Reda Maher

Brazil 360: Stadium shambles matched by Spain’s defending as Chile dump out holders

Reda Maher

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My working day begun with a fairly hectic journey to the Maracana using Rio’s excellent metro system which, through no fault of its own, struggled to cope with the tens of thousands of Chile fans, many of whom were ticketless.

As a Londoner, wall-to-wall human traffic is nothing new to me, so I made the most of it by joining in with the chants of “Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, Viva Chile!”. All in a day’s work.

At the stadium though, the number of ticketless fans was causing a problem for organisers, with thousands asking for tickets, clogging up the routes to the stadium.

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Once I got to the media centre and set myself up to work, it was clear something was amiss. What sounded like thousands of Chile fans were chanting, shouting and screaming, noise we don’t usually hear from our ivory tower (which is actually a fairly basic but large open plan office, not dissimilar to a call centre).

I sat down with my sandwich and laptop to prepare for the match. But the fan noise got louder and more distressed.

Suddenly, the wall to my right started to collapse. Cue mass panic. ‘It’s happening’, I thought. Crowd control problems, panicked fans squashed into the wrong area, hapless security staff, and a collapsing wall. I was abused on Twitter for saying that, at the time, I feared a Hillsborough or Port Said situation, but that is exactly how these things happen.

I ducked for cover. In the below video, I am just out of shot to the right of the TV screen:

Bear in mind that, at that moment, all we knew that there were several hundred Chile fans screaming, and that a wall had collapsed. I was also coming down off an adverse reaction to anti-malarial drugs taken for my trip to Manaus, and wished I’d popped that Xanax a local doctor gave me to help with the side effects.

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Within minutes though it became apparent that no-one would have been seriously hurt; the wall, it transpired, was a flimsy plasterboard partition – a journalist struck by it walked away unaided. Thank god, science or humanity for the cheapest of cheap building work.

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As journalists, our job is to document events as they happen, as we see them. Soon the news trickled through from outside the media centre – some 300 ticketless fans had rushed an entrance, but ended up in the media zone. They felt trapped, so knocked down the partition wall to avoid being pushed against a firmer, concrete wall nearby.

In the end, one female fan suffered minor injuries, some staged a sit-down protest, and a few dozen fans were arrested. Foul, but no harm.

[FULL STORY: WALL COLLAPSES AS CHILE FANS RUSH PRESS OFFICE]

But the implications of such an incident are wide reaching. How were the fans allowed to break into a restricted area, without tickets or passes? Why were they shepherded towards the vicinity of the media are? Why was laissez-faire stewarding operating at a stadium with known congestion problems, for a game that anyone could have told you would be over-subscribed by Chileans.

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Some fans staged a sit-down protest at their treatment; other left the scene. The assorted hacks and PR types cooled off, fulfilling obligations to their employers by filing copy about the incident.

And so to the game. The sheer volume of Chile fans in and around the Maracana made this very much a home game for the Latin Americans. There were several thousand Spaniards, but the world champions were a tiny minority in a sea of red, white and blue.

[CHILEANS DOMINATE RIO BEFORE SPAIN GAME]

So when Eduardo Vargas put them ahead on 19 minutes, the stadium erupted. It was a deserved lead – they had been all over the Spanish, who looked vulnerable at the back and short of ideas in attack.

Chile continued to press, roared on by compatriots and neutrals alike, and so a second was inevitable, Charles Aranguiz making it two before the break.

Spain were shell-shocked, the defending champions on their way out of the World Cup. The horror.

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They were more positive in the second half, but such was the make-up of the Maracana crowd that every touch, every long ball was greeted with a chorus of heady boos.

The loudest jeers came for Diego Costa as he was replaced by Fernando Torres, the large Brazilian contingent adding to the decibels.

Spain improved in the latter stages, but their World Cup defence was coming to an inglorious, embarrassing end. Outplayed by two supposedly weaker teams; taken to pieces by one and humbled by another.

It would be facetious to call this the death of the tiki-taka, which is an effective and at times attractive style of play that will always succeed when played with the right attitude and personal.

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Spain’s problems are not stylistic or technical. They are physical and emotional, with many of their players suffering from long-term exhaustion that can accompany sustained success, and their supposed new saviour – pantomime villain Diego Costa – was clearly not match fit after struggling with injuries in the latter part of the domestic season.

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The selection of Costa was a political necessity. He had rejected the country of his birth to play in the World Cup in the country of his birth. Spain simply had to take him, and play him.

But to include David Villa and Fernando Torres as back-up options when both are in a sort of career no-man’s land bordered on the negligent. Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo are simply better footballers, and both are fit and in the prime of their careers.

However, it is clear that Spain’s main problem is defensive. Vicente Del Bosque’s loyalty to Iker Casillas when the Real Madrid keeper was obviously not right mentally has come back to haunt the coach; while Javi Martinez is not a centre-back, he is a defensive midfielder.

This World Cup will spell the end for Del Bosque as Spain coach, and may well see some of their golden generation put out to pasture.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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