Much was made of Holland's tactics in the World Cup final of 2010 where they kicked their opponents instead of the ball and perhaps deservedly got beat.
Thanks to Andres Iniesta's 109th minute strike the football purists were breathing a sigh of relief; skill had won over brutality despite a rather underwhelming first half. 14 yellow cards later and a sending off to boot, Spain persevered and became world champions for the first time.
Four years on the rematch was much anticipated to be the same, Spain albeit being a little more wiser and slower were widely expected to beat Louis van Gaal's young charges. Expected....
What a contrast we actually got on Friday, June 13. What unfolded was possibly the finest competitive international performance from a Dutch side in years; the Oranje almost brought back Total Football and Spain simply could not handle it. Wave after wave of attacks, much helped by an Iker Casillas horrorshow, culminated in a 5-1 thrashing which visibly shattered Spain's confidence.
The interesting thing was that Spain were in this situation four years ago when they lost to a unimpressive Switzerland outfit. Maybe they didn't get beat by such a margin but it was still a shock result nonetheless and they went onto win the tournament in South Africa.
But the point being made here was the fact they were made to look very ordinary by a vibrant Dutch side who many had even tipped to make an early exit due to the emergence of an exciting Chile side.
The first half hour belonged to Spain, no question, but as soon as the Netherlands started to get on the ball the pendulum swung. Daley Blind swept over a 60 yard cross-field pass that was on a plate for Robin van Persie who duly threw himself at it and lobbed Casillas with an incredible diving header, then four more goals followed including Robben's run from his own half to outpace Sergio Ramos before leaving Casillas on the floor and staring at the heavens for a reprieve.
The formula for Holland's success stems from the fact they are a young hungry side who are versatile and talented. Another reason is they possess two genuine match winners in Van Persie and Robben.
Van Persie on his day is arguably the best finisher in the Premier League and certainly one of the best in Europe, while Robben at his best can cut through defences like a knife through butter. Between them they scored 39 goals despite the fact that Van Persie was seemingly reluctant to play under ex-Manchester United manager David Moyes.
Other factors in their style of play include that they are quick to adjust and are fluent. As showed against Spain on Friday they switched from their usual 4-3-3 formation to 3-5-2 in order to match their opponents in midfield, pushing the two fullbacks Janmaat and Blind further up.
The ploy worked as they were a constant threat from the wide areas and more crosses and more counter-attacks entailed. It also helped that they held discipline in defence with the three centre backs not committing themselves too often and nullifying Diego Costa.
Their performance against Spain was a masterclass of counter-attacking football and it adds to the evidence which suggests that tiki-taka football is no longer king and can be beaten. What will unfold against Chile will be interesting as the South Americans play a lot more aggressively than Spain which may leave them open.
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