World champions Spain kicked off the World Cup as one of the favourites to claim the trophy, but fellow European heavyweights Holland produced a superb display to defeat the Spanish 5-1 in their opening game of the competition.
In all honestly Holland’s front three of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder simply had too much for Spain’s fragile defence.
The Dutch attackers were always going to play a big part in their campaign and their quality shone through.
As good as Holland were, Spain were equally poor in the second half, especially in defence.
Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas is a legend of Spanish football, but his display was not that of a harden campaign. It was more that of a rookie who was playing his first game.
Casillas was first choice for Champions League games last season, but bizarrely played just twice in La Liga. The 33-year-old was not a regular starter for Los Blancos the previous season either.
Maybe his lack of regular first team football effected his concentration. The veteran keeper was responsible for Holland’s fourth goal, as a poor first touch from a back-pass lead to Van Persie nipping in and poking home for the Dutch.
Casillas was not the only culpable Spanish player though. The Spain back four all play their football at the highest level at big clubs, but in the second half centre-backs Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos looked especially poor. Full-backs Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba were not much better than the centre-back pairing.
Ramos was instrumental in Real Madrid winning the Champions League last season. However, he struggled to contain the dangerous Van Persie and looked to be sluggish in defence. Pique’s form has not been great for a while and he carried that into this game.
In the second half, I do not think one Spanish player could claim to have produced a decent display. Holland could have added to their goals tally in the second period, as Van Persie hit the woodwork and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum saw an effort saved by Casillas.
A number of the Spain players looked tired in the second half of last night’s game and they lacked the intensity of the Dutch. They cannot claim to have had much more of a gruelling schedule than their opponents, as both teams have players playing in the top leagues and Champions League.
This defeat was a case of history repeating, as the Spanish also lost their opening game of the last World Cup, with Switzerland claiming a 1-0 victory over the European champions. Vicente del Bosque’s team also face Chile in the group stage, who they defeated to make it to the knockout stages last time out.
However, this was not just a slight blip like the Switzerland loss, La Roja were humiliated in this clash and this could be very difficult to bounce back from. Spain showed great character last time out to come back and win the trophy. They will need even more character to bounce back from this loss.
If anybody can come back from defeat it is the Spanish. The average number of caps their starting line-up against Holland had was an incredible 77. Del Bosque’s team have the quality and experience to make it past this setback.
It is strange to say, but this game could have been very different. At one goal up Spain midfielder David Silva saw an effort saved by Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen. Had that first half effort went in it would have been a long way back for Louis van Gaal’s men.
However, the effort was saved and Van Persie equalised with a well-taken header from a fantastic through-ball from Ajax defender Daley Blind.
Spain’s second group game against Chile has now taken on extra importance. Del Bosque’s side really do need a win to put themselves back in contention for qualification to the knockout stages. The Chile game will not be easy for Spain though.
Chile opened their campaign with a 3-1 victory over Australia and looked quite impressive at times against the Socceroos. They will not be easy opponents and Spain could very well slip-up if they play like they did in the second half of last night’s match.
The Spanish are European and world champions for a reason and can never be written-off. I have no doubt that they have the ability to resurrect their World Cup campaign with a win against Chile. It was always going to be difficult retaining the trophy. It has just got a little bit more difficult.
Will Spain make the knockout stages after opening defeat?