A World Cup Stunner: Spain Fails To Defend Its Crown

With an upset by Chile Wednesday, defending World Cup champion Spain has been eliminated from this year's tournament.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There is big news out of the World Cup in Brazil today. The defending champion, Spain, has been eliminated. They were upset by Chile today zero-to-two at Maracana Stadium in Rio. That loss, coupled with their five-to-one trouncing by the Netherlands in game one, means Spain will not advance to the next round. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman is in Brazil covering the World Cup. Though, we should make clear, Tom, you were not in Rio for this match. Tell us, first, what went so badly wrong for Spain and what went so right for Chile today?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, that's right, Melissa. I should say, first, I'm not in Rio. I (inaudible). We are in - we just landed in Manaus in the Amazon. We're here for the big U.S. versus Portugal match on Sunday. But, yes, let's go back to your question. What went wrong for Spain and what went right for Chile? Well, two moments ruined Spain's day and made it a banner day for Chile. Two goals - the first one in the 20th minute in the first half. Forward Eduardo Vargas from Chile fired behind the Spanish goalkeeper and scored. Then, right before half, the Spanish goalkeeper punched a free kick away from the goal, but it landed at the feet of the Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz. He booted it in for two-oh. And then, Chile held Spain out of the goal the rest of the way. A stunning upset when you consider what this signifies.

BLOCK: And we should mention, Tom - and with apologies for the phone line, which is not so great to the Amazon - we should mention that Spain is not just the defending World Cup champion. They also won of the last two European championships. And now, they'll play one more game in Brazil, and then, they're going home.

GOLDMAN: That's right. Yeah, and that game won't mean anything, really. You know, this one is huge. There have been other defending champions who have lost in the group stage in the next World Cup - three, as a matter fact. But yeah, I mean, this is huge. Spain has been the number one ranked team in the world since 2008. As you mentioned, they won the 2008 European championship, the 2010 World Cup, the 2012 European championship. But perhaps we find that the Spanish were weakening. They lost, in the finals, the Confederations Cup, another big tournament. They lost that last year to Brazil. So it may be a sign of things to come and what happened today.

BLOCK: Well, based on the games so far, Tom, are there teams that you've been watching that look especially strong? Maybe Chile is one of them.

GOLDMAN: Well, yeah. You're going to have to look at Chile. They're now on to the knockout stage. Of course, the team that probably was the best from this group, that destroyed Spain five-to-one in their opening game - the Netherlands. And they won again today. They beat Australia. We actually talked to some Australian fans in Sao Paulo who were saying that, boy, we hope our socceroos - that's what they call them - can even score a goal in this World Cup. But they gave the Netherlands, who are looking as good as anyone in this tournament - they gave them a tough go today. The final was three-two, but the Dutch won. And they will be moving on.

BLOCK: All right. Well, let's look ahead to Sunday's game, U.S. versus Portugal. What do you think? How does it look?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, we're going to be able tell a lot - you know, what needs to happen in that game, Melissa - by what happens the day before, when Germany plays Ghana. That's how this group stage works, you know. Obviously, you want to win all your games. But you also want to see who your competition is. You're trying to position yourself where you're the top - one of the top two teams in the group to lead. So Germany - you know, if Germany, as people expect, beats Ghana and moves on, then that will determine what the U.S. has to do against Portugal. Obviously, as I mentioned, it's best just to win. A big question mark - what kind of Portuguese team will show up? A team still reeling from that four-to-nothing thrashing by Germany in their first game? Or will they be a cornered animal that comes out with desperation? It's a very good team with one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Renaldo. He's had a bit of a gimpy knee. We'll see. It'll be a very exciting game. No one knows what's going to happen.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Tom Goldman in Manaus, Brazil. Tom, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

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