Is Spain’s trademark playing style at a crossroads?

2014-06-15 15:00

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The question that reverberated across the globe after a rampant Netherlands inflicted the heaviest World Cup defeat on holders Spain in more than 60 years – with a dazzling 5-1 demolition on Friday – was: is this the end for tiki-taka?

This is the style popularised by La Roja, who came into the tournament as reigning European and World champions.

Oranje were nowhere near being the same team that showed up to play in their tetchy 1-0 final defeat to the Spaniards four years ago in Joburg. They set out to disrupt the champions’ possession game and blew them away with two goals each from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.

Only once before had Spain conceded five times in a World Cup game, in a 6-1 loss to hosts Brazil in 1950. The mauling was also the worst-ever start for defending world champions.

“Spain were always going to come at us and we [planned to] catch them on the counter. My players did it perfectly. It’s far better than we ever expected,” Dutch coach Louis van Gaal told reporters after the game.

Dutch revenge looked unlikely when Spain, also 2008 and 2012 European champions, went ahead in the Group B clash with a 27th-minute Xabi Alonso penalty after Diego Costa was brought down.

With half-time approaching, David Silva spurned a chance to double Spain’s lead with a cheeky chip that was pushed wide – a miss compounded by a spectacular Dutch equaliser seconds later.

Looking for quick balls over the top, captain Van Persie got between defenders Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba in the 44th minute to meet a searching Daley Blind

cross with a powerful diving header that left goalkeeper Iker Casillas rooted to the spot.

A likely standout goal of the tournament, even Van Persie struggled to assume a modest demeanour after the game.

“Best goal of my career,” he told reporters while sporting a smile as wide as the Pacific.

“It was a brilliant goal. Even I have to say that. It was a bit of a gamble but I had spotted Casillas off his line before the cross came in.”

Robben put the Netherlands ahead after 53 minutes, latching on to another excellent Blind lobbed pass before turning Gerard Piqué and holding off Ramos to fire home.

Del Bosque reacted by swapping Alonso for the more attack-minded Pedro. Brazilian-born striker Costa, booed with every touch by the locals, went off for Fernando Torres.

The match opened up, but all in the Netherlands’ favour.

Van Persie rattled the crossbar with a ferocious right-foot volley before Stefan de Vrij, whose tackle on Costa had led to the penalty, stole in at the back post to convert a free kick after Casillas was pressured by Van Persie.

It got worse for Spain as Van Persie added a fourth after taking advantage of a sloppy touch by Casillas to slot home in the 72nd minute.

The excellent Robben sent the disbelieving Dutch fans into raptures with a brilliant fifth goal eight minutes later.

The rapid forward, who had spurned a glorious chance to give the Netherlands their first world title four years ago after bearing down on Casillas, flew out of his half on to a through ball before toying with the Spanish rearguard and belting home.

Del Bosque sat disconsolately in his dugout long after his squad had disappeared down the tunnel, perhaps pondering whether to shake up a team packed with champions.

On their way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Spain only conceded six goals in 19 games.

While defenders Pique and Ramos were run ragged, midfield maestros Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Alonso were overrun in the second half and Casillas had a night to forget.

For the Netherlands, a postmatch lap of honour in front of their dancing orange-clad fans represented the perfect start in Brazil.

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