It may not erase the sting of their failure to lift the trophy in 2010, but the Netherlands exacted a bit of revenge over Spain in stunning fashion with a 5-1 victory Friday in a rematch of the World Cup final four years ago that saw the Dutch fall to the Spaniards in extra time.
A brace each from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben and a first international goal from young defender Stefan de Vrij erased a first-half penalty by Xabi Alonso as the tough Group B kicked off in surprising fashion Friday night at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.
The result, the worst defeat suffered by a defending champion in tournament history, solidified the Netherlands’ status as a favorite to win it all, while questions of whether Spain’s time has passed will only increase.
DUTCH BRILLIANCE: The sublime technique of van Persie and Robben on their first two goals will deservedly gain the lion’s share of attention.
A flying header in the 44th minute for van Persie showed awareness you can’t teach and Robben’s ability to bring down a long pass, split the center backs and beat goalkeeper Iker Casillas with a left-footed shot in the 53rd minute was world-class.
And who can ignore form like this?
Lost in the shuffle is the fact that both goals were set up with pinpoint feeds from fullback Daley Blind.
INSULT TO … INSULT: With the Dutch already holding a commanding 3-1 lead in the 72nd minute, Casillas had a moment he’d like to forget on a bungled first-touch that a lurking van Persie jumped all over, striped from the veteran ‘keeper and slammed home to turn what was once an evenly-matched game into a rout.
HELLO AGAIN: Shades of the physical 2010 World Cup, which saw eight Dutch players booked and one sent off, and of course Nigel de Jong’s karate kick on Xavi, reared its head again early. Two rough tackles, first from de Jong and then Wesley Sneijder, marked the first 15 minutes.
MORE REF TALK: In the first two matches of the World Cup, questionable calls have been a big part of the story, and for good reason. It was no different in Game 3, when Spain were questionably awarded their penalty as Costa got behind the Dutch line and was taken down by the extended leg of de Vrij or – depending on how you look at it – sold head referee Nicola Rizzoli with a superb acting job.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Van Persie, Netherlands. His status as the Flying Dutchman now entrenched (or is that Robben?). He could have easily had a hat trick, with one blast drawing iron.