The world was stunned on Friday evening as defending world and European champions Spain were thrashed 5-1 by a rampant Netherlands, who emerged from nowhere to suggest that they are genuine contenders to lift the trophy July 13. For Vicente Del Bosque’s side, there is now a very real chance that they could be unthinkably eliminated at the group stage.
For the game at the impressive Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Del Bosque opted to play Diego Costa as the lone striker, and although he gave them a focal point, he struggled to make an impression amid the contempt he was shown by sections of the crowd. His most significant contribution was earning the penalty which gave his side the lead.
Until Robin van Persie’s magnificent diving header, there was no sign of what was to come, but in the second half Spain fell apart like never before. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, such prominent figures in the midfield, have rarely seen less of the ball as they did in this game, while Iker Casillas had an uncharacteristic nightmare in goal as the Dutch ran riot.
Knowing Spain, they will stick to their guns and attempt to dominate possession, but there will be that little bit of extra urgency about them. They will also feel that they have something to prove after two consecutive heavy defeats on Brazilian soil. The squad they have has all the experience in the world, but this is a new challenge for this group of players, and now is the time to return to the stubborn defending they have displayed in the past.
They now have to prepare for what should be another huge test, with Chile providing the opposition at the Maracana. The South Americans made an impressive start to their campaign with victory over Australia, but perhaps made thing unnecessarily difficult for themselves by taking their foot off the pedal somewhat once 2-0 up.
However, they did show plenty of attacking intent, with many of the players coming forward in support of the attack. Should they do that against better opposition, they could well be caught on the break, and with Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara acting as the centre-back pairing, their vulnerabilities may be exposed. For this game, manager Jorge Sampaoli may adopt a more cautious approach.
As for the Dutch, they will be buzzing after their performance, but boss Louis van Gaal is sensibly keeping his feet on the ground, describing their opening win as merely a ‘good start’. His side are now in a magnificent position to progress to the knockout stages, and they should be expected to beat an Australia side that gave everything against Chile.
It will be a different test for Holland, but if the likes of Daley Blind, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie can replicate the form they displayed against Spain, they could take some stopping, and they are now undoubted favourites to top the group and avoid what is expected to be a meeting with Brazil in the second round.