It is very unusual for the two finalists from one World Cup to meet again in the following World Cup. In reality, there have been only three instances like this in the whole history of the World Cup. After the Wembley final drama of 1966, England and West Germany famously met in 1970, and in 1978, the Netherlands and Germany did the same. However, the third meeting was perhaps the most exciting due to the participation of two previous World Cup finalists. After meeting in the 2010 World Cup final, the Netherlands and Spain were paired against one another in 2014. However, the revitalized Dutch gave the defending champion Spain a thorough beating. Spain won the final in 2010.
Since their 2010 final meeting, Spain has been one of the top teams in the world. The 2012 European champions allowed only one goal in their tournament win, while also reaching the 2013 Confederations Cup final and winning 40 of their 54 matches. They were, as they had been for the better part of a decade beginning in 2008, ranked first in the world by FIFA.
Twelve Spanish players competed in the Champions League final in May 2014 between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, soon before the World Cup. And if that weren’t enough, in 2014 they convinced Brazilian striker Diego Costa to switch to the Spanish national team. The buildup to the world championship could not have gone more smoothly.
What a contrast the Dutch experience was. The Dutch team had a disastrous 2012 Euro Championship, losing all three of their group-stage matches. This seemed to be the last chapter of that book. Louis van Gaal took over the team from Bert van Marwijk, who had been the coach for a long time. The Dutch Big Four (Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, and Rafael van der Vaart) failed to impress at Euro 2012 and would all be 30 or older when the 2014 World Cup kicked off. Players from the Dutch Eredivisie, who was talented but not quite “there” yet, made up the majority of the remainder of the squad. Overall, the squad seemed weaker than the one that reached the final in South Africa four years earlier.
Louis van Gaal was compelled to try out the formation because of this. Van Gaal was selected for a 5-3-2 system because he knew that Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie could make a difference if given the chance, but that his defense was young and shaky. It was a huge surprise for the Dutch fans who had seen their Oranje play 4-3-3 since the team’s inception. The new strategy received a lot of backlash before the World Cup, but Van Gaal was on board with it. While the rest of the squad had to concentrate on avoiding allowing goals to be scored, Van Persie, the pure striker, and Robben, the incomparable dribbler, could be backed by the passing Sneijder from the number 10 position.
The Dutch were forced to adjust to a new 5-3-2 formation after facing a 4-3-3 formation reminiscent of Spain’s Barcelona system.
It was generally anticipated that Spain, the current tournament champions, would be one of the teams progressing from their group, which also included Chile and Australia. Only the most optimistic of 2014 World Cup predictors probably had Spain finishing third or fourth. Thus, there was no doubt who the favorite was as referee Nicola Rizzoli kicked off the match between Spain and the Netherlands.
Surprisingly, the opening shot of the game was taken by the Dutch. A one-on-one opportunity presented itself to Wesley Sneijder after a clever through pass from Arjen Robben, but the Dutch striker shot straight at Spain’s Iker Casillas. It wasn’t a massive shot in the arm for the Netherlands, but it was a good one.
As a result of Sneijder’s effort, Spain became the dominant team. They started the game slowly but built a commanding lead in possession and a devastating pressing advantage before halftime. Spain’s metronomic passing style under the scorching Brazilian heat left the Netherlands with nothing to do between the 10th and 40th minutes. At halftime, Spain led the Netherlands by a score of 332 to 135, meaning they had completed more than twice as many passes as their opponent.
Spain made the logical move of taking the lead. At the 26-minute mark, Diego Costa received a through ball and carried it into the box, but he was met by Stefan de Vrij. Costa swerved in on his first foot, then slid slyly to the ground to earn a penalty kick for his new country. With his vast penalty-taking expertise, Xabi Alonso had no issue putting one away against Jasper Cillessen, who had never before saved a spot kick in his professional career.
Already own a goal, and the defending European and World Champions are dominating play. It was hard to see how the Dutch could win this battle.
Simple. Robin van Persie’s equalizer came after receiving a pinpoint cross from Daley Blind from 40 yards out. It was a goal that would go down in World Cup history books. On the football field, the Flying Dutchman is a reality.
The score was tied at one on the stroke of halftime, and the Dutch were still in the contest. The predictions for both Spain and the Netherlands are 1.40 and 0.50 goals, respectively.
Blind continued his fantastic play from the first half into the second. In the 53rd minute, the left defender, who would go to Manchester United with Louis van Gaal after the World Cup, sent a superb cross that found Arjen Robben between Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué. Robben’s touch was as smooth as silk, and after beating Piqué, he finished clinically beyond Casillas. Although they had only taken four shots before to this, the Netherlands was now in the lead.
You can see how the anticipated goals race chart nicely demonstrates how the tide turned in favor of the Dutch at this time in the game. Oranje scored three times in a lopsided victory after just 20 minutes of play, despite having numerous decent scoring opportunities. Van Gaal’s squad was full of self-assurance after taking an unexpected and, in some ways, undeserved 2-1 lead.
The x-G race results show Spain in first place, followed by the Netherlands in the fifth.
Not long after Robben’s goal, Van Persie’s amazing right-footed half-volley sailed over the crossbar, but the next Dutch goal was just a matter of time. In the next 64 minutes, the third goal was scored. Wesley Sneijder, playing in his 100th game for the Dutch National Team, took a free kick and flicked it toward the back post, where Stefan de Vrij met it and bundled it over the line. A major relief for Louis van Gaal, who had faith in the 22-year-old who was then playing for Feyenoord, De Vrij scored his first international goal.
Spain squandered not just their 1-0 lead but also their momentum and confidence in a couple of minutes. Sneijder said after the game that the Dutch could keep playing whereas the Spanish were completely spent. Iker Casillas’s costly mistake for the Netherlands’ fourth goal might have been due to mental fatigue as much as physical weariness. The game was settled in the 72nd minute by San Iker, who was Real Madrid’s backup goalkeeper in La Liga during the 2013–14 season. Van Persie, waiting in the wings, picked up Piqué’s sloppy first touch and pushed the ball over the goal line.
The cherry on top was yet to come, and Robben was going to be the one to give it. After the 2014 World Cup, Robben never again played at such a high level for the National Team. He made nine dribbling attempts, had three shots on goal, scored twice, and set up another two scoring opportunities against Spain. Robben later had 44 carries against Costa Rica, more than any other player at the 2014 World Cup, demonstrating how much he benefited from the freedom Van Gaal gave him.
Once again, Sneijder provided an assist on the fifth and final goal, which effectively ended Spain’s chances of coming back. Robben received a long ball from within his own half and immediately began to make a break toward Spain’s net. Robben had quite a lead on the field to make up, but he still managed to pass Sergio Ramos with a lung-busting sprint that was measured by FIFA at 37 kilometers per hour, which would have been a “world record” if it had been kept. It appeared like the race was far quicker than the average 31 kilometers per hour that were eventually determined. Robben ran circles around the Spanish defense, dribbled past Piqué and Casillas once inside the box, and then buried a ferocious shot into the top corner.
What then was the determining element in this unexpected outcome? A number of reasons might have contributed to this. While Spain’s passing style was successful for a large portion of the game, they ultimately lost. At the conclusion of the game, they had 64% of the ball.
If you look at the top 10 passers, you’ll see that the first nine are all Spanish players.
Most Spanish Passes compared. Dutch Passes 2014
If you just looked at the statistics of possession, you may think that the Netherlands was quite fortunate to have won the game against such a powerful team. However, implying that misses important details. It would be ignoring Van Gaal’s excellent counter-tactic, which maximized the value of Sneijder’s passing and Robben’s speed. Moreover, it wouldn’t take into account the measure of predicted outcomes. While the Netherlands scored 2.3 xG after halftime, Spain could only produce 0.3. They scored four more goals than expected, but isn’t it simply an indication of how well-tuned their goal scorers are?
Shot map for x-guns, Spain 1-5, Netherlands.
Spain was unable to recover from the devastating setback. Following two games, La Roja was eliminated after a 2-0 defeat to Chile on Match Day 2. Spain’s final group game was a 3-0 victory against Australia, and both Fernando Torres and David Villa scored for the team. Many in Spain now wish Vicente Del Bosque had started the first two games with both of these attackers instead of only Diego Costa. There’s no way for us to find out.
The Dutch maintained their strong play by winning the remaining two games in their group, beating Australia (3-2) and Chile (2-0). The Netherlands secured a spot in the last four with a late 2-1 victory over Mexico in the round of 16, and a 1-0 shootout victory over Costa Rica. There, the score was also 0-0 after regulation versus Messi’s Argentina, but the penalty shootout had little effect. In the tournament’s final game, Van Gaal and his team defeated the hosts, Brazil, 3-0.
The World Cup will be held in Qatar this winter, and there is a good possibility that you may feel like you’ve been there before. Again, Louis van Gaal will be the Dutch manager, and again, the Dutch will use a 5-3-2 configuration. 2014 saw the arrival of players like Jasper Cillessen, Stefan de Vrij, Daley Blind, and Memphis Depay. But this time, Robben, Van Persie, and Sneijder are not on the roster.
The current team has large shoes to fill, but anything can happen in the World Cup, as the Netherlands showed on that hot day in Salvador.