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Spaniards Can't Hide Disappointment In World Cup Elimination

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Huddled around TV sets in bars and living rooms across their country, Spaniards watched a depressing spectacle last night. Their much-decorated national soccer team was eliminated from the World Cup, losing to Chile, 2-0. It was one of the worst performances in memory for a reigning champion. Lauren Frayer got some reaction from the streets of Madrid.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: This is where the celebration was supposed to be. It's where it was four years ago. I'm standing near Palacio Cibeles at a traffic circle in downtown Madrid where Spanish soccer fans gather to celebrate their country's victories. Only it's empty, save for a few bands of roving, quite drunken and dejected soccer fans.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: (Singing in Spanish).

INIGO CARMONA: It is a shock now because we were used to winning all the time in Spain. And a lot of people just forget their problems watching the team. It's not good for them. And they don't deserve the thing that we watched - the humiliation that watched. I think it's bad for us.

FRAYER: Inigo Carmona and his college buddies roamed the streets of Madrid after midnight, booing their number-one-ranked team, which is 5,000 miles away in Brazil. Spain made history racking up consecutive titles - two European Championships and a World Cup. I ask Inigo and his friends how they feel now that streak is over. His buddy Bernardo Cuenca chimes in.

How do you feel now about Spain?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bad. Very bad.

BERNARDO CUENCA: Actually, really bad because I think that they feel like - oh, we won, like, everything, so we are the best. So I think when they saw, like, Holland, Switzerland and Chile - I don't know, like - I think they saw, like, the realistic life, like, we're not the best anymore. So I don't know.

FRAYER: Ten years ago, Spain was in its heady boom years. People thought the economy would never crash, but then it did. Soccer was one of the things that kept Spaniards sane during the economic crisis. They thought their national team would never crash. But now it, too, has.

MARK ELKINGTON: I don't think anyone expected the world champions to go out after two games and concede more goals than they conceded in qualifying for the last two to three tournaments. It's astonishing.

FRAYER: Mark Elkington covers Spanish soccer for British media.

ELKINGTON: This is an end of an era. No one has defined the style of football in the way that Spain has, what everyone calls tiki-taka, which is this sort of possession football and the short-passing game. That's what's been so amazing about this Spain experience and this kind of domination. That's what makes it all the more painful to fall. This is the Spain team that people will look back and talk about.

FRAYER: The headline in Spain's biggest sports newspaper says it best, "The End." But the World Cup has only just begun. Who's the favorite now? - I ask the fans in the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: Now?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Germany.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: I believe Argentina. I believe them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 3: Brazil.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 4: Germany.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Chile

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 5: Poland is going to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN 6: I think the final is going to be Germany against Brazil.

FRAYER: Soccer-crazed Spaniards will stay glued to their TVs for the next three weeks, even if their team is no longer playing. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

WERTHEIMER: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.