“Not a word sung by the Spanish players, they know they have to win,” proclaims Clive Tyldesley, as the Spanish national anthem finishes. The fans must know they have to win too, because they aren’t singing any words either. It’s almost as if there ARE NO WORDS TO THE SPANISH NATIONAL ANTHEM. I missed ITV’s pre-amble to that point, but I still saw way too much. Co-commentator Chris Coleman seems a tad over-fond of the phrase “A fit Torres would have got that,” using it regardless of whether Torres “got it” or not. Coleman has the good grace to apologise for “going on about it.” There are nine minutes gone.
Chile are frighteningly good in the early stages, slicing open the Spanish defence more than once and unlucky that Mark Gonzalez slips as he tries to finish off the best move, although large parts of Liverpool might suggest he’d have found the corner flag one way or another. Tyldesley makes the astonishing admission that South American football is “all a bit of a mystery to us,” bemoaning the lack of domestic TV access to “the Copa Libertadores and all that.” I suppose you’d have to be a full-time professional football commentator working for a major broadcasting network to… ah.
Inexplicably, Tyldesley says “Ascuncion” like an English tourist trying to make foreigners understand him, but it is not to be ITV’s worst stereotype moment of the night. There are hints of darker things to come when the great Waldo Ponce backheels Torres’ kneecap in an off-the-ball incident. Ponce is booked and Tyldesley suggests he’s seen red cards given for such incidents. And about 20 million other people, in the 1998 World Cup, saw one given to David Beckham. He reminds people that Chile are in the red shirts, and it’s a good point, well made. Chile are Spain for twenty minutes, and it’s a joy to watch; while their fans are a joy to listen to. Manolo, the ubiquitous Spanish drumming veteran of international tournaments since I was that high, can be seen but not heard. And it’s mostly not vuvuzelas drowning him out.
Then, all of a sudden, Spain are ahead. Chile’s keeper flies through the air with the greatest of ease to make a clearance by the touchline. He’s lucky, because “a fit Torres would have got that.” But he’s unlucky because a fit David Villa gets his clearance instead and pings it in the net from 45 yards. The goal is not so much against the run of play as against the laws of physics. And the Spanish bench is leaping in all directions, bar an unfeasibly grumpy Vincente Del Bosque, who celebrates a goal like a death in the family. You suspect he might allow himself a wry smile if Villa plonks one thirty-five yards over the bar. And five minutes later you’re proved right.
He’s miserable again soon enough. Gerard Pique heads over from a corner and Chile break very quickly indeed only to be denied by a terrific last-ditch tackle from… Pique – there has to be two of them. Then Spain work a typically wonderful second goal, a five-man move with the last two men being Villa and Andres Iniesta, who passes the ball into the net. Out of the corner of the eye, Torres has hit the deck after what looks an accidental collision with Chile’s Marco Estrada. The replays show it was clearly an accident. But the Mexican ref is having none of it. And Estrada, lucky not to have already received two bookings, is desperately unlucky to get this one.
The Chileans get reckless. Too reckless even for Edgar Davids back in the studio, the author of the best-selling book Reckless tackling and how to do it. But half-time calms them down a bit. And one of their two half-time substitutes, Rodrigo Millar, has an impact for which ‘immediate’ is a barely adequate description. His first touch is a miskick worthy of the master himself, Denmark’s Jon Dahl Tomasson. His second is a misdirected shot that flies in off Pique’s knee. Chile deserve their luck, now that they’re playing the ball again in the tackle and not opponents’ ankle ligaments.
Yet, if they equalise, and Switzerland beat Honduras as expected, Spain could be out. And, in a situation packed with geo-political irony, most of the neutrals want Switzerland to go out. Some fans may even want the sides to leave things at 2-1 and hope that Switzerland are as boring in the role of favourites as they were as underdogs in the first two group games. Torres is clearly unfit – I’m surprised no-one in the commentary box noticed – and is substituted by Cesc Fabregas after only 55 minutes, which gives Tyldlesey and Coleman yards too much time to wonder how “one of the best midfielders in Europe can’t get into this Spanish side.”
It’s a Premier League-centric argument, of course. The truth is that Xavi and Iniesta are a better combination for club and country. Perhaps Fabregas could improve his international prospects by joining them in Barcelona. It’s a thought. Fabregas doesn’t have time to shine though, as the coaching staff have done their sums. Switzerland need to score twice to qualify if the score stays 2-1 here. And Switzerland can be trusted not to score twice, even against Honduras, who are terrible.
So it’s keepball for the final quarter, taking the gloss off a fascinating, technically superb contest. Chile aren’t about to sneak in an equaliser while Spain aren’t looking. They’re confident enough to feel that Brazil, their round two opponents, can be “brought on.” And they’ve shown enough, in between the fouls, to suggest that their confidence has justification. And Spain are Spain again. Which needs no further comment. Back in the studio, Adrian Chiles asks panellist Lucas Radebe a question while looking at Davids, who suggests, jokingly, that “you think all us blacks look the same.” ITV are having a worse tournament than Honduras.
Thanks once again go to Historical Football Kits for the use of their graphics.