Spanish mourn 'humiliation', Dutch delight
HAROLD HECKLE AND MARK GLEESON
Football fans in Spain were in shock on Saturday (local time) after watching the national team's 5-1 humiliation in its World Cup opener against the Netherlands.
It was Spain's worst defeat in 64 years and comes after "La Roja" - as the team is nicknamed after its red shirts - had dominated world football since 2008 with consecutive European Championships and a World Cup win in South Africa.
"Disaster," said leading newspaper El Pais on Saturday (local time) while El Mundo rated the performance a "Humiliation" and La Vanguardia called it "A failure."
City streets, accustomed to noisy celebrations after Spain wins, were eerily quiet after Friday's rout as fans filed silently out of bars.
Some refused to accept it meant the end of an era but others called for the coach to make radical changes.
"We now have to lift ourselves up, or at least to try and do so," said salesman Martin Valero, 25. "It's no big deal, last World Cup we also began with a defeat but went on to win," he said.
However, the first-game stumble in the 2010 World Cup was a 1-0 defeat against Switzerland in a meeting where Spain was dominant.
Coach Vicente del Bosque's side appeared to struggle in the humid heat of Salvador before collapsing altogether in the second half, with captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas looking disoriented after conceding repeatedly.
"It's evident there is exhaustion and fatigue there," said hotel worker Antonio Azcona, 46. "Del Bosque needs to allow new blood in and bench (Gerard) Pique, Xavi (Hernandez) and Casillas."
"La Roja is at the twilight of its best ever team," said football commentator Jose Samano in an opinion editorial in El Pais.
Many critics, who discussed the rout at length in late-night television debates, said Del Bosque had blundered by not training the squad in higher temperatures with greater humidity.
The Netherlands had been seen practicing vigorously on the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro while Spain had come from playing a friendly against El Salvador in Washington D.C.'s FedEx Stadium to set up camp in Curitiba, where temperatures are around 10 degrees Celsius less than in Salvador, the critics said.
Del Bosque now has until June 18 to address the squad's shortcomings before a must-win match against Chile in Group B.
"We must overcome the next test as athletes," Del Bosque said. "We cannot allow ourselves to sink, we need to look forward."
He said Spain was made up of professionals and "good kids who understand that, although we've been hurt by this defeat, there must not be any accusatory glances toward anyone."
The coach said he had witnessed "an uplifting conversation" in the dressing room which he described as "good for the team."
Del Bosque acknowledged he had been surprised by the Dutch attack.
"It's not normal, I can't find words," he said, adding that Spain had always managed its defense well, "but today we were weak."
Dutch delight screamed out from the pages of their newspapers as the country basked in the afterglow of a thrilling win over holders Spain.
"What a hero" wrote the Algemeen Dagblad, which ran an almost full-page picture of Arjen Robben, who scored twice in the 5-1 victory at the Fonte Nova arena at the start of Group B.
"A dream start," trumpeted De Telegraaf, adding that the result was revenge for the defeat by Spain in the 2010 final.
De Volkskrant also had the same lead headline, showing a flying Robin Van Persie scoring a remarkable headed first goal.
"Super sensation was written in Salvador according to the master plan of coach Louis van Gaal," said the paper.
"It was one of the most memorable matches in the team's World Cup history, even in the history of the tournament itself. It was hard to believe... but true."
The business daily NRC Handelsblad said Van Gaal had shown he had few equals for tactical acumen in engineering the win.
Algemeen Dagblad added that the unexpected victory was also a triumph for the Dutch league, whose clubs provided six of the starting lineup.
It pointed out that the five defenders - four from Dutch clubs - had 88 caps between them, far fewer than the 117 won by Spain fullback Sergio Ramos alone.
"Yet for all their inexperience, the (Dutch) defence did not put a foot wrong," the paper said.
Willem van Hanegem, who played in the Netherlands' 1974 World Cup final defeat by West Germany, said the Dutch proved Spain could be rolled over by putting pressure on them.
"(Gerard) Pique and Ramos had a really hard time and I found that great for our team," he wrote in a column.
- AP, Reuters
Who was the best player at the World Cup?