Spain entered the 2014 World Cup as reigning champions, and two-time European champions, having conquered all before them, to become the first team to win three major tournaments on the bounce.
But, as happened with Argentina at the 1990 World Cup and France at the 2002 World Cup, their very first game of the tournament would be their undoing, setting the tone for the remainder.
Still amongst the pre-tournament favourites, albeit not as favoured as Germany, Argentina or hosts Brazil, it was the beginning of the end of Spain’s golden generation.
Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, all so key in Spain’s recent success, were on the wrong side of 30, and teams were becoming wiser to the tiki-taka style that had served them so well.
That said, they were still odds-on favourites to beat what was by no means a vintage Dutch team. Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persion were all 30 years old, and the inexperienced back line left lots to be desired. As the tournament wore on, there were complaints in some quarters of Louis van Gaal adopting a catenaccio style, whereas he’d argue he didn’t have the players to play any other way.
Four years after they met in the fiery 2010 final, Spain and the Netherlands would meet in their opening game of the World Cup.
The Netherlands started the brighter, with the lively Robben feeding Sneijder through, forcing a smart save from Iker Casillas. Then, after the early scare, Diego Costa was brought down in the area, with Alonso scoring from 12 yards to give Spain the lead.
Nobody could’ve predicted at that point how the game would finish.
An ingenious ball by Iniesta to David Silva should’ve seen the world champions double their lead, with Silva’s chip unable to beat Jasper Cillesen.
Then, out of nowhere, Daley Blind picked out Van Persie, who scored perhaps the most memorable header in World Cup history, to send the sides in level at half time.
Then it happened. Spain would concede four goals in less than half an hour. The previously unbeatable Spaniards, who conceded two goals in the entirety of the 2010 World Cup, would come totally unstuck.
A moment of class from Robben saw the Netherlands take the lead after 53 minutes, before more brilliant counter-attacking football saw Van Persie rattle the crossbar with a fearsome right-footed strike.
Stefan de Vrij, having given the penalty away in the first half, found himself free at the back post to bundle in a third and leave Spain with it all to do, and after 72 minutes, a shocking touch by Casillas presented Van Persie with a gift, sliding into an open goal.
The world champions losing this game would’ve been a shock. Losing and conceding four felt impossible.
And it would get worse yet.
Another perfect counter-attack, which had tormented Spain all afternoon, with Robben running from his own half to score a fifth. From delight, to delirium, to disbelief.
And it could’ve been six, with Gini Wijnaldum having a shot beaten away, before Robben came close to a hat-trick before Casillas came up with the goods once more.
Spain were beaten 5-1, with things getting no better in their next game. With the Netherlands beating Australia 3-2, a Chilean win would see Spain eilimated after just two games of the tournament.
And that’s precisely what happened, as Jorge Sampaoli’s men won 2-0.
The world champions, dethroned after 180 minutes played, and seven goals conceded.