Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque believes his side can look forward with optimism after bouncing back from their shock defeat to Switzerland by progressing through to the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup™ as group winners.
The European champions replaced Chile at the top of Group H tonight after defeating the South American side 2-1 in a hard-fought clash in Pretoria. That sealed a mouthwatering showdown with Iberian rivals Portugal in the next phase, but that prospect looked a long way off after Spain suffered a 1-0 loss to the Swiss in their opening match.
Del Bosque believes that defeat, which was only the second reverse Spain had suffered since 2006, is now well and truly behind them. "Well I think we've overcome a very difficult time for Spain, we were knocked back a lot by our defeat to Switzerland and that has also had an impact on our game," Del Bosque said. "I think as from now we will be more optimistic in every sense of the word and I'm sure that optimism will be seen on the pitch.
"Losing to Switzerland was a big setback, we've had to swim against the current and had great difficulties. Had we won or drawn the game against Switzerland I think things would have been a lot different in the group."
Del Bosque also heaped praise on Chile after seeing them give his side a tough time despite playing well over half of tonight's encounter with only 10 men. Spain started the match well but Chile hit back and looked to be on top when Del Bosque's side took a 24th-minute lead through David Villa.
The European champions then took a stranglehold on the fixture in the 37th minute when Andres Iniesta made it 2-0, and at the same time Chile midfielder Marco Estrada was sent off. Estrada was shown a second yellow card for an off-the-ball trip on Fernando Torres.
Losing to Switzerland was a big setback, we've had to swim against the current and had great difficulties.
Despite those two setbacks though, Chile battled on and pulled one back just after half-time through substitute Rodrigo Millar's deflected goal. Chile could make no further in-roads after that, and struggled to create much to worry Iker Casillas, but Del Bosque was still keen to hail Marcelo Bielsa's man after the game, which saw both teams qualify for the last 16.
"The match was very intense and I have to praise our opponents and give them a lot of credit," said Del Bosque. "They made things difficult for us, they played with a lot of energy and when Villa scored we became calmer. But even after that 2-0, with only 10 men they continued to work hard and they really made our lives difficult until the end of the match. So I'd really like to praise the coach and players of the Chilean side."
Del Bosque also revealed striker Torres had complained of a muscle problem during half-time which contributed to him being replaced by Cesc Fabregas in the 55th minute. Del Bosque insisted the problem was not anything to do with the knee injury the Liverpool striker has only recently recovered from.
"I replaced Fernando for two reasons. During the break he felt a slight muscular problem, nothing to do with his knee injury," Del Bosque said. "Secondly we also needed more control in the midfield area, which is why we brought Cesc on. We weren't going to lose much in terms of our attacking capabilities but we wanted to gain more control and possession."
Chile coach Bielsa believes his side were well in the match until the sending off, which he felt changed the whole complexion of the encounter. The Argentinian also felt his team contributed towards their own downfall with their defending for Spain's goals.
Villa's goal in particular looked a poor one to concede, with some reckless goalkeeping from Chile custodian Claudio Bravo a key factor. There appeared little need for Bravo to race out of the area and although he beat Torres to a through-ball, the Real Sociedad goalkeeper's clearance went straight to Villa, who lofted the ball into an empty net from 40 yards out and near the left touchline.
"We managed to keep the game even until our player was sent off," said Bielsa. "I think that up until then the game was quite close. The credit for the Spanish goals also cannot be totally down to the Spanish, we contributed to them.
"Then one of our men was sent off. Things were going quite well up to that point, after we lost a man it was more uphill. In the second half Spain had constant ball possession but at least we put up a good show with a man less. I think if Spain needed to get more then we would have felt it much more, but we managed to play our game and not really show that we were missing a man."