MADRID (AP) — Football fans in Spain were in shock Saturday after watching the national team's 5-1 humiliation in its World Cup opener against the Netherlands.
It was Spain's worst defeat in 64 years and comes after "La Roja" — as the team is nicknamed after its red shirts — had dominated world soccer since 2008 with consecutive European Championships and a World Cup win in South Africa.
"Disaster," said leading newspaper El Pais on Saturday while El Mundo rated the performance a "Humiliation" and La Vanguardia called it "A failure."
City streets, accustomed to noisy celebrations after Spain wins, were eerily quiet after Friday's rout as fans filed silently out of bars.
Some refused to accept it meant the end of an era but others called for the coach to make radical changes.
"We now have to lift ourselves up, or at least to try and do so," said salesman Martin Valero, 25. "It's no big deal, last World Cup we also began with a defeat but went on to win," he said.
However, the first-game stumble in the 2010 World Cup was a 1-0 defeat against Switzerland in a meeting where Spain was dominant.
Coach Vicente del Bosque's side appeared to struggle in the humid heat of Salvador before collapsing altogether in the second half, with captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas looking disoriented after conceding repeatedly.
"It's evident there is exhaustion and fatigue there," said hotel worker Antonio Azcona, 46. "Del Bosque needs to allow new blood in and bench (Gerard) Pique, Xavi (Hernandez) and Casillas."
"La Roja is at the twilight of its best ever team," said football commentator Jose Samano in an opinion editorial in El Pais.
Many critics, who discussed the rout at length in late-night television debates, said Del Bosque had blundered by not training the squad in higher temperatures with greater humidity.
The Netherlands had been seen practicing vigorously on the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro while Spain had come from playing a friendly against El Salvador in Washington D.C.'s FedEx Stadium to set up camp in Curitiba, where temperatures are around 10 degrees Celsius less than in Salvador, the critics said.
Del Bosque now has until June 18 to address the squad's shortcomings before a must-win match against Chile in Group B.
"We must overcome the next test as athletes," Del Bosque said. "We cannot allow ourselves to sink, we need to look forward."
He said Spain was made up of professionals and "good kids who understand that, although we've been hurt by this defeat, there must not be any accusatory glances toward anyone."
The coach said he had witnessed "an uplifting conversation" in the dressing room which he described as "good for the team."
Del Bosque acknowledged he had been surprised by the Dutch attack.
"It's not normal, I can't find words," he said, adding that Spain had always managed its defense well, "but today we were weak."