Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each scored twice as the Netherlands came from a goal behind to record a stunning 5-1 victory over world champions Spain on Friday at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador in both teams' FIFA World Cup opener.
Xabi Alonso put Spain ahead with a 27th-minute penalty, but the Netherlands equalised via a van Persie header just before half-time. The Dutch then overwhelmed Spain's porous defence in the second half, scoring four times to finish off a famous victory that could have far-reaching implications in the world of football.
Though the result is no doubt a shock, Spain are not entirely in untraveled territory. La Roja lost their opening match in the 2010 World Cup as well, falling 1-0 to Switzerland before eventually winning their first world title.
But this was entirely different, and if Spain are to win a fourth consecutive major title, Vicente del Bosque's team will have to improve markedly against Chile and Australia in the remaining Group B matches.
As B/R's Karl Matchett noted, the loss could prompt sweeping changes for Spain:
For the Netherlands, meanwhile, the win could provide a springboard to success in Brazil. The Oranje finished runners-up at the 2010 World Cup, losing to Spain in the final, but now appear favourites to advance into the knock-out stages as Group B winners.
Up next for Louis van Gaal's Dutch is a match against outsiders Australia on Wednesday in Porto Alegre. Spain will face Chile the same day in Rio de Janeiro.
The game's first clear chance fell to the Netherlands, Wesley Sneijder running onto Robben's pass through the Spanish defence in the eighth minute. Clear through on goal, Sneijder shot too close to Iker Casillas, who punched the ball away.
Spain won a penalty in the 26th minute, Diego Costa going to ground in the box after Stefan de Vrij made contact with the Brazil-born striker's trailing leg. Alonso converted the spot-kick, rolling the ball into the net at the left-hand post for a 1-0 Spain lead midway through the opening half.
The world champions nearly had a second goal in the 43rd minute after Andres Iniesta unlocked the Dutch defence with a precise through ball into the box. David Silva ran onto the pass and attempted to clip a finish over Jasper Cillessen, but the goalkeeper tipped the ball wide of the post.
Moments later, the Netherlands pulled level thanks to a moment of magic from van Persie. Holding the ball near the midfield stripe, Daley Blind played a long, high ball to the edge of the box, where van Persie slipped away from his marker and floated a perfectly placed header over Casillas for the equaliser.
The match was finely poised at half-time with the score 1-1, and as the second half began, rain arrived in the stadium to add an extra element of mystique.
And in the 53rd minute, an already enthralling game took another turn as the Dutch took their first lead. Blind was the provider again, lofting a pass into the box for Robben, who found space between Spanish centre-backs Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. After bringing down ball with an expert first touch, Robben cut inside on his left foot and finished past Casillas for a 2-1 Netherlands advantage.
Moments later, Costa was fortunate to escape disciplinary action after appearing to head-butt Bruno Martins Indi. The referee did not see the incident and took no action.
Spain were teetering, and van Persie nearly scored Holland's third in the 60th minute with a powerful volley that hit the crossbar. Four minutes later, the Dutch delivered a decisive blow.
Sneijder curled in a free-kick from the left toward the back post, where van Persie appeared to impede Casillas in the air. When the ball dropped, de Vrij was on hand to sweep in for a stunning 3-1 lead.
Spain looked to respond right away and had the ball in the net in the 67th minute. But David Silva was correctly ruled offside after tapping in the rebound from Jordi Alba's saved header.
Instead of mounting a comeback, though, Spain went further behind in the 72nd minute after another moment Casillas would rather forget. There seemed to be little danger when the Spanish goalkeeper accepted a back-pass inside his own box, but a poor touch allowed van Persie to intercept and slot into the unguarded net.
Trailing 4-1, Spain's humiliation was all but complete. The Dutch, however, weren't quite finished.
Moments after accepting the captain's armband from the substituted van Persie, Robben made it five. Speeding past Ramos into Spain's half, the Bayern Munich man beat Casillas with a cut-back into the middle before firing home to complete a scintillating—and potentially momentous—victory.
Note: Ratings based on a 1-10 scale with 1 being the worst and 10 the best.
|Spain Player Ratings|
|Fernando Torers (for Costa, 62')||N/A||4|
|Pedro (for Alonso, 63')||N/A||5|
|Cesc Fabregas (for Silva, 78')||N/A||5|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
|Netherlands Player Ratings|
|Stefan de Vrij||6||8|
|Bruno Martins Indi||6||7|
|Nigel de Jong||7||7|
|Jonathan de Guzman||5||5|
|Robin van Persie||8||9|
|Georginio Wijnaldum (for de Guzman, 62')||N/A||7|
|Joel Veltman (for de Vrij, 77')||N/A||7|
|Jeremain Lens (for van Persie, 79')||N/A||6|
|Ratings by B/R UK|
Two-goal captain Robin van Persie told Dutch station NOS (h/t Football Espana) that they continued to push for goals after taking the lead.
"The match went exactly how the coaching staff predicted it would," van Persie said. "Often, you quit after two or three goals. But we went on and on and on."
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque admitted Holland were the better team on the day, telling reporters (h/t Football Espana) after the match: "That’s sport. We have to accept defeat. They were better than us in the second half. We have to admit that they were better. It’s a delicate moment for us, but we have to solve it."
Midfielder Andres Iniesta looked forward to Spain's next two matches, telling reporters (h/t Football Espana) that the Roja must win both to advance.
"We have to win the two games that are left," he said. "There are small details that tip the balance. But it was difficult for us tonight. We are prepared for whatever comes. We’ll do our work, but we won’t forget about this."