With Brazil and Mexico winning their World Cup opening group games, it was expected that Spain would follow suit in following the form book by repeating their narrow win against Netherlands from the 2010 final. For 40 minutes of Friday’s clash between the two teams, Spain were the more dominant team and led by a Xabi Alonso penalty. They could have added to the scoreline with the Dutch rarely threatening the Spanish defence but a looping Robin van Persie headed goal prior to half-time proved to be more significant than was apparent at the time.
For the Netherlands, the equalising goal by van Persie seemed to galvanise the Dutch players into believing that they could actually beat the Spaniards. This attitude had not been prevalent during that controversial final in South Africa when a fear factor engulfed the players as they resorted to any means possible to stifle the more creative Spanish team.
As the teams returned to the pitch for the second half on Friday, there was a different mood among the Dutch squad as if they realised that they could score again and potentially beat their opponents. Suddenly, they had become the more attacked-minded team with the Spaniards becoming increasingly unsettled and confused.
Arjen Robben then decided to run directly at a rather static defence and was rewarded when allowed to slide the ball home from close range. The momentum was now with the Dutch and they capitalised on the hesitancy now apparent in the Spanish ranks.
Two further goals followed with goalkeeper Iker Casillas culpable for both especially when failing to control a pass in the build-up to the fourth goal. Whereas previous Spanish teams were notorious for maintain control of the ball with short accurate passing, now the ball was being surrendered with barely a whimper.
Pressing tactics enforced yet another error allowing Robben another run at the defence to add a fifth and Spain were eventually fortunate in not conceding any further goals. A 5-1 defeat was certainly not in the script and their fortunes were summarised when substitute Fernando Torres was guilty of wasting a clear chance near the finale.
It had been argued that this previously formidable Spanish squad was showing signs of ageing and may not be as invincible as in previous tournaments, yet few could have anticipated the collapse in morale and basic technique as demonstrated against a Dutch team who rediscovered their self-belief in abundance.
The following games will indicate whether this match represented a one-off performance for both teams but in 50+ minutes of football on Friday, the Netherlands contrived to comprehensively remove the aura surrounding the Spanish team which has existed since their European Championship triumph of 2008.
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