Published June 13, 2014
How the mighty have fallen.
The third game at the World Cup Friday was a rematch for the ages. The 2010 champion Spain met with runner-ups the Netherlands and what was initially a good match up quickly turned into a 5-1 massacre.
The Spanish side got ahead in the first half after a penalty kick by midfielder Xavi Alonso, but minutes before the end, Netherlands striker Robin van Persie headed a spectacular equalizer that opened the floodgates.
Daley Blind launched a 40-yard pass from near midfield, and Van Persie timed his leap perfectly to guide the ball gently over goalie Iker Casillas, who helplessly watched it go into the net.
The Manchester United player added another to his tally before the final whistle.
In one game, Van Persie doubled his goal tally from the whole 2010 World Cup. The orange-clad Dutch fans at the Arena Fonte Nova gave him a standing ovation when he was substituted.
Winger Arjen Robben added two goals to his name and a far-post tap-in from defender Stefan de Vrij – his first international goal - sealed the deal.
The victory was particularly sweet for Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, who was criticized for his decision to play five defenders against Spain. He insisted the formation had attacking potential as well as nullifying Spain's fluent passing game.
It did. And then some.
At the end, Dutch fans were roaring "Ole" as their team passed the ball around and Spain chased them.
Spain, which won the 2010 final thanks to an Andres Iniesta extra-time goal, exerted most of the pressure in the first half of the rematch, but had no answer once the Dutch went ahead and continually hit them on the break.
The final goal came after Robben weaved around Casillas — who was crawling on the grass in desperation — and fired into the untended net.
Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque sat stony faced on his bench at full time, while Van Gaal walked onto the pitch to hug his players.
"This is a very delicate moment for us, and all of us have to find a way to solve it," Del Bosque said.
Spain lost its first match in 2010, and they still have a good chance to get out of the group stage if they can defeat Chile and Australia.
It was its heaviest defeat in the game's showcase tournament since capitulating 6-1 to Brazil in 1950.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.