Chile to make it hot for Spain
FIRST France fell to mutiny, then Italy to mediocrity. This World Cup has already claimed two of Europe's superpowers, packed off on the first flight home in disgrace and dismay, their reputations in tatters.
It is little surprise that Chile feel no fear at the prospect of facing Spain tonight.
The insurrection is under way.
Failure to beat Marcelo Bielsa's side at Ellis Park, of course, would most likely spell the end for the pre-tournament favourites, the European Champions, the team drawn in no small part either from the world's best club side or its richest.
Two weeks ago, such ignominy would have been considered beyond the bounds of reality. Now anything seems possible, certainly with an opponent of Bielsa's ilk. The Argentine is one of football's great purists, a man of principle and philosophy, a manager who stoically abides by his Epicurean tastes.
There will be no pragmatism from his Chile team, no attempt to play for the point that guarantees their qualification. Chile, he confirmed yesterday, will not alter the approach that has brought them six points from their opening two games.
They will attempt to create, not destroy. They will play to score and they will play to win. For Bielsa, it is always death or glory.
"It is impossible to change the way we play to try and get a specific result," he said. "Our way of playing is based on attacking, on our strikers, on the intention of beating our opponents. We will try to beat them by going down the road that has taken us this far."
In a straight fight between two teams obeying their instincts and instructions, Chile, surely, should not be able to outwit a side of David Villa and Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, a team worth hundreds of millions of euro on the open market.
"That they will attack is pleasing to hear," said Xavi, the Barcelona midfielder, the fulcrum of Vicente Del Bosque's system. "We know the way Bielsa likes to play football and he is very loyal to those ideas, and that is good for football. Yes, in terms of names, we are better but we have to show it. Besides, individuals are not important. It is the collective that matters in football."
Therein, perhaps, lies the caveat. France and Italy suffered for their reliance on a host of famous names, in a misplaced belief that their reputations would be enough to carry them through groups which seemed, at first glance, comparatively kind. Spain are determined not to make that mistake.
"The smaller nations have done well not because of the pressure the big teams are under or because players in Europe's biggest leagues are tired," said Del Bosque.
"Standards all around the world are improving and there is much more balance between teams. Anyone can do anything.
"The South American sides, in which I include Mexico, have done well for a number of reasons. First, they have a lot of players in Europe, so they are playing at a European level now, and that is important.
"But also their qualification process is longer, so they have more chance to get to know each other as a team. Not that I am saying we do not have enough international dates in Europe, but they have more time together and that helps to forge an identity." (© Daily Telegraph, London)