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Many tipped the Netherlands to crash out of the group, but they are in pole position to go through, while the defeat leaves Spain in a difficult situation.

The formations

Spain started in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Diego Costa was fit enough to start as the lone striker, and Azpilicueta started as the left full-back.

The Netherlands started in a 5-3-2 formation, with Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie as the two strikers. Wesley Sneijder was the third creative player in the side.

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Spanish attacks

Spain have started with Iniesta and David Silva as the two wingers. Both of them moved inside when Spain had the ball, in which case the full-backs pushed up.

The Dutch played with three central defenders, and two holding midfielders. Their playmaker - Sneijder - marked Busquets, which left de Jong and de Guzmán to mark Xavi and Xabi Alonso. Martins Indi and de Vrij stepped up to either Silva or Iniesta if they tucked in. This was a very risky strategy, because a channel opened in the defence when one of the aforementioned players stepped up. It was the job of de Guzmán and de Jong to prevent balls being played into the space in these cases. De Guzmán had a poor game; he gave the ball away under pressure twice in the first half, and made two mistakes while covering for a defender. It was not surprising that Wijnaldum came on in the 62nd minute, and I am curious to see which of them will start against Chile.

 

De Vrij confronts the player in possession, de Guzmán doesn't close the channel behind him. Source: BBC

Seconds before the Spanish penalty: Martins Indi tries to close down Silva, leaving Xavi alone. De Guzmán doesn't close down the channel left open by the defender.
Source: BBC

The defensive orgaisation of the Dutch team.
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Robben and van Persie had different tasks from their team-mates while defending. They had to mark passing channels to the full-backs from the middle; this way the Dutch prevented Azpilicueta and Jordi Alba from taking on the Dutch wing-backs one-on-one. Daley Blind is not the quickest player in the world, so giving him this kind of protection was crucial.

Dutch attacks on the wings 

The Dutch used the wings very intelligently in attack. When Azpilicueta closed down Blind, van Persie drifted into the space behind the Spanish full-back. Blind joined the attack with a bit of delay - rarely pushing ahead of the ball - or stopped a few meters away from Azpilicueta in order to give himself a bit of time in possession.

Source: BBC

The lack of aggressive pressing from Spain

 It was strange to see that Spain didn't press the Dutch more. Even though the Dutch outnumbered them in the build-up, the Spanish could have put more pressure on their opponents in certain situations. They could have pressed when the ball was lost, and then drop - in the vein of the 6 second rule of Barca - or they could have used pressing traps. Pressing traps mean giving your opponent time and space in order to make him play into an area were you can win back the ball easily. An obvious solution would have been to make the Dutch pass to the wing-back in a deep position, where it is easy to close down the angles. Ghana have done this in their friendly against the Dutch pretty successfully.

Long balls

The Dutch have played plenty of long balls from deep positions. Robben outpaced the Spanish defenders time and again, while van Persie relied on his aerial ability. Playing long balls was a great idea, it would have been very hard to penetrate through the Spanish midfield on the ground. Going long and surpassing the midfield is a great approach - if you have the players to do so - and if you are superior when you defend.

The poblem with long balls is that you are goig to loose the ball to the opposition quite a lot. The impressive defending of the Dutch was integral to carrying out their game plan successfully. If they were unable to win back possession after unsuccessful long balls, the whole approach would have been counter-productive.

Blind assists van Persie for the Dutch equaliser. Both wing-backs have plenty of space.
Source:BBC

Conclusion

The Dutch have interpreted their formation excellently and adapted their attacking play not only to make the most of the talents of their own players, but to exploit the weaknesses of the opposition as well. The Dutch central defenders closed down the Spanish inside wingers one-on-one, while Busquets was largely marked out of the game. The Dutch made the most of their attacking talent by getting the ball to Robben and van Persie quickly, letting them exploit the space behind the Spanish defense.

 

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