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Robben and Robin run riot to destroy Spain's invincibility

HOW many times have Spain left the football world open-mouthed and disbelieving?

Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben celebrate last night's memorable win over the world champions
Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben celebrate last night's memorable win over the world champions

Time and time again. Last night they did it again. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and what an almighty crash the world champions suffered at the start of their title defence. New swathes of Amazon rainforest will be under threat with the amount of newsprint about to be devoured on obituaries over them because of this. Is this "the end"? Are Spain over? They are far too talented to be discarded, but the air of invincibility around them has been shattered. This was a painful, epic humiliation. Their defence was torn apart.

The Netherlands battered them. If there was an image which reflected this breathtaking night it was the great goalkeeper Iker Casillas scrambling and crawling hopelessly on the ground as Arjen Robben ran riot, enjoying himself as chief tormentor. Robben was brilliant. Robin van Persie too. Holland were dynamic and fresh and electrifying and the longer it went on, the better they looked. Spain seemed flat and tired.

They lost the opening game of the 2010 World Cup to Switzerland, but that was by 1-0, the sort of score which can happen to anyone on an off-day. This was a different matter entirely. If they continue to defend like they did last night their challenge will be getting out of the group, not winning a second World Cup. They face Chile on Wednesday.

This will be described by some as revenge for Holland after losing the 2010 final in Johannesburg. It could never be that - how can an opening group game ever equate to the greatest fixture of them all? - but they delivered one of the great results of their modern history and it was a glorious restoration of their reputation and pride. In the 2010 World Cup final Holland denigrated their heritage with a display of cynical brutality, booting and hoofing their way to nine bookings in the course of their defeat.

Their attacking last night was brilliant. They pulled Spain all over the place, shooting at will in the second half. After this, Manchester United's directors should be double-checking Louis van Gaal's new contract to ensure it is watertight. They will carry him into Old Trafford shoulder high if he promises vibrant football like this.

Nigel de Jong survived as a reminder of that ugly night four years ago but the Netherlands have taken a flamethrower to their previous squad (they lost all three group games at Euro 2012 too) and only Robben, Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder started last night having also started in Johannesburg. They are the stars of this Dutch team, of course. The diamonds.

They showed it, too, with four of the five goals. Van Persie's diving header was fantastic, Robben's touch and control to ram home the second was beautiful, Van Persie pickpocketed Casillas to score again and Robben blew Ramos away to burst through and score again.

This was supposed to be the new Spain. The team that has played with a false No.9 or no centre-forward at all now has one of the best around. Spain have not exactly struggled to win games over the past three major tournaments but having Diego Costa in attack gives them presence, strength, focus and brooding menace in attack.

He did not score last night, but they would not have scored without him. He "won" the penalty which Xabi Alonso scored to give Spain the opener and, as it turned out, their consolation.

But it was quickly clear that Costa will affect the atmosphere at every game Spain play in Brazil. They are such an admired set of players that there is always a cosy blanket of appreciation for them wherever they play, but not in Salvador last night, not when with the "traitor" Costa.

He is the guy who played for Brazil then blew them a raspberry and said he was deserting to play for someone else, just a year before the nation of his birth was hosting the World Cup.

His every touch was booed in the colourful Arena Fonte Nova last night and he will have to get used to that. It is odd, seeing the stylish percussion of Spain's passing gatecrashed by a cacophony of jeers.

The treatment Costa got only increased when he gave Bruno Martins Indi a little off-the-ball butt which should have earned a red card.

He was taken off after 62 minutes. Spain had a bench including David Villa, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla. At kick-off that fact was being trumpted as an illustration of their strength in depth. By the end those guys were being looked at anew, as the potential replacements who may be needed to save Spain.

They can recover, but this was a defeat which could have profound repercussions for them and for the competition. Instead of avoiding Brazil - on the assumption that both would live up to their seedings and win their groups - they now seem likely to face them in the last 16.

This fixture was the climax of the last World Cup, and it has been the ignition for this one.

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