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Sunday 21 September 2014

Flying Dutchman van Persie seals revenge over Spain

United striker leads incredible destruction of stunned holders as Dutch make serious statement of intent

Simon Hart

Published 14/06/2014 | 02:30

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Robin van Persie scores a stunning header for Holland over the head of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas in their World Cup Group B opener. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Dalder
Robin van Persie scores a stunning header for Holland over the head of Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas in their World Cup Group B opener. Photo: REUTERS/Michael Dalder
Diego Costa is brought down by Netherlands defender Stefan de Vrij to give Spain a first-half penalty, which Xabi Alonso scored to give the reigning champions a 1-0 lead. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Diego Costa is brought down by Netherlands defender Stefan de Vrij to give Spain a first-half penalty, which Xabi Alonso scored to give the reigning champions a 1-0 lead. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Ron Vlaar gestures to the crowd after Netherlands thrashed Spain 5-1 in Salvador. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Ron Vlaar gestures to the crowd after Netherlands thrashed Spain 5-1 in Salvador. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. It did not feel cold in the humidity of a Salvador evening but four years after losing the World Cup final to Spain, Holland exacted revenge in quite stunning fashion.

Spain 1 Holland 5

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Outplayed for the first 44 minutes and trailing to a Xabi Alonso penalty, they came back to inflict a 5-1 hammering on the holders in which both Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben struck twice. Spain came back from an opening defeat by Switzerland in South Africa but it is hard to see how they can retain their title after a demoralising setback like this.

They had not conceded five goals in an international since 1963 and though this World Cup is still very much in its infancy, it will take a special team to produce something quite so stunning as what we witnessed from Louis van Gaal's team in this Group B fixture.

BRILLIANT

Their night was capped by a quite brilliant individual goal from Robben who raced away from Sergio Ramos and rounded Iker Casillas before definitively burying the ghosts of Soccer City.

A game that began at a slow pace in humid conditions almost produced an early goal when Robben put Wesley Sneijder clear. As in Soccer City, though, when Robben was bearing down on his goal, Casillas was equal to Sneijder's shot, sticking out a strong hand to push it away.

It was not the only echo of the 2010 final as Nigel de Jong caught Sergio Busquets in the midriff; no kung-fu kick this time, but a strong arm and while Busquets went down like a drunk on an icy pavement, Nicola Rizzoli, the Italian referee, kept his card in his pocket.

For all the talk about Holland's changes under Van Gaal, the striking feature of the first period was seeing Spain play with a genuine centre-forward in Diego Costa, a striker fresh from a 36-goal season with Atletico Madrid.

For Costa, who had appeared twice in friendlies for Brazil, it was the first competitive start for his adopted country and came just three months after his Spain debut.

The 25-year-old was born less than 200 kilometres from the Arena Fonte Nova, in the town of Lagarto, and his change of allegiance earned him loud boos when his name was read out before kick-off and again virtually every time the ball came anywhere near him.

Yet with his clever runs, he gave Spain's skilful passers an important outlet, stretching the Dutch defence, and he should have had an early goal when he broke clear after David Silva had robbed Jonathan De Guzman.

Instead his heavy touch gave Ron Vlaar time to make the covering tackle.

Silva then played in Costa in a promising position on the right bit but his shot was wild and wayward.

On 26 minutes, Costa won the penalty with which Spain took the lead. It followed a typically flowing move through the midfield and a lovely Xavi through pass between two blue shirts, which set Costa clear.

It was a questionable penalty all the same, Costa going down over the trailing leg of Stefan De Vrij as he stepped inside to shoot. Referee Rizzoli did not hesitate to point to the spot and Xabi Alonso's conversion was wonderfully precise, beating Jasper Cillessen even though he dived the right way.

Spain were controlling the midfield and Silva should have doubled the lead in the 44th minute when put through by Iniesta but his lob lacked the height to beat Cillessen.

Instead Van Persie brought them back into the game. It was an unusual goal in some ways, as Daley Blind sent over a deep cross from near the hallway line. Ramos lost Van Persie's run and the Manchester United striker threw himself at the ball and sent a wonderfully improvised header looping over Casillas from 16 yards.

Eight minutes after the restart Holland had a second goal, this time following a precise five-man move after Spain had lost possession in midfield.

On the eve of this match Robben described his 2010 final miss as something that would remain with him "all my life" so what came next would have been sweet indeed. Plucking Van Persie's pass out of the air, he turned Pique and fired past Casillas.

For all the debate about Van Gaal's use of wing-backs and the questions about the Dutch rookies, what the Dutch do have is exceptional quality in attack and Spain's struggling defence were almost pierced again as Van Persie smashed a shot against the crossbar.

The reprieve was brief. Del Bosque had just sent on Fernando Torres for Costa when the game slipped further away from Spain as De Vrij bundled the ball in following a corner. It was a goal touched with controversy as Van Persie raised an arm as he jumped with Casillas, who let the ball run on to the far post where De Vrij converted.

Silva scrambled a shot into the net as Spain sought a response but was offside and instead their evening got even worse with 18 minutes remaining as Casillas's heavy touch on a back pass was punished by Van Persie who stole in to tap in his second goal.

After Robben's wonder goal, it might have got even worse for Spain as only a fine Casillas double save stopped the Dutch getting six. (© Independent News Service)

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