Spain 1-5 Netherlands: Robben sets the record straight
Who could have predicted it?
After the disappointment four years ago, the ultimate humiliation in Euro 2012 and then two years of being written off, Louis van Gaal and his Netherlands team have the right to enjoy their moment in the sun.
“No one dared to dream this. I never thought it would go like this,” Van Gaal said after the game. He was right.
The feeling before the game and upon the announcement of Spain’s starting XI was one of resignation from the Dutch – they could get a point out of it at most.
And as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben reversed roles from the World Cup final four years ago in the opening stages, with the Bayern Munich star sending the Galatasaray man through on goal only for Casillas to come out on top, it looked like it was going to be another disappointing performance against La Roja.
And when Diego Costa stood on Stefan de Vrij’s ankle and tumbled to the ground, allowing Xabi Alonso to open the scoring from the penalty spot, it appeared to confirm it – the Oranje were set for further heartbreak.
Luckily, Van Gaal’s stubbornness, arrogance and defiance has seeped through to the Netherlands players and they weren’t about to give up.
Through a remarkable diagonal ball into the box met by a simply phenomenal header – Daley Blind and Robin van Persie produced a goal that will go down in history.
The Manchester United man hitting the net on the stroke of half-time was significant, if not a psychological blow for the Spaniards and lift for the Oranje, it was critical tactically.
“I was already thinking about what I would do at half-time,” Van Gaal admitted afterwards. “If it was still 1-0 at the break, I would play 4-3-3 to keep the pressure on the ball.
“But then Robin scored. He headed that ball with so much feeling. He knew it before. He saw the goalkeeper standing too far in front of his goal. It was a beautiful goal.”
Had the Oranje made that shift, it would have resulted in less defensive stability and ceding control in the middle of the park to a Spain side ready to tear them apart. Leaving his 5-3-2 set up alone was the perfect decision. Blind was free and in great form on the left side, while Diego Costa had slipped in behind the Oranje defence a couple of times, beyond the penalty tumble, he had been dealt with comfortably, while Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman had dealt with everything in the midfield remarkably well. It freed up the front three to do exactly what they wanted and what had been asked of them.
Van Gaal’s tactics were perfect and the players fulfilled it remarkably well.
Had David Silva beaten Jasper Cillessen in the first-half with that one-on-one, we would be talking about another Dutch defeat, but the Ajax keeper reacted well to force the Manchester City star’s effort wide and moments later the equaliser had been scored.
The second-half performances of Blind, Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie were simply magnificent. That front trio are world class and when their qualities as individuals are combined, they complement each other to make the ultimate trident capable of threatening and tearing apart any defence and they showed it last night.
After that horrendous missed opportunity four years ago in Soccer City, Robben gained a reputation for being a player not cut out for the big games. That notion only increased two years later after his penalty miss against Chelsea in the Allianz Arena. He rectified the latter the following year as he guided home a delightful Franck Ribery goal to secure the European crown, but still, that Iker Casillas had bested him at the ultimate stage lingered over him.
But as he stopped dead that phenomenal Blind pass eight minutes into the second half and smashed it past Casillas to show the Real Madrid star has no psychological edge in the battle. Then, as he galloped forward like a true Oranje Leeuw, somehow beating Sergio Ramos to the ball and just teasing, teasing, teasing the Spain defence before putting them out of their misery by slotting it home, he showed what calibre of player he is and what great mental strength he possesses.
Big game bottler? No chance. This guy is part of the elite.
It my not be a world title, but at least the record has been set straight.