Spain’s defence of the World Cup got off to the worst possible start when they were taken apart by the Netherlands in Salvador, surrendering an early lead and losing 5-1 in a repeat of the 2010 final.
The scores were level at half time in the Group B clash, with little to choose between the sides, but a stunning second-half display by Louis van Gaal’s side, with former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben outstanding, saw the Dutch spring a major shock to run out comfortable winners.
Cesar Azpilicueta started for the holders, who were fortunate not to fall behind early on when Wesley Sneijder missed a great chance for the Netherlands after latching on to a clever Robben pass.
Van Gaal’s men were made to pay soon after when Spain took the lead. Striker Diego Costa was brought down inside the penalty area as he checked back inside after collecting an Andres Iniesta through ball, leaving the referee with no option but to point to the spot.
Real Madrid midfieder Xavi Alonso was the man entrusted with taking the kick and he made no mistake, firing low and hard into the bottom corner.
The goal appeared to have sparked Spain into life and they should have extended their lead when David Silva was put clean through, again courtesy of Iniesta, only to see his scooped effort parried behind by Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
Having been relatively quiet as an attacking unit for much of the first half, Netherlands drew level on the stroke of the break when Robin van Persie raced on to a wonderful Daley Blind diagonal ball and expertly guided his header over Iker Casillas into the back of the net.
Buoyed by their equaliser, it was the Dutch who started the second half on the front foot and eight minutes after the restart they’d turned the game on its head.
Van Persie found Robben from deep after Spain had lost possession; the winger brought the ball down brilliantly, evaded the challenge of Gerard Pique and fired powerfully past Casillas to spark jubilant scenes on the Netherlands’ bench.
Even better was to come for Van Gaal’s side when, after Van Persie had hit the bar, they made it 3-1, Stefan de Vrij bundling the ball over the line from a free-kick to give them a two-goal advantage.
With Spain in desperate need of a spark, Fernando Torres and Pedro were introduced to the action. Silva thought he’d dragged the world champions back into it when he scored from close range but the offside flag had already been raised.
Having flapped at the delivery for the third goal, Casillas was then at fault as the Dutch made it 4-1 in the 72nd minute, taking a poor touch from what looked like a routine back pass, allowing Van Persie to steal in and roll the ball into an empty net.
The combination of Van Persie and Robben was causing the Spain defence all manner of problems, and if the holders welcomed the sight of the Manchester United forward being substituted, Robben took up the mantle on his own by showing an incredible turn of pace to race on to a Sneijder pass, leaving Sergio Ramos in his wake before rounding Casillas and thumping his strike into the top corner to make it 5-1.
Our latest acquisition Cesc Fabregas had been brought on at the expense of Silva 12 minutes from time but the nature of the Netherlands’ second-half display ensured there was very little he could do to impact the game.
Robben was unlucky not to walk away with the match ball when a stunning left-footed volley was well saved by Casillas with four minutes left to play, but the Dutch celebrated wildly at the final whistle after securing a memorable victory.
Earlier in the day, a Cameroon side featuring Samuel Eto’o fell to a 1-0 defeat against Mexico in Natal.
Cameroon started the game well and Eto’o almost opened the scoring after 20 minutes, crashing a left-footed strike against the outside of the post from Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s pull back.
However, Mexico gradually began to find their rhythm and, after seeing two Giovani Dos Santos goals controversially disallowed before the break, they broke the deadlock after 61 minutes.
Oribe Peralta was the matchwinner, tapping into an empty net after Dos Santos had seen a strike well saved, and while Benjamin Moukandjo went close with a header in the dying minutes, Mexico held on for a deserved win.
Spain will hope to bounce back when they face Chile in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.