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′

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: