Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 20 News List

WORLD CUP: Netherlands give Spain hiding

GOAL OF THE CUP?Daley Blind, one of five defenders, provided two pinpoint passes to set up two goals, including an astonishing header by Robin van Persie

AP, SALVADOR, Brazil

The Netherlands Robin van Persie heads to score against Spain during their game at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador, Brazil, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Louis van Gaal, one of the game’s greatest coaches, was criticized before the World Cup for being too defensive for a nation that loves attacking play. However, his decision to field five defenders against Spain proved a masterstroke.

His team thrashed the defending world champions 5-1 on Friday with a clinical display of counterattacking soccer that had Spain chasing shadows at the end as Dutch fans roared “Ole!” each time their team passed the ball.

“If you see how he prepared us, and how he predicted the game would go, and you see how it went — unbelievable,” said Robin van Persie, whose stunning header to equalize just before halftime turned the tide of the match and lit up social media accounts around the world. “It went exactly as the entire technical staff predicted.”

It was Spain’s worst loss in the tournament since a 6-1 defeat to Brazil in 1950.

The Netherlands performance shocked even casual fans on the second day of World Cup, showing why Manchester United was so keen to sign Van Gaal to rebuild the storied club.

He is to start work at Old Trafford when the Netherlands leave Brazil. If they keep playing this way, he could keep Manchester fans waiting until mid-July.

The 62-year-old Dutchman has a history of getting the best out of teams and blending youth with experience, taking Ajax to the Champions League title in 1995.

He is bidding to make the Netherlands world champions for the first time after losing three finals — including four years ago when Andres Iniesta’s extra-time goal won it for Spain.

It was not shocking for the Netherlands to get revenge for that loss, but the way they demolished Spain — the dominant world soccer power since 2008 — sent a signal that the run of this generation of Spanish stars may be coming to an end.

Spain, who won the past two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, will probably have to beat Chile and Australia to qualify for the next round, where a likely date with favorite Brazil awaits.

“They were better than us in the second half, you have to recognize that,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said. “It’s a delicate moment for us. We need to find solutions now.”

Spain showed flashes of their slick-passing, ball-control, “tiki-taka” style, but never recovered from Van Persie’s masterful goal.

“The equalizer was very crucial at that point,” Netherlands midfielder Jonathan de Guzman said. “I think we took advantage of that.”

In the second half, Spain’s usually rock solid defense crumbled in the face of wave after wave of attacks, many starting from long passes from defenders.

Veteran goalkeeper Iker Casillas shouldered the blame.

“It wasn’t one of my best games, I wasn’t at the level I needed to be,” he said. “I have to accept all criticism.”

Van Gaal always insisted his five-man defense was not as negative as it sounded, and he was proved right.

Left back Daley Blind surged forward to provide two pinpoint accurate passes for assists — Van Persie’s header and Arjen Robben’s first goal.

Center back Stefan de Vrij, who caused the penalty that gave Spain the lead, cropped up at the other end of the pitch to push in Wesley Sneijder’s free-kick for De Vrij’s first international score.

Even Van Gaal was stunned by the margin of victory.

“To be quite honest, we did not expect it,” he said. “This has got to do with strategy and the dedication of the players to execute with conviction.”

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