Holland hopes history doesn't repeat

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:46 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG -- The Netherlands hopes the third time in the final is a charm.

On Sunday, The Netherlands will try for a third time to win a World Cup title, taking on Spain on Sunday at Soccer City.

The Dutch went to the Cup final in two successive tries -- in West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978 -- with the 1974 team remembered as the best team never to have won a World Cup.

The Clockwork Orange revolutionized the game of football. They played total football, a style that allowed the entire team to defend and then immediately swing into the attack.

It was beautiful to watch.

In 1974, Holland beat Uruguay 2-0, won 4-1 over Bulgaria, 4-0 over Argentina and 2-0 over Brazil. Johan Cruyff, the greatest player in the world at the time, was the leader of the team. The Dutch also had Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink and a strong supporting cast.

They appeared untouchable. Lost in all of the Dutch greatness was the fact the West Germans were far from pushovers.

There would be no walkovers with players of the ilk of Paul Breitner, Franz Beckenbauer and der Bomber Gerd Muller on the pitch.

The Dutch took an early lead on a penalty by Neeskens and confidently they pushed the ball around the field for the next 15 to 20 minutes. But the Germans were efficient. They grabbed an equalizer and then the greatest poacher of all, Mueller, nestled in the 2-1 goal.

The Dutch attacked furiously in the second half but could not score. They finished 2-1 and one of the finest teams ever assembled went home empty-handed.

In 1978, the Dutch traveled to Argentina for a tournament that was held under the auspices of a brutal dictatorship.

The Dutch faced an Argentine side that had every advantage in the book. The team was given a preferred schedule, playing every game at night so it knew exactly what it needed to do to advance.

Brazil was eliminated from the tournament by goal differential. Argentina knew a 4-0 win over Peru would eliminate Brazil. Argentina wound up winning 6-0. Something smelled in Buenos Aires and it wasn't the fish.

The Netherlands was missing several key players including Cruyff. The reasons he did not attend were varied and there is still some uncertainty about the real reason.

Some said he was upset about the political situation in Argentina. Some suspected he didn't attend because his wife didn't let him.

During the 1974 World Cup after a win in a key game, the Dutch celebrated in their hotel pool with some women who were not their wives. Cruyff had to explain to his wife that he did nothing untoward but she never fully believed him and sent him to his room for the Argentine World Cup.

Cruyff said the real reason he didn't attend was that there was a threat to kidnap his family and he wanted to remain home.

Who knows?

In the end, it was the brilliance of Mario Kempes, a Argentine forward who scored two goals and set up a third that earned Argentina its first World Cup.

Argentina would win the game 3-1 in extra time. It won despite coach Cesar Luis Menotti refusing to pick a 17-year-old for his team. His name was Diego Armando Maradona.


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