On the day that King Juan Carlos signed his abdication bill, Spain's regal reign over global football came to an end on Wednesday.
Unlike their head of state, the country's footballers were unable to leave at a time of their choosing, as Chile followed the Netherlands' example in riding roughshod over the FIFA World Cup holders.
Dumped out of a scintillating tournament that continues to thrill and surprise in equal measure, the inquest into two defeats and seven goals conceded will be hard to bear for a Spain team that made the summit of the world game their home for so long.
World Cup glory in South Africa four years ago followed the UEFA Euro 2008 triumph that announced this great side. The defence of their European title, crowned by a majestic 4-0 final victory over Italy, underscored their status as among the greatest international sides ever.
It seems a trick of the mind that Kiev's Olympic Stadium witnessed such peerless excellence less than two years ago, but the sands of football shifted as Spain stood still. Their price, an unceremonious humiliation in the sport's spiritual home as they were dumped out of Brazil 2014 at the iconic Maracana with a 2-0 defeat to Group B opponents Chile.
Spain fans and countless neutrals will still look back at the period spanning 2008-2012 with wonder and awe. It began when veteran coach Luis Aragones decided to make the most of a footballing revolution underway in Catalonia.
The relentless passing style of 'tiki-taka' became Barcelona’s trademark towards the end of the last decade but, by the time Pep Guardiola began honing the method to perfection, Aragones had shepherded Spain to Europe’s summit using Barca's template.
A midfield nucleus of Xavi and Andres Iniesta tormented teams, dumping them onto a passing "carousel", as Sir Alex Ferguson famously put it after Manchester United were dazzled in the 2009 UEFA Champions League final.
There were fleeting moments of success against tiki-taka, but these usually involved teams hanging on for grim death by 1,000 passes and it never quite arriving. Then, in the 2013 Champions League semi-final, Bayern Munich shocked the world.
Emboldened by the attacking talents of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Bayern attacked with gusto, pace and power. Barca, not in prime form heading into the games, could not find their rhythm and fell to a 7-0 aggregate humiliation.
Brazil found joy against Spain at a national level using similar methods with a 3-0 FIFA Confederations Cup final victory last year, and the cracks remained at Barcelona, the capital of this suddenly crumbling football empire.
Tata Martino tried to move them on from the style of Guardiola and his popular successor, the late Tito Vilanova, but they were caught between two stools and unconvincing against the vibrance and dynamism of both Madrid teams.
Vicente del Bosque's error at international level was to keep faith with methods that brought success in 2010 and 2012; a religion no longer practiced with conviction.
The Netherlands did to Spain what Bayern did to Barca - Robben again a chief tormentor - in the opening 5-1 humbling at Brazil 2014, but Wednesday's 2-0 loss to Chile was a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
The South Americans still owe much to the style of their former boss Marcelo Bielsa, a noted mentor to Guardiola. It is a sign that styles based on short passing and high pressing still work wonderfully if modified, yet Del Bosque gripped onto his ideology as reality changed.
Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke gave his Barcelona counterparts nightmares last season but looked on from Spain’s bench as their torrid times continued. The game was up by the time he appeared for the second half against Chile.
In some respects, as Koke sat flanked by wonderful players, he was the symbol of Spain's fall.
The talent remains but if Spain are to return to the summit of international football, the blinkers of the tiki-taka generation must now be taken off.
|Coach: Del Bosque|
for Xabi Alonso 46'
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