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Double Dutch – 74/78

June 16th, 2006 by · No Comments · Armchair Fan, Football

During the run-up to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, Cruyff, still in his prime, shocked the football world by refusing to travel to the finals. Although he stated that he didn’t want to spend time away from his family most people assumed it was the result of a fall-out with his team mates. Even during the 74 finals there were public rows amongst the squad. Some of the problems were financial, Cruyff refused to wear the team kit and stuck to his Adidas sponsored outfits, but many saw the Dutch tendency towards egotism as the main reason.

Whatever the truth behind their problems Holland, despite being without their talisman and captain, were still the most complete and complex team on the world stage. The tournament itself matched them for intrigue. The military dictatorship which ran the country saw, like many before them, the opportunity for sport to deflect the population from the problems that beset the country. But only if they could win it.

The Generals made sure they had the cards stacked in their favour. Rumours of overwhelming pressure on referees, carefully arranged group draws and even intimidation of opponents were rife. In the semi-final against Argentina Brazilian midfielder Leonardo became incapacitated after accepting a drink from the Argentine bench during a break in play. He later claimed the water bottle offered by the opposition trainer was drugged.

Argentina’s game against Peru, for a place in the final, was scheduled for 3 hours after Brazil’s match, who could also qualify. Knowing that they had to beat Peru by four goals Argentina were only winning 2-0 at half time. Peru, with an Argentine born goalkeeper who was letting in an average of 1 per game, conveniently collapsed and let in another four in the second half.

Played in the awesome Estadio Monumental in front of nearly 80,000 Argentines whipped in to frenzy by the Generals the Dutch were going to have to do it the hard way. Mario Kempes put the hosts ahead in the 38th minute, but Dick Nanninga equalised for the Dutch with just eight minutes left. In extra time Rob Rensenbrink slid in to take the lead but missed by a fraction of an inch. It was Kempes again, after 105 minutes, who scored to give the hosts the lead. As the Dutch went for broke Daniel Bertoni scored Argentina’s third on 116 minutes. The already hysterical crowd went bananas. Holland wouldn’t qualify for another World Cup until 1990.

Although many neutral fans felt for the Dutch, including me, there was also the feeling that they did it to themselves. Having adopted Holland in 74 and 78 as my team of the tournament, partly because England had failed to qualify for both tournaments, partly the shirts, I was gutted for them. If they had just finished the Germans off instead of toying with them, if only Cruyff had put his ego aside and travlled to Argentina, if only the best team I’ve ever seen had at least one international trophy.

Then again, maybe the way it turned out was just perfect. We loved the Dutch team of the 70s precisely because they played a beautiful, fluid, game that was breathtaking to experience and they played with a lack of fear because the result was always secondary to their perverse love of the spectacle.

Brilliant Orange.

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