1974: Overconfident Dutch fall at the final hurdle

Holland was to meet Germany in the final, and a major party was planned at the Dutch team hotel on the eve of the game, in anticipation of victory. The final next day was a fiasco, as Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller cancelled out Johan Neeskens’ early penalty and Germany clinched its second title.

West Germany’s goalkeeper Sepp Maier holds on to the ball in front of Dutch forward Johan Cruyff as Franz Beckenbauer (left) looks on, in the World Cup final in Munich on July 7, 1974.   -  AFP

The Dutch national side had failed to match the prowess of its bigger European neighbours and its first appearances in the 1934 and 1938 meets were largely inconsequential. The nation, thus, gradually disappeared into football wilderness for a good 36 years.

In the early 1970s, Dutch League leader Ajax Amsterdam brought in the concept of Total Football, where any player (barring the goalkeeper) could play in any position in any part of the field. It worked wonderfully well for the team, three League titles and European success three years in a row from 1971 to 73 bearing testimony to the system’s effectiveness.

The national side, too, took a leaf out of Ajax’s book and was set to conquer the world, playing its own variety of Total Football. With unbelievable talents including the Feyenoord pairing of Wim Jansen and Rinus Israel and Ajax starlet Johan Neeskens and striker Piet Kezier, the team looked capable of trampling any opposition. But outshining them all in flair and fury was Johan Cruyff, playing for Barcelona then, after walking out of Ajax due to an argument over captaincy.

Host: West Germany

Teams: 16

Matches: 38

Goals: 97

Attendance: 18,65,762

Winner: West Germany

Golden Boot: Grzegorz Lato (POL) — 7 goals

Best Goalkeeper: Sepp Maier (GER)

Best Player: Johan Cruyff (NED)

The team’s first game in West Germany was against Uruguay in Hanover and Ajax striker Johnny Rep scored twice in a 2-0 win marred by persistent fouling by the South Americans.

In their second game, though, the Dutch were held goalless by the tough-tackling Swedes. But Cruyff’s prodigious display of turning in that game, christened rather lamely as the “Cruyff Turn,” still remains as one of the best examples of artistic displays on the field. Such was Cruyff’s class that Swedish right-back Jan Olsson was left dumbfounded as the playmaker planted his left foot and faked to cross with his right. Instead, Cruyff used it to drag the ball behind, turn 180 degrees and accelerate past the poor defender. Olsson was left standing like a drunk fumbling for his house keys after a night of out-of-control revelling.

The move, though, was first showcased in the opener itself, Uruguayan fullback Baudilio Jauregui being its first victim. But the fact remains that only Olsson’s misfortune gained prominence, most likely due to the fortuitous camera angle and the Swede’s rather bizarre reaction.

The world instantly fell in love with the gifted side, wearing the iconic bright orange kit, and its magical leader. The mood was of celebration and the players had their girlfriends and wives stay over, and each goal, each win was celebrated as if the Cup had already been won. Holland was to meet Germany in the final, and a major party was planned at the Dutch team hotel on the eve of the game, in anticipation of victory.

But those plans fell apart when German newspapers published details of it. The final next day was a similar fiasco, as Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller cancelled out Johan Neeskens’ early penalty. Germany won its second title, with Holland, another brilliant side like Hungary in 1954, falling at the final hurdle only because of overconfidence.