This was probably the most eagerly awaited game of the first round of the World Cup: a rematch of the last final in Johannesburg in 2010, the holders against the beaten finalists. I had predicted a 1-1 draw.
I was half right.
This match felt like the end of an era. Spain, in case you didn’t know, are both reigning European and World champions, but seem to have gone the way of their most vaunted club team, Barcelona, who won nothing this year and, it is generally believed, have had their ‘tiki-taka’ system found out by other teams.
That other team was Holland last night and, despite going a goal behind to a (now that I’ve seen it on reply) controversial penalty, the Dutch shocked pretty much everyone in the world by putting five past the Spaniards and, with a game against impressive Chile in the next round, leave the holders in very real danger of being the first defending champions to be on the first plane home….well, Italy in the last World Cup, actually!
This may be a sight we don’t see for much longer at the Cup…
I had managed to pick up a Category 1, (ie most expensive, $175US), ticket for this game, and within 15-minutes, despite expecting a dull, close game, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.
And then Robin Van Persie scored one of the greatest goals ever, directly in front of my front row seat, arching his body like a football-playing cat who is really good at headers over Iker Casillas, until last night generally considered one of if not the best keeper in the world.
More goals followed, including a howler from Casillas, before Arjen Robben, (one of my least favourite players in the world for his belief that he is apparently never ever tackled, only fouled, and who spent the first 90-seconds and much of the rest of the match seeing how much time he could spend rolling around on the floor and complaining), scored yet another of the greatest World Cup goals ever, somewhat reminiscent of Ricky Villa’s legendary dribble at Wembley in 1981.
And the crazy thing is, it could have been six or seven, although Spanish fans grasping for some straw of comfort could well point to an appalling refereeing decision for the Dutch third goal, when Van Persie assaulted the goalkeeper, getting nowhere near the ball, allowing teammate Stefan de Vrij to score at the back post. The night before, a Croatian player jumping for the ball, winning it, and not touching the goalkeeper had been penalised and a goal chalked off.
At the final whistle most fans, (neutrals, Dutch, and even shell-shocked Spaniards), didn’t want to leave the historic site, Salvador’s gorgeous and gleaming Arena Fonte Nova, (although the toilets left a lot to be desired).
Another strange side-note was the abuse aimed throughout the match at Brazilian-born Spain and Atlético Madrid player Diego Costa, who was treated to chants questioning his sexuality by the locals in the crowd, even after he had been substituted.
Photos were taken, as were stacks of dozens of cups from sponsors Budweiser (allegedly a beer manufacturer), Coca-Cola and local beer Brahma, the latter featuring gorgeous designs and the teams and date colourfully printed on them.
Naturally, this is my new addiction…
The party moved to Pelourinho, the gorgeous cobbled colonial Historic Centre of town, incredibly well policed for the 30-minute stroll from stadium to street music, and Spanish, Dutch and Other mixed until the small hours, dancing, drinking, taking photos, waiting two hours for meals, and generally loving life.
The rest of the games have a lot to live up to…