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Ruthless Dutch rip shell-shocked Spain to shreds

By Neil Maidment

SALVADOR Brazil (Reuters) - A rampant Netherlands team inflicted a heaviest World Cup defeat on holders Spain in over 60 years with a dazzling 5-1 demolition on Friday that sent shockwaves through the tournament.

The Dutch were nothing but brutal in a tetchy 1-0 final defeat by the Spaniards four years ago, but they set out to disrupt the champions' possession game and blew them away with two goals each from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.

Only once before had Spain conceded five times in a World Cup game, in a 6-1 loss to hosts Brazil in 1950. The mauling was also the worst ever start for defending world champions.

"Spain were always going to come at us and we catch them on the counter. My players did it perfectly. It's far better than we ever expected," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal told reporters.

Dutch revenge looked unlikely when Spain, also 2008 and 2012 European champions, went ahead in the Group B clash with a 27th- minute Xabi Alonso penalty after Diego Costa was brought down.

With halftime approaching, David Silva spurned a chance to double Spain's lead with a cheeky chip that was pushed wide - a miss compounded by a spectacular Dutch equalizer seconds later.

Looking for quick balls over the top, captain Van Persie got between defenders Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba in the 44th minute to meet a searching Daley Blind cross with a powerful diving header that left goalkeeper Iker Casillas rooted to the spot.

A likely standout goal of the tournament, even Van Persie struggled to assume a modest demeanor after the game.

"Best goal of my career," he told reporters with a broad smile.

"It was a brilliant goal, even I have to say that. It was a bit of a gamble but I had spotted Casillas off his line before the cross came in."

GOAL GLUT

Most of Brazil's 12 host cities witnessed anti-World Cup demonstrations ahead of Thursday's opener, but as fans flooded to games and violent protests subsided on Friday a second-half Dutch goal glut ensured the day's headlines belonged to soccer.

Robben put the Netherlands ahead after 53 minutes, latching on to another excellent Blind lobbed pass before turning Gerard Pique and holding off Ramos to fire home.

Del Bosque reacted by swapping Alonso for the more attack-minded Pedro and Brazilian-born striker Costa, booed with every touch by the locals, went off for Fernando Torres.

The match opened up, but all in the Netherlands' favor.

Van Persie rattled the crossbar with a ferocious right-foot volley before Stefan de Vrij, whose tackle on Costa had led to the penalty, stole in at the back post to convert a free kick after Casillas was pressured by Van Persie.

It got worse for Spain as Van Persie added a fourth after taking advantage of a sloppy touch by Casillas to slot home in the 72nd minute, and the excellent Robben sent the disbelieving Dutch fans into raptures with a brilliant fifth eight minutes later.

The rapid forward, who had spurned a glorious chance to give the Netherlands their first world title four years ago after bearing down on Casillas, flew out of his half on to a through ball before toying with the Spanish rearguard and belting home.

"I can't find words to explain five goals," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.

"It is now a delicate situation for us which we will and try and overcome in our next game against Chile and then see what happens."

Del Bosque sat disconsolately in his dugout long after his squad had disappeared down the tunnel, perhaps pondering whether to shake-up a team packed with champions. On their way to winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Spain only conceded six goals in 19 games.

While defenders Pique and Ramos were run ragged, midfield maestros Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Alonso were overrun in the second half and Casillas had a night to forget.

For the Netherlands, a post-match lap of honor in front of their dancing orange-clad fans represented the perfect start in Brazil.

Ahead of facing Chile next Wednesday, Del Bosque will be left to take comfort from remembering Spain lost their opening match in 2010, 1-0 to Switzerland, before going on to lift the trophy.

(Additional reporting by Mark Gleeson and Iain Rogers; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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