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Is “Total Football” back? Analyzing Spain 1 vs Netherlands 5

When the Netherlands 1974 World Cup coach Rinus Michels coined the term “Total Football” the footballing world sat and watched in awe as the Dutch played their way to two World Cup Finals in 1974 and 1978 only to be denied victory both times.

In 2010 the Dutch adopted a new style that involved a lot less flare and beauty and more kicking and violence. They deservedly lost the 2010 World Cup (their third World Cup Final loss) to the tiki-taka machine that is Spain. Tonight in Salvador, Brazil the world may have witnessed the reboot of Dutch “Total Football”.

At first it looked like Spain would start off their World Cup defense, hitting the ground running as Diego Costa was brought down in the box in the 26th minute. Xavi Alonso made no mistake and calmly slotted the ball home from the penalty spot to give Spain a 1-0 lead. For a while it seemed tiki-taka was still just as effective as Spain enjoyed close to 70% possession and it looked like they had a hold on the game.

This all changed when Daley Blind produced a masterful long ball from the half way line to find the head of a ready Robin Van Persie. Robin made no mistake and his headed effort was nothing short of amazing as the ball sailed into the top right corner of the net. Just like that, right before halftime the Dutch were back in the game.

Robin Van Persie celebrates with manager Louis Van Gaal after scoring his first goal. Photo Courtesy of:
Robin Van Persie celebrates with manager Louis Van Gaal after scoring his first goal.
Photo Courtesy of:

I don’t know if it was the chip on their shoulder from South Africa or a new footballing mentality, but the Dutch team that came out at half time produced a football masterclass. It took just eight minutes into the second half for the Dutch to take the lead.

Again it was Blind who delivered yet another great ball, this time to Arjen Robben who expertly brought the ball down and with a quick move to the left, moved the ball just out of reach from approaching Spain centre back Gerard Pique. With a bit of luck from a minor deflection Robben’s shot sailed into the back of the net. Robben’s touch and movement in the final third brought back Dutch memories of players who need no introduction like Johan Cruyff.

It didn’t take long before the Dutch scored a third shortly after. One of Holland’s center backs, Stefan de Vrij was the final player on the end of a corner that had barely flown over Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas. De Vrij controversially put the ball into the back of the net to add to the Dutch’s lead.

Casillas complained immediately after as he felt he had been fouled midair by Robin Van Persie when both players leaped to get a hand/head on the ball. The referee however would have known of it and instead brandished a yellow card to the Spanish goalie. Spain’s players were left stunned and it was evident by their play that they never truly recovered from that goal.

Though Spain never recovered from that third goal, take no credit away from the Dutch as throughout the rest of the second half they ran riot over the Spanish defense. The game might have ended eight or even nine one if Holland had taken all of their chances.

Holland’s fourth goal of the game again came from their centre forward Robin Van Persie who pounced on a terrible goalkeeper error from Casillas to slot the ball into the back of the net and send  the Dutch supporters into a frenzy.

Holland’s final goal came in the 80th minute when Arjen Robben grabbed his brace, after having outpaced Sergio Ramos in the sprint for a long through ball, and then with ease dribbled past the goalkeeper and hammered home Holland’s fifth goal past the two Spanish defenders helplessly waiting on the line.

Arjen Robben fires in his first goal of the night. Photo Courtesy of:
Arjen Robben fires in his first goal of the night.
Photo Courtesy of:

In the second half of the game Holland never seemed off beat. Everything flowed perfectly for the Dutch. Daley Blind, Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij managed the defense excellently and provided beautiful balls to the forwards. Arjen Robben (the man of the match in my opinion) was simply flawless. He dribbled past every defender, midfielder and his finishing was on par with that of a world-class striker. Just like Robben, Robin Van Persie did everything that was required of him in today’s game and more. The first Van Persie goal will almost definitely be in contention for goal of tournament.

Robin is so good he expected Blind’s ball and knew exactly where it would land. Many forwards might have brought it down with their chest or foot but Van Persie had the confidence to produce a wonderful header that Iker Casillas had no chance of saving.

Though it is too early to say for sure, but the way the Dutch destroyed the reigning world champions made everyone wonder what the Dutch are capable of in Brazil. Could the world be witnessing the return of “Total Football” and will the Dutch continue to play at this level against both Chile and Australia. Anything is possible and everyone who had written off the Dutch may need to think twice about their predictions before Holland’s next match.

2 thoughts on “Is “Total Football” back? Analyzing Spain 1 vs Netherlands 5 Leave a comment

  1. I don’t really agree with the idea that “Total Football” is returning. Sure, the Dutch produced a masterclass and comprehensively battered Spain, but it wasn’t quite the return of “Total Football”. “Total Football” was a term used to describe a free flowing style of football where players had to be adept at basically all positions on the pitch so they could freely replace the position of another player when that player moved position to benefit the team; it was a style where each and every player had the freedom to play how/where they like, but also had to be mindful where their teammates were on the pitch.

    That being said, LVG has instigated a pragmatic and ruthlessly effective style of play that perfectly countered the Spanish tiki-taka. While this may not be “Total Football”, it still was a pretty much faultless performance from LVG’s team. It’ll be interesting to see if LVG uses this technique whilst at Man U…


    • Hello Milo, though I believe it is too early to tell whether the Dutch will continue this style of play, I felt that there was a lot of freedom for players to move around in. For example, if we examine Holland’s left back Daley Blind’s performance we see that he was playing a lot more attack minded football. At almost every chance he got he moved forward and looked to create space for the forwards. He did his job excellently defensively whilst at the same time providing two very important assists to Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie.
      Van Gaal’s tactics worked perfectly in shutting down Spain’s tiki-taka but I also felt that at the same time the Dutch played very fluid football and a reason for this is the fact that players contributed to multiple aspects of the game at times.

      Thanks for your input Milo, I look forward to reading more of your comments.


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