EVEN by Robin van Persie’s standards, the Dutchman’s header that looped over a stranded Iker Casillas in the Spain goal was something very special.
“It was a great goal, I have to be fair,” Van Persie said after his stunning equaliser started the Netherlands’ 5-1 rout of the World Cup’s defending champions on Friday. “Considering the circumstances, it must be the goal of my career.”
It was also a historic one. By taking his tally to 45 goals for his country, the Manchester United forward also became the first Dutch player to score in three consecutive World Cups.
His special strike started with a pinpoint 40-yard pass from defender Daley Blind. Van Persie flung himself forward to meet it, sending his header sailing over a helpless Casillas, who could only watch as the ball flew into the back of the net.
“I saw Casillas standing a bit in front of the goal, so I decided to go for a loop,” Van Persie said. “It just could not have been more perfect. These kinds of goals are scored once in a lifetime.” The goal was up there with great Dutch goals of the past, such as Marco van Basten’s angled volley in the 1988 European Championship final against the Soviet Union and Dennis Bergkamp’s spectacular strike against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France.
With just a minute to go before half-time, the timing of Van Persie’s goal could not have been better. Moments earlier, David Silva had missed a great opportunity to make it 2-0 to Spain when his attempted chip in a one-on-one was blocked by Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.
Instead, Van Persie’s goal showed once again that teams who squander chances get punished.
Arjen Robben scored two wonderful goals in the second half, Van Persie scored his second of the afternoon and defender Stefan de Vrij added another. “We scored our goal at the perfect time, at the end of the first half,” Van Persie said.
“We also scored the second at the right time... it could have been six or seven the way we played.”
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque made a brutally honest assessment of the striker’s performance and the effort put in by the rest of the Dutch side. “Van Persie tore our defence apart,” he said. “They hammered us.”
Louis van Gaal’s team were understandably euphoric after the win that avenged, at least in part, their defeat by Spain in the 2010 World Cup final, but the coach stressed his players still have plenty of work to do, starting with the next game.
“We don’t have anything yet,” Van Gaal said. “We’ve made a pretty good start. If you beat Australia, then you’ve made a good start.”
The Dutch play Australia next, in Porto Alegre on 18 June; Spain take on Chile in Rio on the same day.
“We need to recover. We’re defending champions and two-time European champions,” Spain defender Gerard Pique said. “We have to go out and beat Chile.”
That might be easier said than done. While their thrashing was still soaking into the Spaniards, Chile beat Australia 3-1 in Cuiaba, scoring two early goals then hanging on as the Socceroos rallied.
But Vicente del Bosque’s team know how to recover from slow starts; they lost their first match in South Africa four years ago and went on to win the tournament.
“We have to be a team, that’s what made us world champions and two-time European champions and that’s what we need to remain,” said Fernando Torres, who came on as a second-half substitute with the score at 2-1, but could only watch helplessly as the Dutch scored three more goals at the other end.
“You can’t point fingers. We have to learn from our errors.”
Van Persie summed up the mood in the Dutch camp. “It’s only three points, that’s also the reality,” he said.
“But we have to enjoy it.”