Spain beat Chile 2-1 to top Group H and, more importantly, avoid Brazil in the next round of the World Cup.
Two first half goals from David Villa and Andres Iniesta were enough to keep the Spanish in the tournament, despite it being in doubt due to the defeat to Switzerland in their opening match.
Chile, also, qualified because Switzerland failed to defeat Honduras, and they will be pleased with their display, even though they had a man sent off and their discipline being suspect at best.
Spain created the first chance of the match through Fernando Torres. Xavi’s delightful free-kick picked up the Liverpool striker but, despite being left unmarked, he headed the ball over.
And then less than a minute later, a hopeful punt let Torres run onto the ball, but the covering defender blocked any shot he was hoping to fire and had to settle for a corner.
It was an encouraging opening to the game for Spain. They had already settled into their passing rhythm, which looked ominous for Chile.
But it was they who almost scored after 10 minutes. Jean Beausejour made a good run down the right and crossed to Mark Gonzalez in the box. However, the ball was just behind the midfielder as he looked to place it into the empty net.
It was a good move by Chile, and they showed they can cause problems to the Spanish centre-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol.
It also encouraged the South Americans to keep more possession. The Spanish were trying to play everything through the middle, right into Chilean traffic. Really, they were going no-where and uncharacteristically giving the ball away on numerous occasions.
However, it would be silly to rule out the European Champions, as they are regarded by many as the best team in the world.
Torres sprinted onto the ball, but he was met by the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo about 25 yards from goal. The ‘keeper got there first, but his clearance only landed to Villa about 40 yards out, near the touchline, and he struck the ball first time into the open net.
It was Villa’s third of the competition, and it was exactly what Spain needed after a shaky start. Bravo will be hugely disappointed in his part for the goal because, in truth, he did not need to come that far out of his goal.
Pique should have then doubled his side’s advantage after 33 minutes, but his header from a corner went over. And from the resulting goal-kick, Beausejour caught Pique out of position and ran free in on goal. However, the Barcelona defender recovered in time and forced Beausejour into a tight angle, meaning he shot into the side netting.
But then drama occurred ten minutes before half-time. Spain went two-nil up through Iniesta’s wonderfully placed shot – after Villa assisted. But, more confusingly, Chile went down to ten men after Marco Estrada was booked for the second time after a trip on Torres in the build up to the goal. It did not look intentional, but the referee obviously saw something more sinister in it. Torres, for his part, was theatrical in his fall, which may have swayed the referee’s decision.
Even still – in 30 seconds of madness – Chile lost a goal and a man. Despite being the team on top, the game was as good as over at this stage.
From here on in, the Spanish decided to knock the ball about, knowing they could pick of Chile as they started to tire. Chile, clearly feeling frustrated, could have been down to nine men just before the break. Waldo Ponce was already on a booking but still decided to chop down Xabi Alonso. Fortunately for him the referee was in a forgiving mood.
However, surprisingly, Chile got one back less than two minutes into the second half. Rodrigo Millar had only just come on, but his 20 yard curler deflected of Pique and past Iker Casillas into the net.
Chile had started just like they had done in the previous half and suddenly were back in the game.
They were now playing the match far more sensibly. Instead of charging around, gaining needless bookings, it looked a far more organised and disciplined performance.
Torres, worryingly for Spain, had to go off injured and Cesc Fabregas was his replacement. The ex-Atletico Madrid stalwart has not looked right all competition, and you do have to wonder whether we will see him again at this World Cup.
Villa was almost sent free just after the hour mark. The ball from Fabregas looked perfect but Villa had company in the form of Ponce and he managed to clear the danger.
The Spanish were looking comfortable, especially through Xavi and Alonso’s short passing. But because the deficit was only the one goal, their passage to the next phase was not assured.
Chile were playing the game smart. They were sitting in, realising if they went gun-ho, Spain would simply score. But they were not making any headway at the other end, and Casillas was merely a spectator.
The tension was obvious to everyone, and Spain seemed quite content to just pass the ball about, with no real ambition to do anything, apart from holding possession.
Both teams were happy with the result; knowing what was happening in the Switzerland – Honduras match. Despite boos form some of the crowd, neither team appeared too upset with the current circumstances.
Chile: Bravo, Ponce, Isla, Medel, Jara, Vidal, Valdivia (Rodrigo Millar, 46), Gonzalez (Paredes, 46), Estrada, Sanchez (Orellana, 65), Beausejour.
Spain: Casillas, Pique, Puyol, Capdevila, Ramos, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso (Javi Martinez, 73), Busquets, Villa, Torres (Fabregas, 55).
Goals: Villa, 24. Iniesta, 37. Rodrigo Millar, 47