The Netherlands made a big statement on Friday in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, tearing defending champion Spain apart to the tune of 5-1.
The final score may have been 10-1 and might never make up for what happened four years ago in South Africa, when Spain beat the Dutch to win the World Cup. But, surely, this had to feel cathardic for many of the players on this team who suffered that 1-0 loss in extra time in Soccer City in 2010.
And indeed it was two key players from that team, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben who were the catalysts behind the trouncing.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first half following a dubious penalty kick awarded to Diego Costa, it was Van Persie who leveled the game at 1-1 with a wonderful headed finish that might still be standing as the goal of the tournament when it is all said and done. Van Persie had been probing the center back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique throughout the first half with darting runs that had resulted in offside calls before hitting the right timing on the goal right before the end of the first half.
They say those goals right before the whistle are 'psychological' goals. This RVP gem certainly seemed to be.
Right after the break, it was Robben who also snuck behind the two Spanish center backs to put the Dutch ahead for good in the 53rd minute. His superb first touch put him in a great position to beat Casillas with the left foot he favors so much.
Then there was no looking back. Stefan De Vrij, who was called for the foul on Costa in the box earlier in the game, got his revenge by tapping home a ball that Casillas failed to control on a cross off a free kick that came across his six-yard box. Casillas, aided by several of his teammates would argue that he was fouled on the play by Van Persie, but all he would get for his efforts was a yellow card.
Then it was Van Persie, who again would victimize Casillas after the Real Madrid keeper's heavy touch on a pass back to him got away. RVP would steal the ball and put the game to rest at 4-1.
While the game was decided at that point, but the Dutch were not done driving their point home. Robben's streaking run past defenders and shifty moves to his left allowed him to put even more distance between his side and a Spanish team that seemed a shell of itself.
At full-time, both the Netherlands and Spain seemed to a huge distance away from those teams that played four years ago in South Africa.
For our full live commentary of the game, featuring reaction, tweets, goals and more, read on:
FULL-TIME: NETHERLANDS 5, SPAIN 1: Spain's manager Vicente Del Bosque went to each of his players on the bench to try to lift their spirits. After all, there are still two games left. But this day is for the Dutch. This 5-1 drubbing of the team that broke their hearts in South Africa is going to send shockwaves through the soccer world.
90'+1' -- Out of the blue, Spain found themselves with a chance to help their goal differential. But Torres squandered a chance to push the ball in with his left in an effort to get the ball to his more comfortable right foot and had it poked away. It's been that kind of night for Spain.
89' -- Ole's are raining down from the crowd. The impartial Brazilian crowd as well as the Dutch in attendance seem to be enjoying Spain's debacle of a night.
87' -- Another chance for the Netherlands. Two actually. A save by Casillas wound up at the feet of an inspired Robben, who blasted one at goal with his left. The shot went right at Casillas and got there in a hurry, but the keeper was able to punch it away.
85' -- The game has devolved into a meaningless back and forth. But the buzz is palpable in the stadium. Everybody's talking about the incredible nature of this absolute demolishing. The Dutch have made their mark here.
80' -- AGAIN! GOAL FOR THE NETHERLANDS!
This may give RVP a run for his money for the best goal of this impressive performance. Robben sped past defenders before making a spectacular cutback move in the box to get past Casillas. He set himself up for a shot on his comfortable left foot and put away a beauty of a finish to cap this night of revenge for the Dutch.
77' -- Torres made a good move inside the penalty box, but saw the ball getting away from him and decided to test the referee. The dive went un-rewarded, but also un-penalized.
71' -- ANOTHER GOAL FOR THE NETHERLANDS!
Van Persie! This has quickly turned into a nightmare for Casillas and Spain. A back pass to the keeper was met by a heavy touch. Too heavy and Van Persie was alertly there to steal it away and send it home. We have our first big shocker of the tournament as the Netherlands is delivering a big blow to the champs.
66' -- Spain looked like they'd tied it, but it was waved off! Cillessen spilled a rebound right at Silva, who was able to tap it home, but the flag was up. Replays showed that Silva was offside on the initial shot.
65' -- Very hard foul by Van Persie earned him a deserved yellow and some scrapping between both teams near midfield.
64' -- GOAL FOR THE NETHERLANDS!
