Ryan Ferguson describes Holland’s thumping 5-1 win over Spain to kick-start the World Cup.

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rvp rtIn the footballing history of every nation, certain performances, certain moments and certain results are crystalised as sacred. Think about England hammering West Germany in 1966; Carlos Alberto steering home that vintage goal for Brazil in 1970; or Andres Iniesta firing Spain to glory in 2010. The Dutch are no different, cherishing even now the eternal genius of Johan Cruyff and upholding as sacrosanct the team of Gullit and Van Basten which so romped to victory in 1988. But, following the brilliance of Louis van Gaal and his bunch of highly-charged warriors in Salvador last night, there are new heroes, new memories, and a new tale ready for enshrinement in the annals. Oranje is back in vogue.

The Netherlands not only became the first team to stick five past Spain in World Cup competition since 1950; they did so with a ruthless swagger. The Netherlands not only exacted sweet revenge for Soccer City; they did so with a joyful yearning. The Netherlands not only sent a shuddering jolt through this entire tournament; they did so with towering self-belief. On this night, a side of burgeoning Dutch players honoured the core principles which so define their homeland, dealing all the while a might blow to a crumbling Spanish dynasty. It was truly historic.

In the dream-like madness which followed Holland’s mesmeric 5-1 victory, we were all unsure exactly how it came to be. Then, quickly, the eye was drawn to the very author’s of this masterpiece, and all became clear. This was a collaborative effort; an effort of tremendously-talented footballers performing at the peak of their powers. Arjen Robben was astounding, cutting through Spain with a clinical ease. Robin van Persie was inspirational, hauling Oranje to victory as if by sheer force of will. Wesley Sneijder was effective, connecting play and proving timelessly elusive. Daley Blind was effervescent; Nigel de Jong gargantuan; Daryl Janmaat possessed by the spirit of rampaging, offensive football. Ultimately, Spain ran out of ideas, patience and energy, succumbing to the powerful display of Dutch dominance.

The end product, a throbbing victory over the reigning World Champions, was a far cry from the pre-tournament uncertainty which so enveloped Oranje. Louis van Gaal was viewed as something of a mad scientist, tinkering and shaping and experimenting with a large group of starlets but possibly running out of time as the Finals arrived. We were entirely unsure as to who would play, in what combination, and to what strategy. Rarely had so little been expected from Holland at a World Cup, and rarely had the group been so quiet.

Yet, to hardcore followers of Dutch football, this always seemed ever so slightly incongruous. Here was a team which strolled through qualifying; a team coached by a master tactician; a team possessing world class attacking flair. Indeed, any team for which Arjen Robben plays has a chance to win, especially when he is flanked by Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and a team of boundless desire. Such an axis of forward players is capable of transforming a game entirely, with a dart, a shimmy, an explosion of pace and power and imagination. Such was the case in Salvador, where Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, the two predominant central defenders of our epoch, were torn apart with alarming regularity. By the time Arjen, Robin and Wesley were finished, very little remained of the grand Spanish mystique.

Holland started the game with intent, if not instant results. Van Gaal had his side camp surprisingly high up the pitch, with wing-backs Blind and Janmaat engaging in midfield and Nigel de Jong pressing with energy. This refreshing approach, coupled with Spain’s adapted ethos encompassing Diego Costa, gave Oranje hope. When, after eight minutes, Robben picked the lock with a delightful through-ball for an on-rushing Sneijder, Holland were in. Casillas did well to stop the midfielder’s attempt, but the ease with which Spain were bypassed proved a harbinger of Dutch domination to come.

Given the emphatic nature of the eventual Oranje win, the fact that Spain scored first is easily lost. A moment of youthful naivety left Stefan de Vrij exposed, and the cunning Costa won a penalty which was dispatched by Xabi Alonso. It was all very simple, elementary even, and served to illustrate two truths: Holland are unpredictable, and Spain are capable of anything at any time.

In the aftermath of Spain’s opening goal, this young Netherlands side had an excuse to become frayed; an excuse to become dejected; an excuse to give up and fold like so many other nations. Yet herein lies a sign of the trust this squad places in Louis van Gaal; an indication of how this new Holland believes in it’s own ability. Nobody became despondent. Nobody dropped their head. Nobody hid. Rather, Oranje responded really well, and were soon celebrating a most heroic intervention.

rvp gfgWhen a goal was needed most, Robin van Persie rose to the occasion, leaping like a fine salmon to connect with a breath-taking ball from Daley Blind and loop a stunning header over a despairing Casillas. The goal seemed very familiar, with comparisons to that of Dennis Bergkamp against Argentina at France ’98 immediately being drawn; Blind miming his Ajax manager, Frank de Boer, by clipping a sublimely-imaginative pass, and van Persie finishing with similar dramatic effect.

For van Gaal and Oranje, the equaliser came at a vital moment; this 44th minute strike sending the team bouncing into the changing rooms with a renewed buzz and vibrancy. The entire tempo, direction and narrative of the match was changed in that moment of combined genius.

In the second period, a rejuvenated Oranje set about defeating Spain with a rare hunger. Actually, what this team achieved was much more than ordinary. They destroyed Spain. They demolished Spain. They drove Spain to self-capitulation. All in the purest, most aesthetically-pleasing, thoroughly Dutch way imaginable.

On fifty-three minutes, Robben collected another awesome pass from Blind before side-stepping past the attentions of a bedraggled Spain defence and burying the demons of Johannesburg by finally beating Casillas. At this point, the Netherlands were in dreamland; the exploits of Arjen and Robin (and Daley!) hauling Oranje to a position of authority many could barely believe.

Whereas Holland responded admirably to deficit, Spain simply imploded when faced with such an alien concept. Soon, Robben was streaking down the centre with increased regularity, dancing and wriggling and slithering in the yawning gaps of Salvador. Incredibly, Arjen was performing like he does on a weekly basis for Bayern, frightening defences with daring dribbles, fantastic vision, and tremendous technique. On the hour, he scythed through a Spanish midfield which looked decidedly anachronistic, before shifting the ball to van Persie, who rattled the bar with a wholesome volley of exquisite execution. Holland thrived as Spain wilted away.

Stefan de Vrij exploited the cloudy heads of a flustered La Roja backline to coast in at the far post and bundle home the kind of goal Spain rarely concede. At 3-1, Dutchmen and women everywhere began to dance and sing and drink a toast. Somehow, Louis van Gaal had lifted this team from the squalor of South African defeat, above the ignominy of Poland & Ukraine, and far beyond the expectations of Brazil. The Dutch were back in business.

With three goals in the bank, Oranje wanted more. The hunger inculcated into the minds of players like Robben and Van Persie and Sneijder at club level shone through, as those players demanded more. This relentless, winning mentality was matched by an underlying style which came to the fore as the Netherlands relaxed. There was a confidence in their play; a twinkle in the eye and a shot of adrenaline coursing through the veins. Oranje unleashed, opened up, and played with a stupendous joy de vivre so descriptive of Dutch football. This team emerged from the shadows of uncertainty.

For many years, Spain ruled through tiki-taka, it’s most forthright skill. But, yesterday, even that deserted them. Iker Casillas’ fumbling, bumbling, stumbling attempts at control, and Robin van Persie’s subsequent goal, may be the defining vignette proclaiming the end of Spanish dominion and the very beginning of a bright Dutch future. At 4-1, we were simply astonished.

The whole evening was wonderful, as Holland came of age before our eyes. Yet, as mentioned at the start of this column, every special moment, performance or result needs an iconic image to become truly epochal. In this case, look no further than Arjen Robben beating Sergio Ramos despite a ten-yard disadvantage to plunder home the Netherlands’ fifth goal. It was quintessential Robben: blistering pace which defies belief, unparalleled intellect which creates art, clinical opportunism which wins matches. He simply exploded through the pitch, mastering at once his control of the football and the moment. Just before catapulting a nation into sheer ecstasy, Robben teased and tormented in typical fashion, as if securing personal retribution for the nightmare of Soccer City.

On that night, Spain were rightfully applauded from every quarter. They were brilliant as Oranje betrayed its core philosophy. However, yesterday in Salvador, we witnessed an entirely different story. Indeed, we watched an entirely different team, lead by an entirely different man, playing entirely different football. It was Dutch football in the truest sense, as evidenced by Nigel de Jong and Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum bursting forward in the final minutes, interchanging offensive places with Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben. Just how van Gaal dreams it.

Ultimately, one can say only so much with the written word. In reality, the greatest compliments to this inspired Oranje team came from the grandstands of Salvador. There, a horde of Dutch fans cheered every pass with a continental “Olé!” There, an army of Oranje celebrated a renaissance. There, a loyal band of followers witnessed their nation’s greatest football night in a generation.

Enjoy the moment, Holland. You deserve it.

Ryan Ferguson (23 Posts)