Netherlands shocks defending champion Spain in stunning 5-1 World Cup rout

Martin Rogers

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SALVADOR,  Brazil – Defending champion Spain suffered a sensational defeat in its opening World Cup game on Friday, losing 5-1 to the Netherlands in a rematch of the 2010 final.

Two goals each by Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben and one from Stefan De Vrij completed a stirring comeback for the Dutch and completed one of the most remarkable score lines in World Cup history.

[Related: Arjen Robben's shot at redemption ]

Yes, you read it right. Spain, which has won every major international tournament since 2008, conceding just six goals in the process, let in five over the course of little more than 35 amazing minutes.

Not only are the Spaniards now in a massive hole in this year's event, but they also look far from the team that has wreaked havoc on world soccer over the past six years. Unless it finds some immediate spark, Spain could be bounced from the World Cup far earlier than anyone could have predicted.

For the Dutch, the victory was the most perfect blend of revenge, redemption and, at last, respect, after their hopes were widely dismissed after being pooled in the treacherous Group B.

[Related: Group B preview ]

In the final four years ago in South Africa, on a night of emotion that marked Nelson Mandela's last public appearance, Andres Iniesta won it for Spain with the lone goal with just four minutes of extra time remaining. That match was tense, nervous, physical and, truth be told, not a whole lot of fun to watch.

This match? Well, this was very different. Louis van Gaal has been named the new manager of Manchester United for a reason (he takes over after the tournament). Van Gaal is one of the best in the business and given seven months to prepare since the World Cup draw was made managed to unlock the Spain passing game that has flummoxed everyone in recent memory.

[Related: Van Gaal not thinking about club ]

Now, the Netherlands looks capable of beating anyone. If it can go on to win this group, it would gain the massive advantage of probably avoiding Brazil in the round of 16. For Spain, such a prospect might now be the best it can hope for as the Group B runner-up.

Early on, this outcome didn't look imaginable in the slightest. Spain made a fast start and pulled into the lead when Xabi Alonso knocked home a 27th-minute penalty after De Vrij was ruled to have tripped Diego Costa.

[Related: Brazilians welcome Spain's Costa with insults ]

But just before the break, the Dutch turned it around. Davey Blind, who had a tremendous game, speared a through ball from just inside the Spain half. Van Persie ran onto it and instead of trying to trap it, he spotted Iker Casillas off his goal line and looped a header over him for the equalizer.

It was a momentum changer and with confidence boosted, the Netherlands went at Spain in the second half. Robben has twinkling toes and perfect placement and on the hour he collected another expert ball from Blind, cut inside and drilled it past Casillas to make it 2-1.

Soon after it was 3-1 Netherlands and the spirit was fading from Spain. Casillas might have been fouled by Van Persie as he went up to collect a free kick, or maybe he was not. Either way, referee Nicola Rizzoli didn't blow the whistle and De Vrij bundled the ball over the line at the back post.

Van Gaal's men seemed to have endless energy. Van Persie, who at times looked lackluster for Man United last season, was chasing down everything. His persistence paid off, albeit with a clumsy and atypical assist from Casillas, in the 72nd minute. Casillas failed to control a simple back pass and Van Persie pounced on it to make it 4-1 and end any thoughts of a comeback.

[Photos: Images of Van Persie's header ]

Still, the Dutch were not done. Less than a minute after he and Van Persie completed a touching moment – Van Persie was subbed, pulled his captain armband off, placed it on Robben's bicep and kissed it – Robben struck once more. A lightning quick attack from deep inside the Dutch half found Robben, who outsprinted the entire defense, left Casillas floored and then fired home the fifth and final blow.

Some will say beware the wounded animal. Spain lost its World Cup opener to Switzerland in 2010 and went on to lift the title. But not like this.

Beware the Dutch instead. The Orange Wave is coming.

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