18th June 2014. The day that Vicente del Bosque’s tiki-taka revolution died.
The all-conquering Spaniards went into the World Cup as reigning champions, having also been victorious in the previous two European Championships.
Their opening game of the tournament had the potential to be an absolute classic. In a repeat of the 2010 final – which had been more of a Royal Rumble than a football match – Del Bosque’s side faced off against the Netherlands in the curtain raiser of Group B.
Things started out as expected with Spain taking an early lead through a Xabi Alonso penalty. Then…things started to go wrong. Very wrong.
First, a wonder goal from Robin van Persie (that header!!!!!!) drew the Dutch level, before Arjen Robben gave them a shock lead. The Dutch doubled their advantage soon after when Stefan de Vrij capitalised on some calamitous defending and it was a similar story for their goal.
This time, a fatal error from Iker Casillas allowed Van Persie to grab his second and to add insult to injury, Robben capped off a momentous night of football by steaming past Sergio Ramos and adding a fifth goal with ten minutes left to play.
How could this have happened?! We took a trip down memory lane to find out…
Key Talking Point
Look, we know it was 5-1 but it all could have been so different.
With Spain 1-0 up and in the ascendency, David Silva was presented with a gilt-edged chance to double his side’s lead.
For some reason the Netherlands defence parted like the Red Sea, which allowed Andres Iniesta to slide one of his trademark through balls into Silva’s path.
The Manchester City man had all the time in the world and only Jasper Cillessen to beat. And yet – for whatever reason – instead of slotting the ball home, Silva decided to go for an audacious chip. Needless to say, he did not pull it off.
Minutes later, the Netherlands would grab an equaliser via an outrageous diving header from Robin van Persie.
Who knows how the game might have gone if Silva had been able to finish his dinner…
Starting XI: Casillas (4); Azpilicueta (6), Pique (5), Ramos (5), Alba (5); Busquets (6), Alonso (5), Xavi (5); Iniesta (7), Costa (6), Silva (5).
Substitutes: Torres (4), Pedro (4), Fabregas (5).
The best of a properly bad lot for Spain was Andrés Iniesta.
Even in the midst of all the chaos, Iniesta was never flustered and was his side’s only reliable creative impetus.
Key Talking Points
Five goals. FIVE! That’s insane.
It was a remarkable night for the Dutch and although they were certainly helped along the way by some shambolic Spanish defending – and goalkeeping, now we come to think of it – they deserve credit for a ruthless attacking performance.
All five goals were superbly taken and Van Gaal got his defensive gameplan spot on.
Setting up in a rigid 3-5-2 made it difficult for Spain to dominate the midfield and this proved to be a masterstroke with Spain’s usual control over the game conspicuously absent.
Starting XI: Cillessen (7); Janmaat (7), Vlaar (8), De Vrij (8), Martins Indi (7), Blind (8); De Guzman (6), De Jong (8), Sneijder (8); Van Persie (9), Robben (9).
Substitutes: Wijnaldum (6), Veltman (6), Lens (6).
Robin van Persie
Both van Persie’s goals were strokes of genius but for very different reasons.
His first goal – when his side were under the cosh – set the tone for one of the greatest nights in Dutch footballing history.
Things That Aged Worst
Let’s be real. Would Louis van Gaal’s managerial legacy be any different if he hadn’t taken the Manchester United job after the tournament? No. If anything, his stint at Old Trafford damaged his reputation.
The Dutchman return home from the World Cup as a national hero, after somehow guiding one of the weakest Dutch sides in recent memory to a 3rd place finish.
He should have quit while he was ahead…although we wouldn’t have got to enjoy this gem if he had.
Things That Aged the Best
Two things really.
First, and most importantly, this image of Bruno Martins Indi looking like he’s trying to melt Diego Costa’s brain using telepathy has aged well. Very well indeed.
Second, we are also not tired of watching Van Persie’s opening goal. Our jaws still hit the floor every time we see him fly through the air like a peregrine falcon, somehow managing to loop the ball over Iker Casillas using his flippin’ head.
Yeah, we reckon we’re going to go watch it right now actually. Back in a moment.
Players You Completely Forgot Existed
Roll up, roll up. It’s time for a roll call of all the mediocre Premier League players who somehow managed to beat the best generation of footballing Spaniards in history.
First up, Ron Vlaar. Remember him? Played for Aston Villa for a while.
Next, the aforementioned Martins Indi. You know him by now. That injury stricken Stoke City centre-back. He’s still there by the way – yeah, genuinely.
Jonathan de Guzman anyone? A Swansea City legend whose now plying his trade for Eintracht Frankfurt.
Don’t worry, we saved the best until last. Jeremain Lens, scorer of four goals across two seasons for Sunderland. Now that is £10m very well spent. He plays in Turkey now because…of course he does, who else is going to pay his extortionate wages?
What Happened Next?
The hammering set the tone for a disastrous World Cup for Spain. In their next fixture they would fall to a 2-0 defeat against Chile, in front of almost 80,000 spectators at the Maracana.
This meant that after just two games the holders were out…and a 3-0 victory over a Tim Cahill-less Australia did little to raise the mood.
And what about the Netherlands?
After squeezing past Mexico 2-1 in the round of 16 and then just about beating Costa Rica on penalties in the quarter finals, Argentina proved to be a bridge too far.
The Dutch crashed out on penalties to Lionel Messi’s side but returned home with their heads held high, beating Brazil in the third place game to earn a cute little losers medal.