For the Socceroos, this was a bridge too far.
After the all excitement and promise of the performances against Chile and the Netherlands, Ange Postecoglou’s team was no match for the defending world champions Spain.
The 3-0 defeat is a bitter pill, given that they set themselves to bring a point home with their carry-on luggage.
The Socceroos started without their two trump cards, the suspended Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano, whose body would not allow him to go the distance over 90 minutes.
The total makeover in this tournament was complete when Oliver Bozanic and Adam Taggart came in to start the game. For Taggart, it’s been some year: from mining for goals in Newcastle with the Jets, to facing the star-studded Spaniards in the World Cup.
Early on, the Socceroos brought the same exuberance that they had shown over previous games, cheered on by a raucous crowd in green and gold as well as locals who voted with their voice for the Australians.
Initially, Spain looked like a team serving time, playing against a team who believed their time was soon coming.
But this was an illusion.
Despite their disappointing campaign, the Spaniards brought their forensic approach to the game, examining Australia’s weaknesses and soon dominating possession.
Man of the match David Villa, formerly of Atletico Madrid and soon to be of Melbourne City, was running riot down the left wing.
It was fitting that he scored the opening goal after being played in by Juanfran. Villa’s delightful backheel would have forced A-League defenders all over the country to break out in a cold sweat.
The Socceroos were an orchestra missing their conductor. Bozanic, Taggart and Leckie just couldn’t play in the same key.
Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Postecoglou decided to change the tune. Taggart made way for Ben Halloran and Leckie was asked to lead the line.
In the early stages of the second half, the Socceroos found their mojo again, but were unable to make the most of precious chances.
The best moment came at 52 minutes, when the hardworking Leckie opened some space for Tommy Oar inside the penalty area on the left. But Oar was unable to finish.
It was emblematic of the Socceroos’ campaign.
The final pass in the World Cup is everything, and it’s been the key element missing from this Australian team.
Eventually, it took its toll.
James Troisi, who had come on for an injured Oar, was robbed of the ball deep in his own half. Cesc Fabregas raced away with the ball, delivered a long accurate pass out wide to the left, and Fernando Torres skipped around Ryan McGowan and Alex Wilkinson all too easily.
2-0 to Spain and a cruel lesson for the Australian defenders: you don’t get to pick and choose when to switch on at the World Cup.
Juan Mata added a third and late goal for the Spanish as the realisation for the Socceroos that their campaign was over started to sink in.
All that was left for the traveling fans was to provide a sustained and emotional ovation for Bresciano, who came on late and has probably played his last game for his country.
After the match, Postecoglou conceded that his side looked jaded and had been outclassed by Spain.
Of the tournament overall, he said: “We wanted to come to this World Cup and try and take it up to three absolutely world class teams and I think we’ve done that.
“What we’ve found out is that we’re not at that quality yet. In four years time, if we keep having that sort of intent, I think we’ll bridge the gap.”
While the Brazilian adventure is over, a new one is soon to begin. The Asian Cup beckons for Postecoglou’s team and nothing short of lifting the trophy will satisfy. That work begins now.