Spain faced Netherlands in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final and what transpired was a shock 5-1 loss for the defending champions. Spain took the lead through a Xabi Alonso penalty before the Dutch produced an astonishing comeback with braces from star forwards Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben sandwiching a first World Cup goal for Stefan de Vrij.
Spain went for a more direct approach with the selection of Diego Costa up front, while virtually keeping the rest of the team familiar. Right-back Cesar Azpilicueta made his World Cup debut along with left-back Jordi Alba. It was a 4-4-3 with Xavi at the tip of the midfield triangle.
Netherlands stuck with their recent transformation of 3-5-2 with three centre-backs. Nigel de Jong, Jonathan de Guzman, Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind stacked behind the hugely talented trio of Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.
One reason for manager Louis van Gaal for selecting a young Dutch side was that he emphasized on pressing opponents high up the pitch. The Dutch pressed the Spaniards high, even with De Jong leading the heel-snapping as he was found near about the halfway line for the entire game harrying opponents. The pressing continued long after the game seemed over, and this particular facet of the Dutch game provides much hope for the future.
Spain were overrun after they managed to fairly control proceedings; a rare occurrence of the modern times. But most of it was attributed to Spain foregoing their shape in search of cohesion and fluidity. Xabi Alonso,Xavi and David Silva were found in various positions on the pitch, while Silva almost left his entire right wing free in the first half. This obvious breakdown of Spain’s shape meant that Netherlands had an almost free run in front of Azpilicueta, and they used it to great effect. It was total imbalance as Jordi Alba was playing an auxiliary winger’s role on the left while Azpilicueta had to track down two players, one of which was Robben.
Daley Blind’s best outing in a Dutch shirt coincided with one of their best days in a World Cup, and the young Ajax man was the inspiration behind Netherlands’ comeback. Blind had no markers on him, and had nobody to mark even; he took full advantage of his time and space and supplied brilliant curling crosses for Van Persie and Robben to finish. Both goals might be inclined to go to the Route I books, but when you don’t have a direct opponent ahead of you with so many options, you’re foolish if you don’t take the easiest available. Blind was easily the most potent Dutch support cast.