The Netherlands crushed Spain in their opening World Cup game as a brace apiece from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben helped the Dutch come from behind to win 5-1 at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
Spain, the defending champions were attempting to do what the previous three winners of the World Cup had not been able to do – win the first match of the next edition. They were, or rather are, an experienced lot. Seven of the starting eleven played in last edition’s final in Johannesburg and between them, they boasted an impressive 862 caps, with only Cesar Azpelacueta and Diego Costa having played less than 10 games for their country.
In contrast, the Dutch team had been completely revamped from the brutal final four years ago. Only four players – van Persie, Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong still survived from that team. The team had 422 caps between them; cut out the aforementioned four, and that figure would drop to a meagre 88 caps.
The game started off in typical fashion, with Spain dominating possession while the Dutch, in remembrance of Johannesburg, still seemed to harbour a fondness for Spanish heels and shins. It seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough would come, and it finally did, through a soft penalty.
Costa raced to a through ball from Xavi and finding himself all alone, conned Dutch defender Steven De Vrij to give away a foul, collapsing almost theatrically. Referee Nicola Rozzi had no choice but to point to the spot, much to the chargin of the Oranje and of the spectators, who were booing Costa for choosing Spain over his native Brazil.
Up stepped Xabi Alonso to take the penalty, and despite Robben’s hastily whispered instructions to his ‘keeper Cillessen, the ex-Liverpool player tucked away his shot with ease. 1-0 to Spain.
They almost doubled their lead when an Andres Iniesta pass sliced open the Dutch defence, with David Silva racing onto the ball, but the Manchester City maestro was unable to score. And that perhaps was the turning point of the game.
Towards the end of the half, the Spanish perhaps became a little lax, allowing Danny Blind too much time and space as he pinged a ball forward. No one was marking van Persie as he launched himself in the air before looping a beautiful header over the stranded Spanish ‘keeper Iker Casillas and into the net.
Not that the Spanish learned from their mistake. Less than 10 minutes into the second half, another long ball by Blind found Robben, who beautifully controlled the ball before taking both centre halves out of the game, shooting past Casillas and putting Holland into the lead.
After that it was all Oranje. A silly freekick near the corner allowed Sniejder to float a ball to the far post where De Vrij bundled it home for his first ever international goal, before a backpass from Ramos found Casillas napping – he took a heavy touch, allowing the ball to bounce away from him and to a gleaming van Persie, who toe-poked into the net for his second and his country’s fourth.
Towards the end, Iker Casillas cast a forlorn figure. One of the most respected goalkeepers in world football, he was made to look silly by Robben, a player that his club, Real Madrid had cast off years ago. His central defenders Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique were in shock: Ramos looked like he wanted to just sink into the ground while Pique looked longingly towards the tunnel – anything to get off the pitch. The scoreboard read 5-1, the clock 80 minutes. A ball from Blind inside his own penalty area found Robben near the halfway mark, he beat three Spanish defenders for pace before toying with Casillas, gyrating this way and that way before slaloming the ball into the net.
The game was summed up when substitute Fernando Torres found himself in space towards the 90 minute mark. He was in acres of space, with only the goalkeeper to beat, but waited so long that defender Ron Vlaar managed to poke the ball away. Spain could not even score another consolation goal.
Spain will need a miracle to recover from this shock. They next face Chile, which will be a tricky tie at the best of times. And with a fiercely partisan crowd to be expected, lets hope they don’t suffer another shocker.