The defending champions started strong, but mistakes mired their second half and the Dutch made them pay in historic fashion.
Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie both scored twice, including a spectacular diving header from the Manchester United striker, and the Dutch shocked Spain 5-1 in the Group B opener.
The five goals marked two dubious milestones. It was the most goals conceded by a World Cup champion in their opening match of the following campaign, and it was the most goals Spain had allowed in a World Cup match since 1950.
A rematch of the final four years ago, the match initially looked as if it would repeat that match in both style and scoreline, but things began to open up, and the floodgates couldn’t hold the Dutch back.
Spain, beginning the game with much of the possession, finally broke through when Diego Costa – amid boos in his home country – went down softly under a challenge from Stefan de Vrij, and Xabi Alonso slotted home the penalty for a 1-0 lead under a half-hour.
However, it would all come crumbling down piece by piece for the defending champions.
Just before halftime, van Persie equalized the scoreline by bagging a clubhouse leader for goal of the tournament. Daley Blind ripped in a long ball from deep in the midfield, and it found the Manchester United striker who soared through the air and finished a diving header that looped over Iker Casillas.
Xabi Alonso gave the ball away in the midfield, and Blind sent in his second brilliant ball to catch a streaking Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich winger settled incredibly, cutting back past Sergio Ramos and pulling the trigger past Iker Casillas for a 2-1 lead that was just the beginning.
It was slight vindication for Robben, who bungled a wonderful chance to win the World Cup four years ago, with Casillas in goal then as well.
Another brilliant piece of Dutch skill reared its head eight minutes later, when Robben burst through the midfield, cut it back for Daryl Janmaat, and the midfielder touched perfectly to van Persie whose volley rocketed the bar.
Diego Costa could have been sent off for a headbutt of Bruno Martins Indi in a corner-kick scrum, but the Italian referee didn’t see the incident and just warned the pair.
Spain thought they’d brought one back in the 67th minute when Silva headed one past Jasper Cillessen on a rebound, but he was offside on the original attempt as Cillessen saved Pedro’s header.
Then, the floodgates opened. Defender Stefan de Vrij picked up a surprising debut international goal in the 64th minute when van Persie clattered Casillas on a corner, and the ball fell to the young defender at the back post for an easy touch and goal. The goalkeeper was surprised not to see a foul called, as referees have protected goalkeepers constantly the past few years, but he was at fault for getting sucked forward on the corner.
Van Persie then grabbed his brace eight minutes later as Casillas again made a mistake, touching heavy and handing the ball right to the striker, and the Dutchman easily slid past the keeper for an open net finish and a 4-1 lead.
The scoring was capped when Robben picked up his second with 10 minutes to go, and the embarrassment was complete.
Casillas finally stopped something in front of goal, although too little too late, as the 87th minute saw both Robben and substitute Georginio Wijnaldum saw cracking blasts stopped by the Spanish keeper.
The five goals allowed by Spain were more than they allowed all of European qualification for the event.
One note will keep Spain fans hoping – they also lost their opening match of the 2010 World Cup, although the scoreline was just 1-0 to Switzerland. The Swiss didn’t make it out of that group.
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]
Spain: Casillas; Pique, Ramos, Alba, Azpilicueta; Xavi, Alonso (Pedro 63′), Busquets; Silva (Fabregas 78′), Iniesta; Costa (Torres, 63′).
Goals: Alonso (pen) 27′
Netherlands: Cillessen; Martins Indi, Vlaar, Blind, de Vrij (Veltman 77′); Janmaat, De Jong, De Guzman (Wijnaldum 62′); Sneijder, Robben, van Persie (Lens 79′).
Goals: van Persie 44′, 72′; Robben 52′, 80′; de Vrij 64′