KEIR RADNEDGE in SALVADOR: Holland, after being nearly played off the pitch, turned fortunes around against Spain in the most dramatic and exciting fashion in a most dramatic World Cup repeat. The Dutch, 1-0 down after 25 minutes, won by an amazing 5-1 in a spectacular turnaround to chip a little more World Cup history.
If anyone knew how to unpick a Barcelona-based Spanish team then it had to be Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal, who laid the foundations for Catalan domination at club level. Hence the rerun of the 2010 World Cup Final, when Spain won a bad-tempered clash 1-0 in extra time, was played to a very different scheme to the defeatist violence of four years ago.
Holland might even have taken the lead in a disappointing half-full Arena Fonte Nova in Group B.
One of the decisive factors in Soccer City had been Arjen Robben’s two failures to beat Spain keeper Iker Casillas when clear through. A similar opportunity presented itself here after only seven minutes and this time it was midfielder Wesley Sneijder who lost his nerve and was denied by the Spanish captain.
After that all the danger was created by Spain at the other end. If centre-forward Diego Costa, making his World Cup debut for his adopted hime in the land of his birth, had shown the form prompting his awaited transfer to Chelsea, then Spain would not have needed to wait until Alonso’s penalty.
Costa delayed his shot far too long when clear on the left in the 13th minute and was foiled bya sharp tackle from Ron Vlaar then the centre-forward fired wildly from wide on the right.
Spain would not be denied. Costa – booed by Brazilian fans every time he touched the ball – was tripped by Daley Blind and Xabi Alonso rapped home the penalty.
Another fine tackle from Vlaar then denied David Silva who should have scored just before half-time; sent clear by Andres Iniesta he tried to chip Jasper Cillessen and saw the keeper tip the ball over the bar.
It proved a horribly costly miss.
Out of nowhere Holland strode back downfield and equalised. Daley Blind provided a long angled aerial pass through the middle and Robin Van Persie ran clear of the ball-watching Spanish defenders to plant a magnificently-timed header beyond the helpess Casillas.
That goal was the turning point in the match. Holland came out for the second half confident that this time the match was theirs.
Robben put them 2-1 ahead after nimbly seizing possession then jinking outside Gerardf Pique; Van Persie hit the bar; then Blind bundled in a 66th-minute left-wing free kick.
Spain protested furiously and in vain that Casillas had been impeded by Van Persie. They pointed the attention of Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli to the big-screen playback of the goal but all in angry vain.
But Spain’s defence was shot. Casillas failed to control a Sergio Ramos backpass and was punished by Van Persie. Then the blundering keeper was humiliated further as Robben ran at him, dribbled around him and thundered in goal No5.
Spain’s embarrassment was complete when substitute Fernando Torres failed to score from three metres out after being played in by Pedro.