5 talking points from Holland's crushing defeat of Spain

Man United fans licking their lips, Spanish qualification hopes in grave danger and more.

Wrapped in a Spanish national flag, a soccer fan reacts in frustration as she watches the live broadcast of the World Cup match between Spain and the Netherlands inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach.
Wrapped in a Spanish national flag, a soccer fan reacts in frustration as she watches the live broadcast of the World Cup match between Spain and the Netherlands inside the FIFA Fan Fest area on Copacabana beach.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

1. 18/1 for Holland to win seem very decent odds on the basis of that performance

While few people dismissed their chances, Holland were not seen as one of the primary contenders for World Cup glory going into the tournament.

And of course, the reservations expressed about Louis van Gaal’s side still apply to a degree.

Their defence does not look particularly strong, and was opened up on more than one occasion by Spain yesterday — had David Silva finished more clinically to put Spain 2-0 ahead instead of dinking it straight at the goalkeeper, this encounter probably would have been a different outcome entirely. Consequently, the issues haven’t suddenly disappeared and it would be naive to label them favourites on the basis of one (admittedly very impressive) result.

Yet Holland’s energy, tactical intelligence and consistently ruthless finishing suggest they will be formidable opponents for any team in this tournament, and at 18/1 (down from 35/1 before kick-off yesterday), they seem generously priced at the very least.

2. Is this the end of tika-taka?

Does last night’s result coupled with Barca’s status as underachievers over the past two seasons signal the end of tiki-taka football? Though teams have undoubtedly become more adept at combating this style, it’s debatable whether it can be deemed entirely redundant as of yet.

What’s clear is that the powers of Xavi — the heartbeat of both Barca and the national team in recent years — are receding.

The 34-year-old will unquestionably go down as a legend of the game — he won 25 trophies, which is more than any player in Spanish history. However, he no longer has the ability to dominate games as he once did, while his lack of pace and energy was more conspicuous as the game developed, and Spain were ultimately made to pay by a faster and stronger Dutch team.

So the decline of their maestro, more so than the supposed failure of the system, is hampering Vicente del Bosque’s side, and the veteran coach may now have to contemplate the previously unthinkable — dropping the Barca star.

3. Another poor refereeing decision changes the course of the game

FIFA must be relieved that the brilliance of Holland’s performance has, to an extent, distracted from the fact that for the third game in succession at the World Cup, an officiating error has had a significant influence on proceedings.

At 2-1, Spain were well in the match, however once Holland scored their third goal, it was game over effectively.

Yet replays demonstrated that Iker Casillas was clearly impeded by Robin van Persie, before Stefan de Vrij put the ball in the back of the net.

Granted, Holland may have gone on to win comfortably anyway and certainly deserved the three points on the balance of play. However, this unjust moment essentially ended Spain’s hopes of victory, and so they have a right to feel partially aggrieved on account of yet another inept refereeing decision at the 2014 World Cup.

4. Man United fans licking their lips

Louis van Gaal has a clearly impressive career and boasts the kind of coaching acumen that few other managers can genuinely claim to match.

It can even be argued that, while hardly being an unequivocal success at either Bayern Munich or Barca, he laid the foundations that subsequent coaches built on, thereby considerably helping to enable each of the aforementioned sides to become the two most dominant European teams of the past decade.

The one reservation that many Van Gaal critics have is that, while he has secured practically everything there is to achieve in football (apart, tellingly, from winning the World Cup), his recent record in the game is decidedly less impressive than his 90s heyday with Ajax.

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Yet last night, he tactically outwitted Vicente del Bosque to such an extent that Spain ultimately ended up humiliated, conceding five goals in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

He was brave in successfully implementing an unfamiliar formation that allowed his troops to thrive, while he was also somewhat fortunate owing to how the game panned out — afterwards, he admitted: “If Van Persie wouldn’t have scored the 1-1 before half-time, I would’ve switched back to the 4-3-3 formation.”

Consequently, those doubts about his recent track record will surely be banished completely if Holland keep up this level of performance, with United fans inevitably becoming considerably more optimistic about the new season, all of a sudden, in the process.

5. Spain’s qualification hopes in grave danger

The emphatic manner of Spain’s loss to the Netherlands last night, aside from obviously dealing a severe blow to their confidence, could also hamper their chances of qualification significantly.

Even if Vicente del Bosque’s team win their final two group games, there is no guarantee they’ll reach the knockout stages.

One nightmare scenario is as follows — Spain beat Chile and Australia, and Holland beat Australia and — having effectively qualified prior to their final game, rest all their big players and get beaten by Chile. Such a situation would mean that the Spanish would be likely to go out on goal difference, given how badly they were beaten last night.

Of course, it’s far from a given that the Dutch will lose to Chile, but the Spaniards certainly find themselves in a conspicuously precarious position all of a sudden.

And oddly, if they do fail to progress, it would be the third time in the last four World Cups whereby the holders have been knocked out in the first round.

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Paul Fennessy

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