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.

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  1. Nitin

    Great game! Van Gaal really can get the best out of his players and they deserve this moment in the sun. For a team that breezed through qualifiers (in a tricky group) they were not fairly credited by pundits, in Holland included.

    To get back on the point of Robben. I feel it is a media generated myth that he is a big game bottler. Partly generated by the phobia that the media had to foreign players in the Premier league during the mid noughties. How can one so easily forget how he single handedly took Mourinho’s overly physical Chelsea team to the pinnacle of the premier league in the first half of the 2004-2005 season?

    His game has always centered around individual brilliance and throughout his career whether it was PSV, Oranje, Chelsea , Real or Bayern, apart from missed penalties I have never seen him have an off day. Not once!! Albeit he was injured for large periods, but when on the pitch he has always been dangerous. In the interim we have seen so many so called big guns(aka the messi’s, ronaldo’s and rooney’s) go missing on big occasions, but you never have a match in which Robben played and one goes and says “where was he”.

    He was the best player on the pitch in 2013 when Bayern won the CL, he was man of the match in the 2012 CL final when Bayern lost to Chelsea, he was by far the most effective player in 2010 final, he(together with LVG) helped German league football come out of embarrassment when he led Bayern through that fantastic run to the CL final in 2009-2010.

    And this is not including his performance in numerous finals of cup competitions, important league matches and of-course the Oranje runs in world cups 2010 and 2006, and Euros 2008 and 2004.

    Robben is the kind of player who makes a mockery of those that call football a team sport and for good measure. You may have 10 unknowns in the team, but with Robben in your team you always stand a chance. Salute to you and all the memories you have given us!!!

    • Peter McVitie

      “I feel it is a media generated myth that he is a big game bottler.”

      You are completely right there. The entire notion was a complete fallacy. For years now he has made it clear he is one of the most decisive players in world football and his class has been evident throughout his career.

      But the notion did spread throughout fans via the media and became a real stick a lot of people used to beat him with. That he has bounced back from both occassions and continued to put in such remarkable performances and throughout just shows how mentally strong he is. His courage and defiance was never in question in the first place, really, but he has certainly never been someone who isn’t cut out for the big stage – those misses were just mere misses. Nothing more, they just happened to be in the big games.

      I agree with you completely, but still many feel that reputation is justified for some reason.

      • Nitin

        I completely agree.

        It takes a lot of courage(and mental strength) to come back to the same stage where you were denied your ultimate glory and repeatedly defy your critics – especially by doing what one does best. Back in Holland, they said since he didn’t pass he would never make it to the very top, he changed that notion very quickly; when he was at England they said his dribbling would not be effective in the premier league, we all know how many defenders he has left behind on their bottoms; when the world said(and continues to say) that he was a one trick left side in-cutting in pony in 2009, it only made him be more effective in doing that one trick rather than changing his game; to come back to the champions league after being denied twice, to repeatedly take on defenders when you know they are out to hack your legs and that you are one tackle away from yet another injury, to come back face to face with casillas, ramos and pique and take them head on and humiliate them it does indeed require mettle of steel. The credit for his mental side of the game has been long overdue and thanks for bringing that up!

        Btw, Peter, you guys are doing a great job with the blog. I’ve been a regular reader ever since one of you appeared in Guardian football weekly(prior to 2012 Euro?).

        Back in 2006, there were no English blogs about Holland and even the dutch football website only had an “English coming soon” version. There were only two writers AFAIK, Ernset Bowes in ESPN(wonder where he is now) and Simon Kuper writing regularly in English at the time. Great to see how much there is to read about Holland and Dutch football on the internet now!

  2. Tom Nasser

    Robben is the Federer of football, in the sense that they are both artists at work.

    The world takes time to recognize genius. It takes some form of genius to spot it, and courage to write about it when it’s actually happening.

    Great to see this deep coverage of the the true masters of the sport.


    PS – Brilliant Orange by David Winner and Stillness and Speed by Dennis Bergkamp are excellent reads for anyone fascinated by the display of the Dutch at this world cup

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