Villaflor: Woeful Spain joins club of fallen champs

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Thursday, June 19, 2014


THE unthinkable has happened, again. For the third time this millennium, a defending champion has failed to advance from the group stage. This time, it’s Spain, which now joins France and Italy in an exclusive club of fallen champions.

The French led the way in 2002 by failing to score a single goal, losing twice and drawing once for its lone point. Not to be outdone, the Italians followed suit in 2010, although they did draw twice for two points and lost only once.

But of the three, Spain – which lost 5-1 to the Netherlands in the Group B opener then 2-0 to Chile yesterday – has pulled off the worst performance by a defending champion ever. La Roja’s fate was sealed in just two games in Brazil, with only one goal scored against seven goals conceded. At least for France in 2002 and Italy in 2006, they still had a fighting chance until the third and last group stage match.

Of course, Spain could still set the bar really high by losing its last game against Australia. If that happens, the Iberian side would crash out of the 2014 World Cup with zero points from zero wins and zero draws. The Aussies are also on their way out, but judging from how they gave the Dutch a scare, they might just win against the Spaniards in their last game next week.

Winning over Spain at this juncture might seem like beating a dead horse and a deader tiki-taka, but it should be a famous win for Australia, whose last memorable World Cup was in 2006 when they made it as far as the Round of 16. I mean, how many teams can claim they beat the defending champions? So that should be enough motivation for the Socceroos, who can brag about the feat to their neighbors when they get home.

Anyway, Spain’s and Australia’s fate being sealed this early in Group B meant the Netherlands (6 pts.) and Chile (6 pts.) are the first two teams to advance to the knockout stage. In Group A, host Brazil (4 pts.) is poised to overcome Cameroon (0 pts.), while Mexico (4 pts.) can still scuttle its chances of advancing if it loses to Croatia (3 pts.).

As of this writing, Spain, Australia and Cameroon – with zero points each – have become the first casualties of this goalfest that is the 2014 World Cup. From now to Friday next week, 13 more teams will be packing their bags.

It won’t be surprising if other big names would be added to the list of the fallen. Miserable Spain wouldn’t mind some illustrious company on their flight home, their Iberian neighbors Portugal, for instance.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 20, 2014.

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