Spain’s exit from the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Wednesday was not the first time that a defending world champion has fallen at the first hurdle. The same fate befell Italy in 1950 and 2010, Brazil in 1966 and France in 2002.
The fact is, however, that none of those four surprise eliminations brought the end to such a sustained run of success as that enjoyed by La Roja in recent years. Though defeated in the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 by the hosts, the Spanish have picked up two UEFA EURO titles and a world crown in the last six years.
It was little wonder then that Vicente del Bosque’s players looked so dejected following their tournament-ending defeat to Chile at the Maracana, among them Sergio Ramos, who told FIFA.com: “This is a very tough moment for our national team.”
The central defender, who played in both of his side’s losses at Brazil 2014, pulled no punches as he reflected on La Roja’s disappointing performances, though he stopped short of describing it as the end of an era: “I don’t want to say that because this is the same team that became champions of the world and Europe. We’ve made history in our country and you can’t forget that.”
Spain arrived in Brazil as one of the title candidates, hence the sense of shock at their sudden departure, one that wide man Pedro struggled to find reasons for: “It’s hard to explain. We were excited at the prospect of winning this game and carrying on in the competition but it wasn’t meant to be. There’s nothing else for us to do but try to sign off on a high note and then go home.”
Spain’s Brazil 2014 record of two defeats, seven goals conceded and only one scored – and that from the penalty spot – is reminiscent of less glorious times and their four other first-round exits, the last of them coming in 1998.
Like Ramos, Pedro played down talk of an end of a golden period in the country’s footballing history, and vowed that La Roja would vie for glory again: “We have to pick ourselves up. It’s tough but we have to look to the future, be positive and try to take Spain back to where it belongs, which is the very top.”
In the immediate future the holders have to take on Australia in a match with nothing at stake before they can fly home. Looking ahead to that last assignment, Ramos called on his stricken team-mates to deliver a professional performance and end their ill-starred campaign on a positive note: “More than anything else this team’s got pride and dignity.”
Pedro concurred: “We’ve got a difficult few days ahead of us, but we’re going to try and finish in the best way we can for ourselves, the fans that have come out here, and for everyone following us at home. We need to show the pride we have in ourselves, even if it’s not really going to mean anything.”
Once they have fulfilled their final obligation in Brazil, the chastened world champions will have all the time they need to reflect, learn from their mistakes and start afresh.