SALVADOR, Brazil – It didn't take long for the GIFs, memes and various snapshots of social media to laud Robin van Persie's dream goal on Friday, one that is already a serious contender for the best of the tournament just two days in.
While the images of the Netherlands forward with an orange Superman cape or a pair of wings super-imposed on him or of van Persie suspended spectacularly in midair are temporary, the memory of the stunning strike that began the Dutch's demolition of Spain will last into eternity.
It was a strange kind of wonder goal. With 44 minutes gone in what would become an epic 5-1 thrashing of the defending World Cup champions and with his team trailing 1-0, van Persie did a number of small technical things to absolute perfection.
"That was all about technique," Dutch teammate Jonathan de Guzman said. "It has to be exact or it just won't work."
First, van Persie had to make the right kind of run, timing his surge forward as to not fall offside as teammate Daley Blind made a sprint down the left wing and looked up preparing to center the ball.
[Photos: Dutch star stakes early claim to goal of the tournament]
Next, van Persie had to anticipate the cadence of positioning of Blind's cross, one that would turn out to be exquisite in its execution. Then, having gained a step on the retreating Spanish defense, van Persie had a choice to make. He could let the ball drop, trap it with his right foot or thigh and look to shoot on goal, probably by turning inside on his favored left foot.
Instead, he took the high-risk, high-reward strategy. After spotting that Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas had crept off his line – close-up replays showed that van Persie did not turn his head in that direction so it can only have been at the extremes of his peripheral vision (or maybe sixth sense) – van Persie opted to launch himself into the air and try to head the ball toward the goal.
[Related: Record not in the cards for 'keeper Casillas]
The option, the only one that could realistically work, was to attempt to loop his header over Casillas – strongly enough to get over the keeper, gently enough that it didn't fly over the crossbar and accurately enough to hit the target. All while flying head-first through the air.
It wasn't easy. It wasn't the high-percentage play. That is, unless you are Robin van Persie.
"It was very important for us to go into halftime with the scores level," Dutch substitute Dirk Kuyt said. "To do it like that is not easy. But it was perfect and he is a great striker."
Arjen Robben would add a fifth goal after van Persie had been subbed out and handed him the captain's armband.The goal was the catalyst for a second-half surge that was as thrilling as it was unexpected. Later, van Persie would confound the poor Casillas again, stripping him of the ball after the keeper misplayed a back pass for the Netherlands' fourth goal.
For Manchester United last season, van Persie struggled at times for form and fitness as England's most famous club suffered a miserable campaign following the retirement of iconic coach Sir Alex Ferguson. For the Netherlands, he has clearly been energized by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, and the good news for van Persie is that van Gaal will take over United after the tournament.
Right now, though, van Persie is focused only on the immediate future.
"We can't stop here," van Persie said. "We have to keep going."