Curitiba, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) - Spain finds itself in the most unexpected of situations on Monday as the team is simply playing out the string against Australia in the final match in Group B at the Arena da Baixada.
The last thing the defending champions expected was a dead rubber with the Socceroos, while the Netherlands and Chile battle it out for the top spot in the group.
After winning each of the last three major tournaments, Spain was once again considered to be among the favorites to play in the final at the Maracana on July 13.
However, a heavy 5-1 defeat to the Dutch was followed by an equally deflating 2-0 setback to Chile, making Spain the first defending champion to be eliminated after two games at the next World Cup.
"Things are going to change. Eras end with defeats...and this was a painful defeat," said Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso, who scored Spain's only goal in this World Cup. "It's a completely unexpected failure but that is sport. These things happen. It was unexpected but we have to take the great sadnesses in the same way as we take the great joys, as men."
Spain will now try to save some face against Australia, which was expected to lose all three of its games in a difficult group, yet has proven to be a tough out for both the Dutch and Chile.
Australia fell behind 2-0 in the opening 15 minutes against Chile in its opening match and appeared to be on the verge of being routed.
However, a goal from Tim Cahill pulled them back into the match and made for some anxious moments for the favored Chileans, who were able to kill the game off in the closing minutes with a goal from Jorge Valdivia.
Against Holland, the Socceroos were an even bigger threat as goals from Cahill and Mile Jedinak had the team in front, 2-1, with 35 minutes to play.
However, the Dutch rallied with goals from Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay to avoid the upset, sending Australia home.
The Aussies may have nothing to show for their efforts, but defender Alex Wilkinson believes that head coach Ange Postecoglou is primed to turn things around and make Australia a threat in the coming years, with this World Cup giving the team confidence going forward.
"It's the start of a new era, I think," Wilkinson told FIFA. "The boss has come in and made a lot of changes. He definitely believes in youth, he believes in young Australian players and he's shown that. He's also shown that he believes in playing football and putting teams under pressure. [Against the Dutch] I thought we did that very well, we pressed them quite well, and I don't know that they would have expected that. I think it put them on the back foot. It's great to go out and see that an Aussie team can mix it with the best, and we'll take a lot of confidence from it."
Australia will be without Cahill, its top goal threat, against Spain because of an accumulation of yellow cards, but don't expect that to dampen the spirits of the irrepressible Aussies, who have their last chance at taking something from this World Cup.
For Spain the feeling will be much different as Vicente del Bosque's men are headed home in the group stage for the first time since 1998, and just the second time in the past 36 years.
"We've made lots of mistakes, we've lost a bit of our know-how, and we've paid for it with our solidity that had helped us win so many games," said Alonso. "We've not been able to keep the same levels of ambition and hunger, perhaps the real conviction to go for the championship."