position ahead of their last match against Holland, who are expected to brush Australia aside in Group B's other game.
Chile's possession-based brand of football has been likened to Spain's own style of play.
"Chile are a difficult team because we'll have to defend and we'll have to fight one against one," said Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta, whose extra-time goal in the final four years ago gave the “Roja” their first World Cup title.
Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli will be counting on Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez and his attacking partner Esteban Paredes to inflict further pain on Spain’s rattled rearguard.
"For them it's going to be a fight to the death," Paredes said of Spain. "And for us it's going to be a real final, because a win will mean we are almost qualified."
Spain’s sports daily Marca could not agree more on Wednesday, its dramatic front page headline reading: “A vida o muerte” (“Live or die”).
Date created : 2014-06-18