Soccer: A win-win situation

By Michael Brown

It had shades of West Germany and Austria in 1982, a game known as the Shame of Gijon. If not that, perhaps Holland against Ireland in 1990.

The sight of Spain passing the ball around at the back as Chile sat in their own half for the final 20 minutes was scandalous. The Pact of Pretoria, you could say.

It served the interests of both sides, as the scoreline meant both Spain and Chile progressed to the second round - Spain as group winners and Chile as the second qualifier. The players might as well have downed tools, pulled out the paper and signed a peace accord.

It was a sorry end to what started as a cracking match, but at least these two sides went through and not the dreary Swiss. If events had unfolded differently, Spain could have been going the same way as Italy and France: home. The pressure on them to win this was enormous.

Something appeared to be missing from a side who had, until their shock 1-0 loss to Switzerland in the opening game of the tournament, put together a remarkable 12-game unbeaten streak and lost only one of their previous 49 games.

The fluid, one-touch, tiki-taka football - the nonsensical phrase that roughly translates as touch-touch and their trademark for two years - had largely been absent. Some even tried to blame their woes on the presence of goalkeeper Iker Casillas' girlfriend on the sideline.

As the theory went, Casillas and team-mates couldn't resist a glance in the direction of Sara Carbonero, a touchline presenter for Tele-5. Watching the (wo)man, not the ball.

The premise, however, seemed to overlook the even bigger prize Casillas and co had their sights on. They are still in with a chance.

The good news is Chile won't be going home, either. They might have contributed to a farcical ending, but the South Americans have been one of the best sides to watch in this tournament. They play the game like it should be played - skilfully and fearlessly.

They break quickly, dance around opponents and use the speed of the ball and the man to confuse defenders. They had Spain on the ropes in the opening 20 minutes but lacked a killer instinct.

If there is a downside, it was the occasional act of random brutality - and they rightfully came under the scrutiny of Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez, who wielded four yellow cards. Sadly, he also pulled out a red for midfielder Marco Estrada, who clipped Fernando Torres' heels in the 37th minute.

It was Estrada's second yellow and, while he might have been lucky to still be on the park after an earlier rash challenge, it was accidental more than anything.

It was a double blow, because at the same time they conceded a second when Andreas Iniesta calmly passed the ball into the back of the net.

David Villa had earlier curled in an audacious first-time shot from near the touchline 30 metres out, when Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo made a hash of a clearance and rolled the ball out to Villa.

Chile crucially grabbed a goal early in the second half, when substitute Rodrigo Millar scored, courtesy of a deflection past Casillas. Then the two sides tacitly nutted out an agreement.

Spain will now meet Portugal while Chile will face South American rivals Brazil. Thankfully, deals won't be done in those games but at least we got the right outcome here.

- NZ Herald

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