The world champions are going down in Salvador. A cross off a foul from left to right swept through Casillas' six-yard box. The keeper could not make a play (and was run into by Van Persie), leaving De Vrij to head it home to make up for that "penalty" he gave up earlier.
62' -- Costa came off (to more heavy booing) in favor of Fernando Torres. Xabi Alonso came off in favor of Pedro Rodriguez as Spain look to shift their attack.
60' -- Robben sliced through the Spanish midfield before getting laying off to his right. The ball eventually ended up at Van Persie's feet entering the penalty area from the right. His strong strike hit off the crossbar and shook the entire goal. Spain nearly went down 3-1. Replays showed RVP was slightly offside, but the flag never went up and the goal would have stood. Both teams have subs preparing to come on. Spain have a pair ready.
54' -- After Spain eared a corner, Costa appeared to head butt Martins, who went down. There may not have been much in the head butt, but the replay showed that it happened. It was no Zidane moment, but the Spanish/Brazilian striker may have been fortunate to get away with not even a card.
52' -- GOAL FOR THE NETHERLANDS!
Another outstanding gem of a goal! Robben brought the ball down at the top of the box between the two Spanish center backs, cut to the left and put it past Casillas after a slight deflection. 2-1 Netherlands, who have flipped the score!
51' -- The Netherlands are starting to push Spain back a bit. Spain have 11 men on their side of the field and appear comfortable to defend for a change.
48' -- The early possession of the ball has been split so far in the early going of the second half. Just about all the action has been in the middle third of the field.
46' -- We're back to action in Salvador. Unfortunately, so is the rain. Coming down hard all of a sudden after pretty good weather in the first 45 minutes.
Halftime: Here it is, folks. Just enjoy it...
45' + 1' -- The half ends with the stadium still buzzing after that wonder goal from Van Persie. In the end, a tie is just about fitting after the first half of play.
44' -- GOAL NETHERLANDS! What. A. Goal. Robin Van Persie put away a long cross from Blind with a diving header. The cross came all the way from the left side at midfield all the way to the penalty spot. The Manchester United forward then put away the nicest goal of the tournament to date. 1-1 and game on.
43' -- Silva escaped down the left side for a clear chance. His attempted chip over Cillessen was unsuccessful, but this was one of the clearest opportunities of the game for Spain.
40' -- The second card of the game was given to De Vrij, the defender who committed the "foul" on the penalty earlier. This time he clearly obstructed Silva in order to prevent a chance. Deserved yellow.
38' -- Offside. This time it was Robben who tried to sneak through on a darting run and was flagged. The ball is now equally shared among both teams.
35' -- Van Persie was flagged for offside as he darted in between the two Spanish center backs. He was just a hair offside, but the long-range attack was another change of pace for the Netherlands.
32' -- Van Persie couldn't quite reach a dangerous cross that crept across Casillas' six-yard box. The Netherlands are pressing forward again.
30' -- Netherlands starts to gain some possession of the ball again and have made their first approximation into the Spain penalty area for the first time in quite a while. Nothing came of a long cross that missed everybody, but it was a change of pace.
27'-- GOAL! Xavi Alonso put it in from the spot, low and to the keeper's right. 1-0 for Spain.
26'-- PENALTY FOR SPAIN! Costa brought down by De Vrij. A cutback by Costa and the defender's knee appeared to get the plant foot. Replays showed it was mostly an exaggeration from Costa.
Is that a penalty? Looks iffy. Not quite as bad as some of the other calls early on, but it still looks like a bad call with Costa stepping on the defender and initiating the contact. You decide.
25'-- De Guzman gets the first card of the game after bringing down Iniesta to prevent a counterattack. Deserved yellow.
22'-- The first corner kick of the game was earned by Spain with Silva and Iniesta working their way into the box with some give and goes. Ramos got free by the penalty spot for an open header, but the ball sailed too high for him. It has been a while since we've seen Casillas.
20'-- Spain has slowly moved it's tiki-taka, close-passing game further up in the Netherlands' half of the field. The Oranje (today in Blue), are not giving up much space in the final third, but they are starting to lose some ground.
18'-- Another bad giveaway in their own final third of the field caused by David Silva led to a second shot for Costa, this time down the right side of the penalty area. The shot was far and wide. More boos. Still no danger.
