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Spain self-destructs in World Cup opener

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Friday, in Itaipava Arena, Fonte Nova, Brazil, the defending world champion Spanish National Football Team self-destructed 1-5 before their Dutch opposite in anything but a replay of their 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

The first half possession tipped Spain’s way but the first good chance to score was Wesley Sneijder’s. He was played in and left one-on-one with goalkeeper Iker Casillas whose reflex single hand stop saved the opening score.

The game was played mostly on the mid-field and seemed a replay of the action in that last final as the Dutch fouled constantly and were rarely called for it. Finally the first yellow came on a foul on Andres Iniesta and others soon followed.

At the 26th minute surprise starter Diego Costa dragged his foot on a cutback in the box and the defender pulled the striker’s leg out from under him. It looked worse than it was and might not even have been called if Costa’s cutback had been quick. But the ex-Atletico Madrid forward is a step slow now, not yet quite himself, and the play in its real time speed looked slow motion enough to allow the referee to see it as a trip and call a penalty.

Xabi Alonso kicked it to his left but lower than usual, having witnessed Sneijder’s cupped hand conversation with keeper Jasper Cillessen, and correctly surmised that his preference had just been betrayed. The ball stayed down and Cillessen’s hand was just high enough to allow the ball to sneak by for the opening score at the 27th minute.

With the score in Spain’s favor nothing changed. Both teams know each other so well that they soon were back at their normal tactics. Then, at the 44th minute, a long cross from left to the center of the box found Robin van Persie outrunning Sergio Ramos and diving uncontested for a header over a planted Casillas who could only see the ball sail over him and into the goal—game tied.

It was an even first half and the score a fair indication of the relative value brought to bear by each team. For the Dutch, their line up seemed ideal, for the Spaniards, the mobility of a Cesc Fabregas or David Villa is sorely needed.

The second half was played in a deluge as the rain was incessant, but then again that was not the deluge that mattered. At the 53rd minute Arjen Robben did the surprising, he went right and cut left and Gerard Pique was caught stabbing at the ball when he should have been sliding to stop it. Robben cut to his left and scored from close range. Holland 2, Spain 1.

At the 64th minute on a corner kick that saw van Persie clobber Casillas in the air and go unsanctioned (recall the same type of play in the Brazil-Croatia game was called back) Stephan de Vrij tap the ball at the far post. The Netherlands 3, Spain 1.

Fabregas and Fernando Torres came in with less than 20 minutes left but it would be too little too late today.

At the 72nd minute a back pass to Casillas had the goalkeeper misplay his first touch into the path of van Persie who obliged by putting into the net. The Dutch 4, Spain 1.

At the 80th minute another defensive miscue left Robben one-on-one with Casillas and the goalkeeper slipped on the rain soaked turf leaving the goal open and allowing the fifth score. The Orange 5, Spain 1.

In the remaining time it was the Dutch who had the only real scoring chances and if it were not for several brilliant Casillas saves the score would have been even more lopsided.

This result throws the entire cup wide open. Spain now need two wins to progress, assuming the Dutch don’t suffer a similar breakdown. If Spain ends up in second place, assuming they make it, they would most likely be playing Brazil in the knockout round. This was certainly not in the script but most certainly what makes this tournament so much fun to watch.

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