Defending champions Spain are heading home, after having been battered by the Netherlands and overwhelmed by Chile. Brazil 2014 has turned out to be nothing less than a sensational end to their era of dominance.
Brazil are under too much pressure, Germany have problems in defence and attack, Italy have no exceptional individuals. These were the arguments that floated around before the start of the tournament when discussing potential winners. Spain, on the other hand, would go far. Fans and experts were sure of it. The team's dominance over the last six years was far too great. The tiki-taka had long been a defining style of football, aided by the incredible quality of the individuals.
And yet, Spain are out of the 2014 World Cup after two group-stage games. The even more baffling thing is that their performances merited an early exit. The players were not in form, goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas in particular. His mistakes against Chile and the Netherlands were the beginning of the end.
His defense weren't much better. Sergio Ramos, who was a Champions League winner with Real Madrid this year, was far from himself. The same could be said for Iniesta, while Xavi spent the entire Chile game on the bench. There was nothing to be seen of a once marauding midfield. A lack of physical fitness and collective concentration were obvious.
Too much Barcelona
What is harder to figure out is why Spain lacked the bite and mentality we have grown used to. After all, Spain's clubs dominated the European competitions this year, with Real Madrid winning the Champions League against city rivals Atletico and Sevilla winning the Europa League. Coach Vincente del Bosque didn't spend as much time training with the entire World Cup squad. He focused his set-up on Pedro, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Pique, all of whom are Barcelona players and are spoiled by success, even though this season was a relatively quiet one in that department.
There wasn't enough competition in the squad. World champions such as Casillas and Xavi were guaranteed starting spots despite their poor form - no foundation for a top performance.
What's perhaps even more impressive is the way opponents have developed tactically to cope with Spain. Both the Dutch and the Chileans overran Spain's defensive midfield and back four on a number of occasions.
The way of the world
Does Spain's sensational exit mark the end of an era? It's hard to come to any other conclusion. Football is cylical, and not even Spain can avoid that. The heroes of the past that won two European Championships and a World Cup have started to show signs of ageing. At 34, Xavi has played his last tournament. The same could be said for Casillas (33) and perhaps Iniesta (30). Del Bosque's resignation is unavoidable, and a replacement will take time to find. Whoever they are, they will be charged with the task of rebuilding a side that has shaped international football with an effective and clinical possession-based game over the last six years. No pressure there.