Earlier this month, Spain’s King Juan Carlos shocked his subjects by announcing his plans to abdicate, a move that ran contrary to his pledge to die wearing the crown. In last night’s World Cup fixture between the Netherlands and Spain, the Spanish didn’t quite sign their own death sentence from the tournament, but the world did see the first signs that they too might be ready to give up their crown and abdicate.
Having been on the receiving end of a 5-1 thrashing, the Spanish conceded nearly as many goals as when they were comprehensively dismantled by Scotland 6-2 in 1963. But this wasn’t just a defeat on the field, it was also the first signs that Spain’s long admired, one might even say patented, possession game philosophy has been found out—albeit by a side brimming with talent.
What’s incredible is Spain actually looked fairly comfortable in the first half. After exerting a great deal of pressure on the Dutch defense they finally got the breakthrough in the 27th minute when Spain’s Diego Costa – the Brazilian crowd’s bête noire – was adjudged to have been brought down by the trailing leg of Stefan de Vrij. Despite pundits like Alexi Lalas embarrassingly running to his defense, a close examination of the incident clearly indicated that Costa dived. No matter, as Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso stepped up and put Spain ahead from the penalty spot.
The injustice appeared to spark the largely lethargic Dutch to life and they tied things up just before halftime with one of the most sensational goals ever scored at the World Cup. Daley Blind (son of former Dutch star, Danny) picked the ball up before hitting a beautiful cross towards Robin Van Persie who evaded Sergio Ramos before heading the ball over the flat-footed Iker Casillas. The goal’s timing was perfect, leaving the Spaniards stunned in the dressing room while clearly bringing the Dutch to life in the second half. However, few expected what was about to come.
Blind – again – perfectly anticipated an Arjen Robben run before floating the ball towards the Bayern Munich winger who perfectly controlled the pass before slotting it into the net. Ten minutes later de Vrij, who had wrongly been penalized for taking down Costa, scored his first international goal when he bundled the ball over at the back post. The Spaniards might have felt aggrieved, given that Van Persie did look like he had impeded Casillas, but the footballing gods might have felt de Vrij deserved his goal. Some embarrassing goalkeeping from Casillas would gift Van Persie his second, while yet another mazy run from Robben would compound Spain’s misery.
It might sound strange, but one should certainly not write-off the Spanish just yet. Coach Vicente Del Bosque will certainly feel compelled to shake the team up and make changes, especially in goal. And yet one might even make the argument that without a number of important saves from Casillas the scoreline could have been uglier. Someone went as far to claim that the last time the Spanish received a whipping from the Dutch on that scale was in Gibraltar in 1704.
Defeat in their next game on Wednesday against a quality Chilean side will send them home. Defending champions have recovered from an opening defeat although they have never gone on to win the tournament. But last night wasn’t just a loss; it was a bloodbath. Spain’s crown has slipped. Time will tell if we witnessed the new kings – or koningen – of world soccer.
What we learned about… Spain: Everything that could have possible gone wrong went wrong. Upfront Diego Costa looked like he was struggling for fitness. In midfield, the usually dominant Andrés Iniesta looked frustrated. At the back, Spain’s defense was all over the place. Del Bosque coached Casillas at Real Madrid, but last night’s humiliation might signal the end of his international career. They certainly have the quality to turn things around, but their next fixture is a huge test.
What we learned about… the Netherlands: A youthful side with players drawn from one of Europe’s less glamorous leagues can still annihilate global soccer’s most dominant force. It also helps to have players in their prime: Robben, Van Persie, and Wesley Sneijder. But coach Louis Van Gaal is experienced enough not to get complacent. In Euro 2008 the Dutch dismantled the Italians and the French before they were defeated and sent packing by Russia. Four years ago the Dutch were criticized for allegedly dropping their tradition of ‘Total Football’ in favor of a more aggressive approach. In Brazil, Van Gaal looks like he’s found a way of combining the two.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the US, covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for the Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt