Nobody wanted it to end this way — the embarrassment and humbling of a side which has brought so much joy to the world.
“You cannot consider that this generation is finished,” said Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso ahead of its crunch game against Chile. “On the contrary, we are still alive.”
But Alonso’s words rang hollow Wednesday as Spain sank to a 2-0 defeat by Chile at the Maracana — almost as if this generation has now received the last rites.
Dumped out of the World Cup after just two group games on the same day that King Juan Carlos abdicated his throne and signed it over to Prince Felipe, the nation’s footballers have now relinquished the crown they once wore with distinction.
Those fortunate enough to have a ticket for the potential dethroning came wearing red — Chilean red.
Even before kick off, there was a sense of something special — a wind of change, a new era about to be ushered in.
This was a moment nobody wanted to miss — including the 85 Chilean fans who were apprehended by military police after trashing the stadium’s media center.
While the spine tingling a capella version of the Chilean national anthem galvanized those in white with a call to arms, Spain shrunk away almost apologetically.
It was left to Eduardo Vargas and Charles Arranguiz to put the final nails in the coffin– both men scoring in a high-octane first half.
There was no fightback — no last stand, no heroics from Spain. Those who had once thrilled and mesmerized for so long, slowly and silently slipped away into the Rio night.
This was not a mere collapse — this was an implosion of seismic proportions.
“We cannot complain we did not deserve to go out, they were better than us,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told Spanish TV.
“The team showed character, we pressed forward but we had little luck in front of goal.
“We were certainly inferior to our rivals here at the finals. It is not the moment to think about the future. Little by little we will make the necessary assessments.”
Spain had left Salvador last Friday, beaten, thrashed and humiliated after being dismantled with ruthless efficiency by a Dutch side set on revenge following its defeat in final four years ago.
It was a defeat which not only brought a shattering halt to the domination it had enjoyed on the international stage — it was a defeat which signaled the end of an era.
For the past six years, this Spanish side has thrilled those who marveled at its tiki-taka passing and ability to make the game look so effortless.
For so long a perennial failure, its victory at the 2008 European Championship finals ushered in a period of almost flawless football.
Victory at the 2010 World Cup was secured courtesy of a win over the Netherlands, while it retained its European crown comfortably two years later.
Netherlands hangs on to beat Australia, 3-2
It was a valiant effort from the Aussies, but, alas, not enough.
There was a brief period in the second half when Australia led the mighty Dutch side, but that was quickly wiped away. Both teams now head into their final matches going in opposite directions.
It was an uninspired effort, at best, for Holland. After wrecking Spain in its opener, they couldn’t quite find a rhythm against the Aussies. Still, the Dutch got away with the win, which is all that really matters. A solid showing against Chile next week — without Robin Van Persie, remember — and all the unpleasantness Wednesday will be forgotten.