Spain’s 2014 World Cup campaign got off to a disastrous start with a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands in a Group B match played on Friday evening at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil.
Xabi Alonso’s first half penalty was the only scoring for the La Roja, who were overrun by a hungry Dutch side that got braces from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, plus a goal from Stefan de Vrij, thus putting the reigning World Cup champions in a very difficult position to advance to the second round.
Head coach Vicente del Bosque’s starting formation addressed several debates regarding the Spain XI as Cesar Azpilicueta was chosen over Juanfran to start at right back.
The Chelsea man was joined by Sergio Ramos, Gerard Piqué and Jordi Alba in defence in front of goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets anchored in as holding midfielders while Xavi spearheaded the attack with David Silva and Andres Iniesta.
And perhaps most notably, Brazilian-born Diego Costa got the nod as striker in front of the in-form David Villa and Fernando Torres.
The Netherlands very nearly broke open the scoring inside the first 10 minutes with a great chance for Wesley Sneijder, but Casillas stood tall and denied his former Real Madrid teammate in what was a one-on-one situation.
Also of note in the early going was that any time Costa touched the ball, the Brazilians inside the stadium lustily booed the striker, who opted to play for La Roja over his native country and were happy to jeer any flubbed chance.
But Costa would get to thumb his nose at the locals in the 26th minute when his run into the area to collect a Xavi pass drew a penalty.
The future Chelsea man was clipped by Dutch defender, De Vrij, and the referee pointed to the spot without hesitation.
Duties fell to Alonso to convert the spot kick and he did so with a cool, composed finish past Netherlands goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, a minute later in the 27th to make it 1-0.
It looked for all the world that Spain would double the margin just three minutes before the break when Iniesta sent in a cutting inch-perfect pass to an onrushing Silva, but the chip from the Manchester City man was tipped away by Cillessen, in what would later prove to be the pivotal play of the match.
La Roja were then left to rue that missed chance as Van Persie levelled the Dutch a minute later with a top-notch finish.
Daley Blind played a long ball into Van Persie and the Manchester United striker had enough time and room behind Ramos to take a peek and place his header over Casillas to even things up 1-1.
A downpour greeted the teams as they emerged from the locker room for the second half and the momentum that the Dutch grabbed right before the break carried into the second stanza.
The Netherlands continued to probe the middle of the Spanish defence and it resulted in a goal eight minutes after the re-start.
Robben gathered in a ball, and with a superb first-touch, he cut back against Piqué, fended off Ramos and then slotted a shot past Casillas, making it 2-1 to the Netherlands.
The Dutch continued to riddle the Spanish defence and Van Persie was inches away from handing the 2010 runners-up a 3-1 lead but his right-footed rocket smashed off the crossbar just moments before the hour mark.
Shortly thereafter, Del Bosque made his first two changes of the match, replacing Costa and Alonso with Torres and Pedro respectively.
Spain’s bad day grew worse in the 65th minute when a De Vrij header gave the Dutch a stunning 3-1 lead.
A free kick was played in and the defender who committed the foul that led to the penalty for Spain snuck in at the far post and nodded a header home. An enraged Casillas flew toward the referee, protesting that he had been interfered with by Van Persie on the play, but the call stood and suddenly La Roja were staring at a two-goal deficit.
Things devolved into a nightmare for Del Bosque’s men in the 74th minute when Casillas committed an almost unthinkable error by gift-wrapping a goal for Van Persie.
The legendary goalkeeper’s first touch off a back pass was far too heavy and Van Persie was able to charge in and poke the ball into the open net to increase the lead to 4-1.
Robben picked up his second goal in the 80th minute on a counterattack that saw the Bayern Munich man race past Ramos and cut back against a floundering Casillas before firing into the back of the net.
If not for Casillas, the Dutch could have had a sixth, but the Real Madrid stopper managed to block efforts from both Georginio Wijnaldum and Robben.
Spain’s miserable night was then summed up in second half stoppage time when Torres was unable to get a shot off in front of a wide-open goal before the full-time whistle blew mercifully minutes later.
Spain will now somehow try to regroup prior to their next contest in what will be a do-or-die affair versus Chile on Wednesday in Rio.