Group B: Irresistable Holland overcome Spain's lust for possession
If Holland’s 5-1 win over Spain is anything to go on, Tiki Taka is dead.
At least, it is if your team happens to possess the pace and skill of Arjen Robben, the powers of flight of Robin Van Persie and the accuracy of pass of Daley Blind.
Friday night’s 2010 World Cup final rematch between Spain and the Netherlands was a stunning clash of styles.
Far from the edgy, tense affair in Johannesburg almost four years ago, this was one full of flair and intensity and, this time, Holland had a real cutting edge.
Of Spain’s starting XI, seven started in Johannesburg, while the Dutch only had four, which perhaps begins to explain the shock 5-1 result.
Louis Van Gaal has helped the Oranje to evolve around a fulcrum of its strongest players while Vincente Del Bosque has placed his trust in a tried and tested formula and – on this occasion at least – evolution won.
That’s a good thing for Manchester United fans like me, as we look to van Gaal to take the Red Devils out of Moyes’ stone age.
To be fair to Del Bosque, we are talking about a style of play and a group of players which has won two European Championships and a World Cup, but after the pasting received by van Gaal’s slick and efficient Netherlands, he has to respond.
Spain completed almost double the amount of passes Holland did, with 540 to Holland’s 276, but what the Oranje lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality and bravery.
Xabi Alonso made it 1-0 from the spot after 27 minutes when Diego Costa won a contentious penalty, but Spain failed to heed a number of early warning signs.
Wesley Sneijder was sent clean through in the opening 10 minutes and while the next 30 minutes did not present another great chance for the Dutch, their intent in wanting to win the ball high up the pitch and get the ball forward quickly was clear.
It paid dividends after 44 minutes when Van Persie scored the greatest header of all time.
Alright, maybe that’s a bit much, but I love Van Persie, and I love diving headers – and when you combine the two from just inside the box on the back of a pass from the back-left corner of the attacking half you get something truly special.
What followed in the second half was utterly ridiculous.
Robben lead Spain on a merry dance, scoring twice, while Holland’s high-pressure defending reaped further reward when a clearly underdone Iker Casillas allowed Van Persie the simplest of tap ins.
Even de Vrij’s goal was a demonstration of Holland’s appetite. The Oranje simply wanted it more and for once not even Spain’s lust for possession could suffocate them.
Spain should make light work of my own Socceroos and Chile in their remaining two games, given neither side possesses the quality of Holland, but it will need to learn from this if it’s to live up to pre-tournament billing and hang around until the start of July.
Speaking of my beloved Aussies, I’m glad to report they’re not bad.
The Socceroos arrived at the tournament as the lowest ranked team, but they finish match day one of Group B on top of the defending champions.
That’s good enough for me!
Seriously though, this was in many ways a similar clash of styles.
Chile – the clear favourite – was expected to control the game and work the ball into the box, while Australia – an unknown quantity to a global audience – was expected to do what it could on the break.
Like Spain, Chile completely out passed Australia (541 completed passes to 255) but to anyone watching the game there was only one team dominating play as the game wore on, demonstrated by Australia’s nine second-half shots at goal to Chile’s five.
Unfortunately for Ange Postecoglou, his team has only really played five games together, and lacks the quality of Robben and Van Persie.
Still, this game confirmed the growing reputation of a number of fledgling Socceroos.
Jason Davidson starred at left-back, the newly formed centre-back pairing of Alex Wilkinson and Matthew Spiranovic looked like they’d been playing together for years, while Matthew Leckie was tireless and caused plenty of trouble up front.
Even skipper Mile Jedinak is relatively new to the international scene but was typically fearless and looked every bit as experienced at this level as the likes of Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano.
A little bit more polish from all involved and a little more concentration at the start of the game, and the Socceroos could have had one, maybe even three, points.
Chile will be satisfied with a 3-1 win, but not with the performance – as demonstrated by the players’ visible relief after the game.
Simply put, Chile will need to play a lot better to get out of a group it believes it has a strong chance it can.
Matthew Galea is a 22-year-old sports journalist currently working in regional Victoria, Australia and is a part-time armchair manager. To date, he has spent most of his career agreeing with Sir Alex Ferguson, although the better part of last season was spent trying to tell David Moyes how to do his job.