Desmond Kane

The night world champions Spain died with their boots on

Desmond Kane

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There was a noticeable number of empty seats in humid, humbling Salvador for a quite astonishing afternoon that saw the Netherlands shred Spain with several rounds of grapeshot. It was a pity because those who managed to wash up at the 55,000-capacity Arena Fonte Nova witnessed moments of real heritage - memories that could perhaps be recalled as poignant hours, days, weeks and years from now.

Who knows what the future will bring for two nations defined by their sporting riches with the round ball - in football, soothsayers tend to be ill-advised - but these were some seismic happenings on day two of Brazil's World Cup finals. At least it felt that way.

Robin van Persie scored the type of goal that will be recalled in World Cup folklore, but the match will be remembered as much as a night when a side of true greats were humbled, and humiliated. Perhaps like never before. This was not a defeat, more a disemboweling. It was the evening an ensemble cast from Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City died with their boots on.

Not only did Louis van Gaal's Dutch lot recover from trailing 1-0 to complete a 5-1 mauling, but they may well have brought a sparkling six-year period of Spanish domination at tournament football to an end. This will leave mental scars. It must.

Starting at 2008 in the European Championship under the late Luis Aragones, Vicente del Bosque's side have been all-conquering in clasping the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 trophies to add to their trinkets garnered in Austria-Switzerland, but their prospects of a fourth straight title look bleak after suffering what amounted to GBH by a country who tried to kick them off the park in losing the final of this tournament four years ago.

All those goings on seemed a long time ago with Andres Iniesta cutting a different, less sprightly figure from the bloke who sunk the only goal back in extra-time in South Africa. With both teams in changed strips, these were changed days. If this was about revenge, it could not have been executed with any more cunning. The murder was carried out while the defenceless victim watched.

No defending world champions have suffered such a heavy defeat in the history of World Cups.

It was not only the loss that was worrying, but the nature of the discarding that was most disconcerting for Spain in trying to move forward from a night that left this onlooker dazed.

Goodness knows how so many wonderful Spanish players over so many years must feel in South America.

There is more than a whiff of France at the 2002 finals about all of this. Back then the French came in as defending world and European champions, but went down 1-0 to Senegal in their opening match. They drew 0-0 with Uruguay second time out, but were clipped 2-0 by Denmark to depart in the group stage.

With Arjen Robben clubbing home two glorious goals on 53 and 80 minutes, and RvP proving himself to be a VIP with a couple on 44 and 72 minutes, the Dutch could easily have departed with a heftier win. 7-1 or 8-1 would not have flattered the Netherlands.

They were helped by opponents who looked like they had lead in their boots. Central defenders Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos gave off the impression that they had just met in the changing room prior to the match with Robben and Van Persie leading them a merry dance as two rampaging Dutch forwards proved too much.

The other Netherlands goal should not have counted as Van Persie clearly fouled a toiling Iker Casillas in the air before Stefan de Vrij bundled his side's third goal on 64 minutes. Spain could hardly pinpoint that concession as the moment they unfastened.

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Casillas presented Van Persie with his second when he failed to control a loose ball. He could be dropped in the next Group B match against Chile on Wednesday, but so could a few others.

And yet Spain had led. Diego Costa earned Spain the penalty when he was felled by De Vrij before Xabi Alonso slotted on 27 minutes.

Costa should have been red carded when he headbutted Bruno Martins Indi, but the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli missed it. No surprise there the way this World Cup has been unfolding.

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Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen saved a certain second goal from David Silva, before Van Persie scored with what could be best described as the thinking man's finish.

With Daley Blind coming up with the type of delivery over the top of the Spanish defence that seemed so high it could have attracted snow in steamy Salvadorn, Van Persie threw himself at the ball from just inside the Spanish area to send a quite glorious looping header over the grounded Casillas.

Many forwards would have taken a touch to try to finish, but not Van Persie.

Not only was it a goal of extreme quality, perhaps the most memorable from a Dutch forward since Dennis Bergkamp's goal for the ages against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup quarter-finals, it also changed the destination of the match.

The rain was falling mostly on Spain as the much-maligned substitute Fernando Torres missed an open goal late on, but Spain were already treading water with Casillas making one notable stop from a thunderous Robben volley as the men in the white shirts continued to toil badly in marking space.

The Dutch meet Australia looking to make sure of a spot in the last 16. Manchester United supporters must like what they are getting from their new coach in Van Gaal. Especially in sensing his obvious rapport with Van Persie.

It is not yet all over for Spain, who are now fourth favourites at 12-1 behind Brazil, Argentina and Germany if you fancy a slice of the action, but they need to compose themselves quickly to make sense of what just went on.

Nights like these do not come along too often.

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