Er, who was expecting that? Joe Brewin dissects the action from Salvador as Louis van Gaal's men run riot against the reigning champs...
Madness. When Xabi Alonso slotted home a 27th-minute penalty at the Arena Fonte Nova, it looked like it may well be business as usual for Spain, looking for an unprecedented fifth straight major tournament win. But, like in 2010 when Switzerland struck an early blow, the hard-hitting Dutch made this an opener to forget. Quickly.
Without being obviously dirty, the Dutch set about upsetting Vicente del Bosque's men's rhythm early on. They fouled in midfield from the start, and continued that policy until the final whistle; by the end they'd troubled the referee 18 times to Spain's 5. It worked too: while Sergio Busquets and Xavi clocked in 71 of 73 and 78 passes respectively, neither were penetrative. Andres Iniesta was on one occasion, which resulted in the early penalty.
The game was turned on its head by Robin van Persie's magnificent header on the stroke of half-time. It was crafted by full-back Daley Blind, who was a man-of-the-match contender with 2 excellent (and identical) assists to his name. In total, the Ajax man carved out 4 opportunities for his team-mates, who applied the finishing touches with style.
Like Arjen Robben, for example. Netting his first goal – achieved after taking down a Blind pass beautifully, turning Gerard Pique and firing home – was the confidence boost the Netherlands' wing wonder needed. Before that he'd been quiet, often receiving the ball deep, completing just 1 take-on and failing to manage a cross. By full-time he'd bagged twice from 3 attempts, barely left the final third and attempted several more dribbles.
But what of Spain? Well, there was plenty of passing – crab-like distribution from Xavi and Busquets pushed the Spanish digits to 540 completed (the Netherlands managed 276) – but a serious threat was lacking. Diego Costa was hauled off after an hour, while replacement Fernando Torres fluffed a fine opportunity in his place. With a few minutes remaining both sides had attempted 10 efforts on goal, with a clinical Dutch side managing 8 on target. Spain tested Jasper Cillessen 4 times, one a penalty, and may wish to reconsider their somewhat defensive midfield setup of Xavi, Busquets and Alonso against Chile.
Finally, a word on the Netherlands' tackling: it was ruddy good, wasn't it? One of the two they didn't complete resulted in the penalty on Costa, but consistent thwarting of Spain, particularly down the right, frustrated the champions further.
Facts and figures
- Spain have conceded 5+ goals in an international for the first time since losing 6-2 to Scotland in June 1963.
- Robin van Persie has scored 10 goals in his last 9 appearances for Netherlands.
- Only once before had Spain conceded 5+ goals in a World Cup game (1-6 vs Brazil in Brazil in 1950).
- The last team to beat Spain after conceding the first goal were Northern Ireland in September 2006 (3-2).
- Spain only conceded 2 goals in the whole of World Cup 2010.
- A 4-goal margin is the biggest losing margin by a defending champion at a World Cup.
- Spain conceded 10+ shots on target for the first time in a World Cup game analysed by Opta (1966-2014).
- Arjen Robben has scored 7 goals in his last 7 appearances for the Netherlands.
- Daley Blind is the first Dutch player to provide 2 assists in a single World Cup match since 1998 (Wim Jonk v South Korea).
- Spain conceded as many fouls as goals in this game (5).
- This is only the third time the Netherlands have scored 5 goals in a World Cup game. Austria and South Korea were the previous victims.