Be it 1974, 1978 or the recently concluded 2010 World cup, there is one extremely talented and perhaps unlucky footballing nation that is yet to win the most coveted trophy in world football. By winning the World cup, Champions Spain shed the “Perennial Underachievers” tag and passed it on to the Clockwork Oranje. How is it that a nation of highly talented, world class players has time and again failed to win the ultimate trophy in sport? After all, the men in Orange can boast of legends like Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Johan Neeskens, and Edwin Van Der Sar to name a few. Needless to say, these players were not only some of the most skillful players in football history, but were also very influential figures on the pitch. It is hard to imagine how a Nation which hosts a great youth academy has managed to get beaten thrice in the final of a World Cup.
The word “Total football” was introduced to the world of football by the legendary Netherlands side of the 1970s. They had the then “Greatest Player” in the world Johan Cryuff at their disposal. The side was lead by the master ,Rinus Michels and they went a long way and reached the final, eventually to be beaten by the typical Germans. The men from Holland were arguably the best team in the 1974 World cup. They played football in the way it is meant to be. They were arrogant, confident, skillful, powerful, and stylish and to sum it up, they were Stupendous. Their goal in the final came in the very 2nd minute which was constructed by a beautiful 13-pass move which ended up at the feet of Cruyff, who earned them a penalty which was duly converted by another main man Johan Neeskens. Ultimately, all the style, the arrogance, the finesse didn’t matter as they were beaten by an extremely spirited German side led by another footballing legend and arguably the greatest defender ever, Franz Beckenbauer.
Fast forward 4 years, the Oranje suffered the same fate, and this time it was the Argentinians who defeated them in the final, in extra time. There was no doubt that the Dutch were the masters in skilful and stylish football but that wasn’t enough for them to do what was required in the final yet again this year. Although the Spaniards enjoyed a lot of possession in the 2010 World cup final, the Dutch were the ones who created more chances and also collected more cards in the process. Great chances were presented before Robben, Van Persie and co. but they failed to convert those opportunities into goals. Robben also had the best chance of the game but he failed to beat the Iker Casillas. Even in the recently concluded final, the Dutch created more chances than the Spaniards and played breath-taking football at times. But once again, that wasn’t enough as Iniesta scored the goal of his life in extra time to give Spain their first touch on the Golden trophy.
Sniejder goal against Italy
The greatest night for Dutch football came on the night of June 25 in 1988 at Munich in Germany. The men in orange had entered yet another major final beating the usual suspects England and West Germany in the Round Robin and Semi-Finals respectively. Yet again, the master Rinus Michels was at the helm of management and yet again the Dutch played beautiful, brilliant and “Total Football”. The difference this time was that they combined their philosophy of total football with a winning formula. The semi-final witnessed one of the most hard-fought matches in the history of Euros with many calling this a re-match of the 1974 World Cup final. Germans took the lead through a penalty which was then canceled out by a penalty by the Dutch. In the 89th minute, a legend was born in Marco Van Basten when he scored the winner to send the germans packing. A sure case of Deja Vu, but in the opposite direction this time. It was another appearance in the final and people were expecting the Dutch to go on and win but many suspected their usual final jinx would be repeated. But, the dutch were confident, brilliant and most importantly, level headed to go on and win the final comfortably with a 2-0 scoreline; a sensational volley by the man-of-the-tournament Marco Van Basten added the icing on the cake.
Luck(Or the lack of it)
When it comes to sport, winning tournaments involves hard work, talent and attitude. But some times, everything goes for a toss if you have things going against you, if you are not lucky enough. On the other hand, if lady luck is smiling on you, things are won much more easily. The Dutch, perhaps, suffer from a lack of luck at crucial times. Back in 1974, they were dominant throughout the tournament including the final but fortune didn’t favor them, as the referee favoured the home side. The Germans were tough and sometimes reckless in the tackle, yet the referee ignored this and the Germans were able to lift their second World Cup, after a spirited second half performance by the Germans. Joao Havelange, the former FIFA President also stated that the 1974 World Cup was fixed which raised even more doubts in the press about the final. But these statements were later dismissed by FIFA saying that it was just speculation and publicity gimmick created by the Brazilian.
In the 78 World Cup, the dutch came back from a goal behind to square things up in the 82nd minute. Eight minutes later, a thunderous shot from Rensenbrink hit the Argentinian post to deny the Dutch the greatest night in their history. The rest is history as the Argentinians went on to win in extra time with goals from Kempes and Bertoni. Yet again, luck had shied away from the Dutch and left tears in the Oranje eyes.
Back in 2008, the Dutch participated in the Euros and were put up in the group of death featuring the 2006 World Cup finalists Italy and France. Again, they were impressive and demolished the Italians in the opener with a sensational 3-0 scoreline. They beat the French 4-1 in their second match and booked a place in the quarter-finals. They also beat Romania and topped the group. After their heroics in the group stages, they came up against the impressive Russians in the quarter finals led by an inspired Arshavin. The Russians took the lead through Pavlychenko which was canceled out late in the 86th minute by Van Nistelrooy. The Russians were lucky enough not to be reduced to ten men when their defender Kolodin fouled Sneijder and got sent off only for the referee to reverse his decision. No doubt that the Russians were the better team throughout the match, but a ten man Russian side would certainly have helped the tiring Dutch side. But, it wasn’t to be the case as the Oranje bowed out to the team managed by Guus Hiddink.
In the latest version of the World Cup, the Dutch were the only unbeaten side when they entered the final. In the 115th minute, the Dutch had a free-kick which was taken by Sneijder and clearly hit the back of Fabregas and went behind Iker Casillas’s goal line for a corner kick. But referee Howard Webb awarded the Spaniards a goal kick much to the fury of the Dutch. The same goal kick led to the eventual winner in the following minute when the man who had deflected the free-kick assisted the eventual Man-of-the-Match Iniesta. Yet another crucial decision went against the Netherlands in the final.
All Offense, No Defense
The men from Holland always play attacking football, but sometimes, it can take a toll on the overall structure and the balance of the team and ultimately hamper the defensive capabilities. When it comes to Defensive football, the Italians are the undisputed master of the art. The Spanish have learned the art off late from the Italians and are thus the reigning European and World champions. The Spanish who themselves had been following an all-offence-no-defence approach tightened the strings at the back and wrote themselves in the history books.
The problem with the Dutch is not the lack of good quality defenders, but those defenders’ lack of world-class exposure. Players like Heitinga and Mathijsen are good players but they don’t play at the highest level with their clubs which is extremely important when it comes to intense matches like the Final of a World cup. They also have two brilliant defensive midfielders in De Jong and Van Bommel. Although the former is a controversial figure and known for roughing up the opposition, he is a very handy player most of the times, winning the ball for his team. The latter is the captain of Bayern Munich and an influential figure for the Dutch as well. So, they are covered well in the defensive part of midfield. In terms of the goalkeeping, they have an able replacement for Van Der Sar in Stekelenburg but he is yet to hit the heights of his predecessor in terms of consistency, although he did perform admirably in the Final. So, the Oranje need to find world-class defenders and find the right balance if they are to win a major trophy in the near future.
Post the World cup, the Dutch have made a flying start in their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with 4 wins out of 4. This proves yet again that they are a brilliant but not a complete side and if they aspire to become one they have to find the right balance between defence and attack. Add to that, they could certainly use some luck as they continue to strive for an elusive World Cup trophy. The Oranje surely deserve to have the World cup in their trophy cabinet and another Euro in 2012 won’t do any harm either.
Here’s hoping that the Dutch can repeat what their under-achieving predecessors, the Spaniards, did and give their nation some joy that it most definitely deserves.