After losing their previous matches in Group B to the Netherlands and Chile, both teams took to Arena da Baixada in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba knowing they could not advance to the second round.
David Villa, on his 97th and final appearance put Spain ahead in the 36th minute with his record 59th goal, guiding Juanfran Torres’ pass into the net with the inside of his right foot. Juanfran had been found by a typically incisive pass by Andres Iniesta.
“We stepped up against Australia and won this match, and I’m happy to have participated in the first goal,” said the 32-year-old Villa, who has called time on his international career. “It’s sad because we would have liked to have spent more time here, but that’s how it is.”
Iniesta was at the heart of the second goal too, providing the pass for Fernando Torres to steer the ball past Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan in the 69th minute.
Juan Mata, who replaced an emotional Villa early in the second half, added the third in the 82nd from close range, stroking the ball under Ryan after he was found in space by fellow substitute Cesc Fabregas. David Silva, who also came on late, went close in the 89th but his shot from outside the area went just wide.
Though nothing, in terms of World Cup progress, rested on the game, Spain showed some of the clever passing football that has seen it dominate the game over the past six years — winning Euro 2008, its first World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and then Euro 2012.
With that domination now at an end, the task facing Spain is to manage the transition from an aging squad that has won everything in the game to a new generation of players waiting to take center stage.
“We went out with dignity,” Del Bosque said.
“These have been six years of which we have been first in the FIFA ranking, a generation of players that have taught others, and have shown themselves,” he added. “We bow out with our head high knowing the future of the Spanish team has a good base regardless of who coaches it, with good veterans.”
In the early minutes of the match, Australia took the game to the champions, but it wasn’t long before Spain asserted control and started dominating possession.
“We started bright enough but you have to give credit to them, they are a quality team,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. “We looked jaded, tired, and gave away the ball too easily, so it’s disappointing.”
Australia, which lacked bite up front through the suspension of Tim Cahill, finished with zero points, its worst ever performance in a World Cup. On its 1974 debut, Australia garnered a point.
However, the Socceroos were in an extremely tough group and pushed the Netherlands hard during its 3-2 defeat.
For its part, Spain avoided the worst World Cup title defense in history. That label remains with the France team of 2002, which only secured one point in its goal-less campaign in the tournament co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
“What happened is in the past now,” Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso said. “We tried to face our situation in the best manner possible. This is football, though, and we go home sad.”
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