By CARL SETTERLUND
There was no salvaging Spain’s tumultuous World Cup, but the defending champions reclaimed a bit of respect in their Group B finale against Australia on Monday, downing the Socceroos, 3-0 in a bounce-back performance in Curitiba.
With both teams having lost their first two games against the Netherlands and Chile, the two squads were playing for pride alone and the Spanish proved resilient, getting goals from David Villa, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata.
Spain took control around the 20-minute mark and went ahead on Villa’s back heel finish in the 36th minute. Torres got in behind the defense in the 69th minute, and the substitute Mata did the same in the 82st minute to complete the scoring.
Although La Roja were sent packing before the knockout stage for the first time since 1998, they weren’t the only team sent home disappointed, as Australia failed to secure a point for the first time in four World Cup appearances.
It should be noted that Australia, which did not put a shot on target, was playing without New York Red Bulls striker Tim Cahill. The 34-year-old tallied in both previous matches, but was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
On the Spanish side, Vicente Del Bosque again tweaked his lineup, making seven changes, including the first World Cup starts for Koke and Pepe Reina.
Reina was rarely called to action, with his big moment coming in the minute after Villa’s opener, breaking up an Adam Taggart chance at the doorstep.
A minute earlier in the 36th, Spain broke through on a smooth recovery by Villa. Juanfran appeared to play it slightly behind Villa from the right end line. The veteran stuck his right foot out for a cool back heel past keeper Maty Ryan.
Spain pressured for a second goal the rest of the first half, but it didn’t come until the 69th minute when Torres straddled the line and Andres Iniesta played him through with an efficient ball on the ground. Torres eluded two defenders sent a low finish across the face of goal from the left side of the six-yard box.
Along with the assist, it was a landmark game for Iniesta who notched his 100th cap.
After Mata drew attention away from Torres on his goal, the favor was returned on Mata’s 82nd minute flourish. Both players were in good position to score, but fellow substitute Cesc Fabregas picked out the Manchester United man with a lofted pass to the right edge of the six-yard box.
Mata settled and slotted the ball between Ryan’s legs for the third goal.