Netherlands embarasses Spain 5-1 with thunderous second half

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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.

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This van Persie goal – their first – exemplified the beautiful play of the Dutch.

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 ]

LINEUPS:

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′

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.