COMMENT: The end of an era came as Spain's defending world champions were eliminated by Jorge Sampaoli's vibrant entertainersBy Peter Staunton in Brazil
Jorge Sampaoli and Chile came to Brazil with the daunting prospect of facing both World Cup finalists in their group. Here they are after two games with their qualification to the second round secure and the world champions deposed. Their 2-0 win over Spain betrayed no nerves. Instead we had another rampant, assured demonstration of the type of football which will surely mark la Roja out as potential World Cup winners.
A draw would probably have done Chile in order to progress at the expense of Spain but their style doesn't readily lend itself to conservatism. Their game is not about keeping the opposition out, it's about taking the game to them. That is exactly how this high-stakes encounter played out. Chile, typically for them, burst into life right from the off.
They could have been ahead in the opening moments. Eduardo Vargas and Gonzalo Jara both went close before the Valencia forward poked the South Americans into a 20th-minute lead. "We will induce errors," was coach Jorge Sampaoli's battle cry last week before the tournament started. So it proved. Alexis shook down Xabi Alonso for possession on half-way. Arturo Vidal and the excellent Charles Aranguiz were involved before Vargas side-stepped Iker Casillas and prodded home. It was a summary of the football Sampaoli demands from his men.
"I don't think anything will make us lose intensity," coach Jorge Sampaoli said last week. "It is necessary to stand up against any opponent we have. If we played differently, we'd lose our identity."
There is no chance Chile were ever going to play cautiously and eke out a point. That would be a betrayal of the coach's methods which he has worked hard to restore. Chile have played like this before. This type of football was an identifiable Chilean quality under Marcelo Bielsa. They lost their way to an extent under his replacement Claudio Borghi but Sampaoli, a devoted student of Bielsa, has instilled those characteristics all over again.
Tempo is now Sampaoli's trademark. He is not a man to compromise his principles. Whether it's Australia or Spain, their unrelenting rhythm will not be altered. "We need players who are very nimble and quick to break through defences," Sampaoli said last week. Vidal is working his way back to full fitness and approached his best levels against the Spaniards. In Alexis they have a centre forward to rival or even surpass their legends Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas.
Marcelo Diaz, in midfield, is the embodiment of the coach's ideals. He never plays a pass Sampaoli wouldn't want him to. Diaz remains totally committed to Sampaoli's style. It was ingrained on him and many of his international colleagues during their days together at Universidad de Chile, where they won national and continental titles. Sampaoli knows the players well and commands loyalty. Also on display was Sampaoli's tactical flexibility. Jorge Valdivia may be the darling of the Chile support but the Argentinian had no problem dropping him in favour of Francisco Silva which gave Chile an added defensive reinforcement.
At times they counted on it. There was the Spain pressure, which was to be expected from World Cup holders clinging on for dear life but beyond the high-press and attacking overloads, Chile have also come to rely upon their captain Claudio Bravo in goal. His save from Xabi Alonso in the first half was vital while a second-half stop from Andres Iniesta will take some beating at these finals. Another chance missed by Sergio Busquets just about summed up Spain's impotence.
Spain are out. There can be no complaints. There was nothing hard to take about this defeat. They were simply overwhelmed by a superior opponent who are on the verge of their own great historical moment, not like Spain who have reached the end of theirs. This was not only the ending of an era but it was the passing of a baton from a team who once dominated all they surveyed to a new generation of fearless men in red.
La Roja is dead, long live La Roja.