Game of the People owes the Netherlands an apology. We said the Dutch were “not good enough to make a big impact on this World Cup”, but after one game, they clearly have much to offer. At the same time, by beating holders Spain 5-1, they confirmed some fears that this tournament may signal the beginning of the end for a fine side.
This display also restored faith in the traditional view of Dutch football. If the 2010 final buried Total Football in an overgrown Amsterdam graveyard, this game reassured us that the principles that so enthralled a beaded generation in the 1970s and again in the late 1980s can still be found in the European lowlands. In short, the Dutch redeemed themselves with a scintillating 90 minutes.
And they came from behind to win. When Spain went ahead, they had been producing their famous short-passing game for much of the opening period. But Robin van Persie’s outstanding diving header brought them level and it all changed from there. In the second half, Arjen Robben and van Persie ran Spain ragged. Robben, when he’s in the mood, is a fantastic player, but remind yourself how old he is – 30, the same age as van Persie. The way Robben sprinted through to score the Netherlands’ fourth goal, outpacing Sergio Ramos (two years his junior), was more in keeping with an 18 year-old.
The Dutch made Spain look very average in that second half. As well as Robben and van Persie, Ajax defender Daley Blind had an excellent game, continually foraging down the flank and sending troubling balls into the Spanish area. Blind, known as the “Dutch Lahm”, may have secured himself a lucrative move with his evening’s work.
Is this the end of the Spanish golden era? It is early to write them off, but they were outplayed by a Dutch team that was written off by their own nation. Diego Costa had an uncomfortable game, looking a little out-of-sorts as Spain tried to get used to playing with a forward. And Iker Cassilas, the second string Real Madrid keeper, had the sort of game that ends international careers. They still have much to offer, but Spain looked like they realised the crowd was about to be handed over to a new champion.
As for the Dutch, they have negotiated the trickiest hurdle in their group. They are in the driving seat now and if they play like this again, they will be in for a successful few weeks. More importantly for those that hanker for an exciting tournament, this game signalled World Cup 2014’s arrival!