End of an era: Why Spain’s team is finished

The Rio Report

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The bigger they are, the harder they fall. With 20 minutes left in a packed Maracana, the majority of the crowd made up of Chileans and Brazilians began chanting 'Eliminado! Eliminado!'

Elimination for world champions Spain after two games is a major surprise, though perhaps it shouldn't be. The last two World Cup winners from Europe have both failed to get beyond the group stage which followed: France in 2002 and Italy in 2010. Spain in 2014 will become a lamented third.

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Vicente del Bosque's side can have few complaints like the Spanish national teams of yore who could genuinely curse their bad luck and misfortune. Not now, for they've they've been comfortably beaten by two better sides, out-fought and out-thought. Spain's players no longer have the same hunger. If you'd won everything there was to win, would you?

Spain and their all-conquering, intricate, style are not finished, but a generation of fantastic players who played it to great effect are. Xavi Hernandez, David Villa, Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso were all victors as Spain won the European championships in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010. Their triumphs lifted the mood of a country in the pit of a deep economic recession, but as Spain's economy finally looks like it's picking up, so the fortunes of their national side are going the other way.

History will remember them as world class footballers among the finest of their generation, but their time has gone. Spain were a distant second last Friday, conceding five. Though it was only two in Rio against a terrific Chile, there was a humiliating element to the defeat. There was history too. In two of their previous competitive matches at the Maracana against quality opponents, Spain lost both heavily. They lost the first 6-1 against Brazil in 1950 and, more recently, 3-0 against the same side in the Confederations Cup final a year ago.

Spain is obsessed with cycles in football. If a successful Barcelona or Real Madrid side lose two games then it heralds the end of a cycle. There's often a comic knee-jerk edge to the claims, but it's hard to argue that the current Spain team isn't finished. Failure to get out of a World Cup group stage - albeit the toughest one of the eight - is still failure when you're ranked number one in the world.

Spain were slow and second best in both their games so far and their normally resolute defence has been burst open. They conceded three goals in eight qualifying games; they've conceded seven in two games when it matters. This team is over but Spain's fans and admirers should not despair. They have an emerging generation of players who could go on to replicate the achievements of the ageing legends.

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Spain's Under 21 team have won the last two European Championships and in players like David de Gea, Koke, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez they have a generation of future stars.

Diego Costa, 25, looks to have a bright future for his adopted country too, but his World Cup has been a nightmare. He's been abused wherever he travelled by Brazilians who accuse him of turning his back on the country where he was born and bred.

They have a point, but there's an element of envy too, for Costa - or at least a fully fit and in form Costa - is the one Brazilian now playing for other countries who'd get a game for Brazil. The hapless Fred isn't the new Romario.

In their two games so far, Spain have conceded seven goals and didn't score one from open play. Costa looked exhausted after a magnificent season with Atletico Madrid. He's not the only one. Both Madrid teams reaching the Champions League final was a huge success, but it drained all of the players.

Costa did manage a magnificent overhead free-kick to set up Sergio Busquets in the second half, but the Barcelona midfielder missed an easy chance. Del Bosque put his head in his hands. It was that type of night for the champions.

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Iker Casillas, who superseded Andoni Zubizarreta as the Spanish player with the most games in the World Cup, didn't hide from the cameras after the game. He may look like a haunted figure these days, but he was strong enough to credit the victors and asked for forgiveness. There was little of that from a mocking crowd, including Brazilians who held up an 'Adios Espanha' flag.

They were overjoyed because one of their main rivals have been eliminated. It's the modern way to celebrate the humbling of the mighty, but before mocking remember just how good they've been and what they have achieved.

Andy Mitten is in Brazil and covering Spain's World Cup campaign for us - @AndyMitten

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