Group B of the FIFA World Cup 2014 started with a clash of titans, as the last-edition's winners, Spain, faced the team they beat in Soccer City four years ago: Netherlands.
The Oranje won it in style, putting on a second-half display and blitzing La Roja 5-1, courtesy of two Robin van Persie strikes and a Daley Blind masterclass.
Starting XIs and Formation
Spain played Diego Costa as a centre-forward, but they went with a weird 4-3-3 with no right winger to make up for the normality of their selections.
Louis van Gaal went with the anticipated 3-5-2 for Netherlands, with Arjen Robben and Van Persie ahead of Wesley Sneijder.
Spain felt their way into the match slowly, passing it in their own third and feeling out just how high Netherlands were willing to press them.
After six or seven minutes, they then quickened it, pushing Xabi Alonso and Xavi a little further on than Sergio Busquets and finding David Silva more often.
Silva played as a No. 10, occupying space between Nigel de Jong and Jonathan De Guzman, receiving the ball to feet and turning to face the defensive three. Andres Iniesta would later ghost into the gaps he left, giving the Dutch right side a particularly tough examination.
There was no right winger to speak of, with Cesar Azpilicueta asked to own the entire flank by himself more often than not.
Costa's Runs, Iniesta's Passes
The movement was silky and easy on the eye, but Spain's primary threat came in the form of cutting through balls sent to Diego Costa on the run.
The Atletico Madrid man would drop in goal-side as La Roja's midfield angled space for a pass, then leap into the space behind with perfect timing, splitting the centre-backs and creating room.
He breached the box twice on the run only to be halted by Ron Vlaar, but on the third attempt, he won a penalty from Stefan de Vrij and allowed Xabi Alonso to smash it home.
Iniesta then played a scything pass in to Silva on the left in the same channel minutes later, but Jasper Cillessen came to the rescue.
Netherlands played both Robben and RVP up front as a two, matching up directly against Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique.
The last time Spain played against a two-man front was in the Confederations Cup against New Zealand, and it's rare for Spanish centre-backs to have to cater for one man each.
Pique and Ramos played like a stopper-sweeper combination, and while that works against a lone front man, it failed miserably here. The first three Dutch runs in goal—all arguably onside, despite being called off—were warnings; the fourth, Van Persie's header, was a punishment for negligence in tracking.
Blind's raking balls from the left were a big threat here, and Spain's lack of a right-winger hurt them as Azpilicueta was never high enough to engage him.
Seven minutes into the second half, Blind wondered forward untouched and and delivered a great cross into the box for Robben to convert, making it 2-1.
It was only after going a goal down that Vicente Del Bosque sent on a winger, Pedro, to even up the 4-3-3 and put someone on Blind to stop him hurting them so easily. Even then it was Silva, who redefines the word "loose" when it applies to marking on a weekly basis.
La Roja's pressing dropped sharply throughout the game, so even though the formation had balanced out, other players were finding space to play. Del Bosque took the wrong players off (Xabi Alonso instead for Xavi) and brought the wrong player (Fernando Torres) on.
On the other hand, the Dutch got longer and longer in their approach, almost completely bypassing Sneijder in the end and hitting 50-yard passes for Robben to chase. He won the race to all of them.
Spain's agony was epitomised by fourth and fifth goals against that summed up their evening: an unlikely mistake from Iker Casillas and a blitz on the counter-attack from Robben.
It was a horrific night's work for Del Bosque and Co., and attention will now turn to how on earth it actually happened. The Dutch were there for the taking with a weak squad, but the reigning world and European champions completely dropped the ball.
Tactical Man of the Match: Arjen Robben
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