SALVADOR – Gp B: Spain 1, Holland 5
—– KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: For a world champion team or individual to be torn apart, piece by humiliating piece, as were Spain by Holland here is remarkable.
What was even more astounding about Holland’s 5-1 thrashing of the reigning world and European kings is that it was almost all achieved in the second half of a game which Spain had dominated for 37 first-half minutes.
Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben scored two magnificent goals apiece, assisted by the disastrously rusty goalkeeping of Iker Casillas.
Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque had overlooked his captain’s near-costly blunder in Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph. His faith proved wildly over-optimistic, not least when Stefan De Vrij bundled home the crucial third Dutch goal.
Adding to the incongruous scoreline was the statistical context with Spain having conceded only three goals in qualifying and only two in winning the last World Cup.
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 scrambled a bad-tempered 1-0 win in extra time, brought a total transformation from the defeatist Dutch violence of four years ago.
Oddly, Holland might have taken the lead in a disappointingly 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 further one-on-one 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 it was all Spain. If centre-forward Diego Costa, making his World Cup debut for his adopted home in the land of his birth, had shown the form prompting his awaited transfer to Chelsea, then Spain would soon have been out of sight.
But first he delayed a shot far too long when clear on the left and was foiled by a sharp tackle from Ron Vlaar then he fired wildly wide from the right. But it was also Costa – booed by Brazilian fans every time he touched the ball – who was tripped by Daley Blind for the penalty from which Xabi Alonso rapped Spain ahead.
David Silva, roaming unfettered beyond the Dutch midfield, was another threat. He should have scored a second for Spain as half-time approached but, sent clear by Andres Iniesta, saw his chip fingered over the bar by keeper Jasper Cillessen.
The match – and maybe even Spain’s World Cup defence – turned on that very moment.
Out of nowhere Holland strode back downfield and equalised. Daley Blind provided a long angled aerial pass and Robin Van Persie ran clear of the ball-watching Spanish defenders to plant a magnificently-timed header beyond the helpess Casillas.
Holland were a different team from the very start of the second half. Robben put them 2-1 ahead after nimbly seizing possession then jinking outside Gerard Pique; Van Persie hit the bar; then De Vrij bundled home Sneijder’s 66th-minute left-wing free kick.
Spain protested furiously that Casillas had been impeded by Van Persie. They pointed Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli to the big-screen playback of the goal but all in angry vain.
Their defence was shot. Casillas failed to control a Sergio Ramos backpass and was punished by Van Persie: 4-1. Then the blundering keeper was humiliated further as Robben ran at him, dribbled around him and cracked in No5.
Van Persie and Robben thus ended the match as the first Dutch players to score in three different World Cups.
Spain’s embarrassment was complete when substitute Fernando Torres failed to score from three metres out after being played in by Pedro.
Last year Spain came to Brazil for the Confederations Cup and were beaten 3-0 by their hosts in the final. They had plenty of excuses at the end of a long hard season. No excuses this time. As coach Vicente Del Bosque admitted: “I have no words to explain it.”
Spain also lost their first game in South Africa, to Switzerland. But only by 1-0. This looked very different.