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World Cup: Spain beats Chile, 2-1, but both advance

June 25, 2010 |  1:29 pm


What began four months ago against a backdrop of death and destruction continued Friday with cheers and celebration.

A seed planted in the rubble of collapsed buildings and severed roadways finally flowered in the evening chill half a world away.

Chile’s soccer team, South America’s afterthought, a team hidden beneath the huge shadow cast by Argentina and Brazil but inspired by the courage of a country brought to its knees by February’s devastating earthquake, will join its neighbors in the second round of the World Cup.

It may have backed in, losing to a desperate Spanish team, 2-1, in its group-play finale on Friday, but that t was all it needed to move on. And the Chileans have shown in recent months that they're nothing if not resilient.

Span, meanwhile, earned the victory it needed to avoid becoming the third European giant to fall in group play. And it got it with first-half goals by David Villa and Andres Iniesta that forged a tie with Chile atop the group standings.

Spain will advance as the group champion by virtue of a better goal differential and will play Portugal in the knockout stage Tuesday in Cape Town, South Africa. Chile, which got its lone goal Friday from Rodrigo Millar in the second half, meets Brazil on Monday in Johannesburg.

But then Chile was playing for more than just a berth in the second round. It was playing for a people still coping with a massive quake that shook six of the country’s regions to their cores, killing more than 500, flattening buildings and leaving millions homeless.

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake was so strong it shifted the Earth’s axis. A tattered flag, rescued from a collapsed building, flies outside the team’s South African training base, serving as both a reminder and a symbol.

“It’s in our minds what happened with the catastrophe,” goalkeeper and team captain Claudio Bravo said. “The flag was brought for that reason. It’s very important for us and we take it as a big motivation.”

This isn’t the first time Chile has used a World Cup to pick itself up after a devastating blow. In 1960, two years before Chile was to host the tournament, a magnitude 9.5 quake – the strongest ever recorded – devastated the country, destroying its infrastructure.

The head of the local organizing committee emotionally fought calls to move the tournament from Chile and his promise “because we don’t have anything, we will do everything in our power to rebuild” became a rallying cry.

The tournament went off without a hitch with Chile winning four times to place third, its best World Cup finish ever. This year’s team has already won twice, advancing to the second round for just the third time in history.

Chile had to fight hard in the second half Friday to get there however.

Spain took a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute on an unusual play that started when Bravo came way out of the goal to play a long ball Spanish striker Fernando Torres was trying to run down. But the sliding Bravo pushed the ball 20 yards back up field to Villa, who let go a curling left-footed kick from just inside the midfield stripe that bounced into the unattended goal.

Its second score, which came 13 minutes later, was of a more standard variety, coming at the end of a five-pass sequence that ended with Iniesta side-footing the ball past Bravo from the edge of the box. But that score was doubly expensive for Chile because on the same play midfielder Marco Estrada clipped Torres from behind, earning a red card that left his team shorthanded for the rest of the year.

Chile managed to halve the lead on another quirky goal in the opening seconds of the second half when Millar, who had just come off the bench, tried to shoot over three defenders and got lucky when the ball bounced off Gerard Pique’s knee on into the net.

Kevin Baxter in  Pretoria, South Africa

Photo: Jean Beausejour of Chile clashes with Xabi Alonso of Spain. Credit: Phil Cole/Getty Images.