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On the back of an astounding result which saw Netherlands trash Spain 1-5, Goal's Brendon Netto explains why the win was no accident.

     BY BRENDON NETTO     Follow @BrendonNetto

On just day two of the 2014 World Cup, Netherlandsproduced one of the most memorable and staggering results in the history of the tournament by humiliating defending champions Spain 5-1. However, it was no freak accident. No, it’s something that’s been in the works for months.

Louis Van Gaal dedicated his preparation with the Dutch national team to devising a plan that would undo the World and European champions. What transpired on Friday night was a direct result of months of preparation, hard work and tactical excellence.

Spain’s weaknesses are well documented but the challenge lies in exploiting them whilst also resisting their threat. Netherlands were intelligent and able to expose their vulnerability to the counter-attack and their reliance on playing a high defensive line.

The Spaniards dominated early on, pinning their opponents inside their own half. Diego Costa won them a dubious penalty which Xabi Alonso took full advantage of to put them in the lead. However, the Dutch used Arjen Robben excellently as an outlet and managed to get up the pitch more often.

Van Persie's moment of brilliance sparked a Dutch comeback

Their wing-backs became more involved in attacks and they began testing the Spanish offside trap with balls played over the top of the defense. Despite initially proving unsuccessful, the equalizer came from the very same ploy coupled with a bit of magic from their captain and talisman, Robin van Persie.

The left wing-back Daley Blind played a diagonal ball over the top for the Manchester United striker who darted past Sergio Ramos into space. Van Persie then took everyone by surprise, including Iker Casillas, as he got under the ball and headed it first-time over the Real Madrid keeper and into the net. The idea was genius, the execution, pure class.

In the second half, the 5-3-2 system began to prove even more fruitful for Oranje. The formation ensured that the marauding runs of Spain’s full-backs were tracked by the Dutch wing-backs who were also useful in attack.

"All credit to the coach. This is his tactic. He already predicted how the match would go. Incredible."

- Robin van Persie

With the full-backs pushing forward, Spain’s center-backs were left exposed when possession turned over. Netherlands were able to take advantage of those situations because the presence of Van Persie and Robben upfront and Wesley Sneijder in behind, allowed them to go from back to front quickly.

They were set-up perfectly by Van Gaal to soak up Spain’s pressure and then expose their high-line and shaky defense on the break. Crucially, the Dutch tactician chose to go with experience in attack rather than only prioritizing pace and that was an important call.

Given that they were playing on the break, many would be tempted to pack the attack with pace. While, Robben is incredibly quick, Van Persie and Sneijder aren’t equally blessed in that regard. There are faster attackers in the Netherlands squad like Jeremain Lens, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay.

But you need to take your chances against Spain and Van Gaal appreciates the composure his experienced attack brings in front of goal. Hence naming Van Persie and Robben as the only two untouchables in his squad. That was not only epitomized by Van Persie’s equalizer but also in the way Robben took his chances.

Another good delivery from Blind was controlled by the Bayern Munich winger, shifted onto his favourite left foot, nudged further away from the defender and finally slotted into the net to give his team the lead.

Composure and lethal finishing in attack was key

For the fifth goal, Robben broke away on the counter and made Ramos of all people look slow by beating him in a foot race despite conceding a couple of yards to begin with. When he was greeted by Casillas just inside the box, he didn’t try to poke it past him and hope for the best. Instead, he kept the ball, maneuvered inside and found space to thump his effort into the top corner.

Spain’s defense was also exposed by their woeful zonal marking when Sneijder’s excellent free-kick found Stefan de Vrij at the back post although Van Persie appeared to obstruct Casillas on that occasion. The Spanish skipper had a terrible night which was encapsulated in his error that allowed Van Persie to pounce for the fourth goal.

The 5-3-2 formation wasn’t without its flaws though as the three-man central defense was undone on a couple of occasions by Spain’s runners from midfield, although they weren’t able to finish. Nevertheless, the Dutch got their reward for devoting themselves to learning an entirely new system primarily to beat Spain.

In stark contrast, Vincent del Bosque’s men play the same way against everyone they face, with virtually no plan B. When does that attitude go from being confident and assured to just plain ignorant?

We’ll be raving about this tactical masterclass from Van Gaal for years. He had a plan and his players delivered. In fact, they perhaps should have scored even more. The only question now is - what’s his plan for the rest of the tournament?

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What do you make of Netherlands' tactics? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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