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September 24, 2017

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Spain dethroned as Chile dazzle

RIO DE JANEIRO - Spain's long reign as the kings of international football came to a dramatic end at the World Cup on Wednesday, with the defending champions sent crashing out after a 2-0 defeat to Chile.

On a day when King Juan Carlos tearfully sealed his abdication after a four-decade reign, Spain's players were booted from their own throne in 90 minutes.

Chile's Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz administered the killer blows as Spain's trophy-laden era was brought to a shattering end at the Maracana Stadium.

Chile's win sees them qualify for the last 16 from Group B along with the Netherlands, who thrashed Spain 5-1 in their opening match last week.

Australia, beaten 3-2 by the Dutch earlier Wednesday, were also eliminated.

In the late Group A game, Cameroon were knocked out after slumping to a chaotic 4-0 defeat against Croatia, with the Africans finishing in disarray as team-mates scuffled with each other.

Yet the drama of the day unfolded at Rio's Maracana Stadium, where Spain were swept aside.

"It is a sad day for all of us," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

"We are sorry we didn't succeed but now is too early to analyse where we go from here. We were inferior to both Holland and Chile. They got the goals and gave us a mountain to climb."

Spain's early departure will send shockwaves through football after an unprecedented period of success that saw them win the 2010 World Cup as well as back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

"World failure" read an online headline of the El Mundo newspaper in Spain.

"Failed!" echoed Spain's biggest-selling sports daily Marca. "A sad farewell to the champions of the world."

Spain join Italy (1950 and 2010), Brazil (1966) and France (2002) as the only holders to be knocked out in the first phase.

Del Bosque had signalled the turmoil in the Spain camp by dropping veteran midfielder Xavi and defender Gerard Pique for the Chile showdown.

But Del Bosque's decision to retain out-of-form goalkeeper Iker Casillas backfired, with the Spanish skipper at fault for Chile's second goal, lashed home by Aranguiz just before half-time.

Aranguiz had earlier helped to set up Chile's first, cutting back for Vargas to finish after a superb counter-attack.

"I have not played well and neither has the team in general," said a dejected Casillas. "Now we need to be even more united and finish in the most dignified manner possible."

The final whistle sparked delirium inside the Maracana, where Chilean fans had heavily outnumbered their Spanish counterparts and roared on their team relentlessly throughout.

The fervour boiled over before the match, with dozens of ticket-less Chilean fans attempting to force their way into the famous stadium by storming the press room.

Chile will now face Holland next Monday in what could well be a battle to avoid Brazil, who are expected to face the runners-up from Group B in the last 16.

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