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CUIABA, Brazil – If shell-shocked Spain coach Vicente del Bosque is looking for some insights into how to beat Chile next week and preserve his team's status in the World Cup, he could do a lot worse than get on the phone to Tim Cahill.
The Australia forward may have ended up on the losing side in Friday's 3-1 defeat to Chile in Cuiaba, but he delivered a performance that will be encouraging not just to the Socceroos but also to Spain fans desperate for some solace after the 5-1 thrashing by the Netherlands elsewhere in Group B.
Cahill exposed the chief weakness of the Chileans — a suspect central defense — by scoring one goal and almost adding two or three more in a powerful display of aerial domination.
Del Bosque will surely have taken note.
"Tim was outstanding," Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. "Particularly in the air, he is still world class. There is no one in the tournament who would like to be one on one with him.
"They only way they could stop him in the end was to hold on to his shirt."
That type of underhand tactic was a huge source of frustration to Cahill, who found little consolation in scoring a goal in a third straight World Cup and extending his record all-time goal tally for the Socceroos to 33.
The New York Red Bulls star told reporters about one exchange he had with Chile's left back, Eugenio Mena, during the match.
"There was an incident where the left back elbowed me and kicked out at me when I was trying to run past him for a cross, and I've got the yellow card," Cahill said. "I called him a cheat and he said, 'Yeah, I'm a cheat, so what?'"
Cahill was also seen squaring up to Gary Medel, the Chile center back he outjumped to score Australia's only goal at Arena Pantanal, and engage in what appeared a heated conversation with Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal as they left the pitch at the end of the first half.
"I said to Vidal, 'This is no good, this needs to be out of the game,'" said Cahill, who added that Chile resorted to that kind of gamesmanship as Australia piled on the pressure in the second half when 2-1 behind.
"They sensed it, everything started turning into grappling, everything they did started to slow the game down and they were getting a lot of free kicks in their favor. It's fine, because this is a great learning curve for this team and what we're trying to do."
It's concerning to think where would Australia be without Cahill.
A midfielder at club level, he has been his national team's top striker for the past four or five years and has now scored four of Australia's nine goals in World Cups.
At present, the cupboard is pretty bare for Postecoglou when it comes to attacking alternatives so he just has to hope Cahill stays fit and help with the development of Australia's young squad.
Despite the loss it was an encouraging performance from Australia, save for the opening 20 minutes when Chile scored twice — through Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia — and threatened even more.
Postecoglou's youngsters did not give in, taking the fight to a team many observers consider as an outside chance of the title, and almost claiming what would have been a deserved draw.
"They have some world-class players, Sanchez obviously, and perhaps we had too much respect for them," Postecoglou said. "We have a lot of players playing in their first World Cup.
"It would have been very easy to give up but we took the game to them."
It doesn't get any easier for Australia — next up is the buoyant Netherlands on Wednesday followed a group closer against Spain, by which time they might already be eliminated.
With Cahill around, though, they'll always have a fighting chance.