15'-- De Jong ignored the ball completely and went into Busquets for a hard foul. He got a talking to from the referee, but no card. Moments later, a Sneijder foul in the open field led to some chatter back and forth, but still no card.
13'-- Now it is Netherlands who give up the ball poorly in the back. A good recovery for Spain in the attacking third turned into a three-on-two chance for Spain. The ball was laid off to Costa on the left of the penalty area, but a great recovery led to a sliding tackle that blocked his shot.
10'-- Spain's first glimpse of Cillessen's goal. Iniesta took a crack at one from about 35 yards out that sailed high. Netherlands holding their shape in the back early on.
7' -- Spain lost the ball in midfield and it turned into a very dangerous counter for the Netherlands. Sneijder was sprung free running into the box with only Casillas to beat, but the Real Madrid keeper held strong. First real scoring chance of the game.
5' -- Diego Costa, a question mark coming into the World Cup due to the injury he suffered late in the season with Atletico Madrid is getting booed every time he touches the ball. Choosing to play for Spain over Brazil will lead to some pretty hostile treatment for him throughout the tournament. Janmaat went in hard on Xavi just beyond midfield for the first real foul of the game. Hopefully not a sign of a return to what went on four years ago in the World Cup final.
3' -- Little surprise that Spain has the early possession with the Netherlands content to play deep. Early on, it looks like they'll opt to counter.
1' -- And we're off. Spain is playing in white going left to right on your (imaginary) screens. The Netherlands are playing in blue, so neither team is using its traditional setup.
2:59: Thankfully, the weather seems to be much nicer in Salvador this afternoon than it was in Natal earlier for the Mexico-Cameroon game. Seems to be ideal conditions for what we hope will be a much more attractive game between two side that know how to play a good possession game.
2:55 p.m. ET: The staring lineups for both teams:
Defenders: Azpilicueta, Ramos, Pique, Alba
Midfielders: Xavi, Busquets, Alonso
Forwards: Silva, Costa, Iniesta
Defenders: Janmaat, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins, Blind
Midfielders: de Guzman, Sneijder, De Jong
Forwards: Van Persie, Robben
2:50 p.m. ET: The team's are about to come on to the field at the Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil as we get set to enjoy one of the most anticipated game's of the first round.
Match Preview: A rematch of the 2010 World Cup final. Two of the best soccer powers in the world.
Four years ago, the match was highlighted by tension -- and physical play. Spain and Netherlands (28 fouls) set a record for yellow cards in a World Cup final, with Netherlands given nine of the 14 cards. The most infamous of the cards came with Nigel de Jong's studs-up tackle to the chest of Spain's Xabi Alonso, which left many people wondering how it wasn't a red card. After 116 minutes of no goals, though, Spain's Andres Iniesta took a pass from Cesc Fabregas and put it in the back of the net. Spain would be World Cup champions.
It's no surprise that this will undoubtedly be one of the most anticipated opening matches of the 2014 World Cup, with both teams looking to make a statement to kick things off.
Spain is one of the pre-World Cup favorites, given they have won the last two European Championships and are the defending World Cup champions. They also didn't lose in the qualifying stages, winning six and drawing two en route to winning their group over France.
With that said, their stars are aging and might not be as dominant as they were in previous years. They had 10 clean sheets in the 10 knockout matches in the aforementioned competitions, but were destroyed by Brazil in last summer's Confederations Cup final, mostly on the counterattack. It will be interesting to see what manager Vicente del Bosque decides to do at the striker position. In-form Diego Costa has been battling a hamstring injury, so del Bosque might have to go with Fernando Torres or David Villa -- or a false nine like he did so often in Euro 2012.
On the other side is a team that looked like a threat to win the European Championship in 2012 -- but Netherlands didn't even earn a point in the group stage and went out early. Since then, some of the veterans have been pushed aside for youth across the board. The XI didn't seem to matter in qualfiying, as the Dutch ran roughshod over their group, scoring 34 goals in 10 matches while winning nine and drawing one.
The team still hinges on its three experienced stars up front: Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. With injuries in the center of the pitch, especially to Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman, the Dutch will be even more reliant on the three big names. The back line is inexperienced and has undergone some formation and tactical adjustments in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup, which could be problematic against Spain.
There is plenty of attacking talent in this one, and both teams have some detractors heading into the World Cup. It makes for a must-watch opening match.