Seen among the leading column in the battle for supremacy in almost every football festival, The Oranje; Holland; Clockwork Oranje; The Flying Dutchmen or La Naranja as the Netherlands senior men’s football team is known, are yet to heal the unsightly scar on their image as the only footballing powerhouse never to have won the World Cup.
The Netherlands cut their teeth on the global showpiece in 1934 and 1938 in Italy and France respectively, whereupon they slipped into a lengthy hiatus in the succeeding years, albeit the 1940s seeing no world cups.
The Netherlands’ absences from the World Cups of 1950 to 1970 may lend little sheen to their image as a true powerhouse of the game, but they returned in 1974 with a deafening bang. Under then-coach Rinus Michels, Dutch football found fecund earth to bloom.
Total Football was introduced to the world and with legendary player Johan Cruyff in the team, the Dutch were a redoubtable opponent. Employing attacking football and quick combinations plus scoring wonderful goals, Holland swept aside opponents like Brazil and Argentina. The Dutch national team looked to be hogging the one-way route to triumph and becoming world champions for the first time.
At some point in the final match against host West Germany, that dreamy course took a weird hit. The Netherlands surrendered a 1-0 lead along with a commanding display to losing 1-2 to their hated rivals. To some Dutch fans then, their country had by the very fact of that performance, cleared the field for the establishment of a new imperial image in the game, that is: the Netherlands’. It was a decade during which time Feyenoord and Ajax dictated terms to their European counterparts in European club football.
In 1978 in Argentina, with the World Cup becoming the beat of the Netherlands, they reared their dread-inspiring heads again to reveal their unnerving presence.
Four years after the defeat to host West Germany, the Dutch national team was once again on the verge of victory in Argentina. Coach Ernst Happel had assembled a Dutch side that was able to reach the final again. This time without Johan Cruyff. Holland took on the host country for the second successive final. When the final went to extra time, the Argentines scored two goals to win 3-1.
The Netherlands had come twice within view of the World Cup trophy and yet had not placed such as a fingertip on it.
Perhaps the disappointments of those defeats were rippling enough to return such a talented football country back into sequestration from the World Cup. In 1982 and 1986 they failed to qualify. They returned in 1990 with arguably the best players in the World then. Garlanding a crop of exciting talents were Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten etc. Mirabile dictu, the Dutch failed to win a single game in the group phase, progressing however into the round of 16 where they lost to eventual champions Germany 1-2.
1994 they were there in the USA, where they were eliminated again by another eventual champion Brazil 2-3 in the quarter-finals. They had come from 0-2 down to reach parity after which they succumbed to a controversial Romario late goal.
In 1998, like always, with so many big names in their rank the Netherlands went into their third and final group game with 2 points from draws against Mexico and Belgium. They needed a win and possibly a big one indeed against South Korea. The Dutch cemented their reputation as a true force in the game with a 5-0 whitewash of the Koreans.
A result that is to date the biggest World Cup win in Dutch Football. In the round of 16, they hassled away then Yugoslavia to put themselves in the way of Gabriel Batistuta’s Argentina. The very talented Dutch side came from a goal down to win 2-1 with goals from Marc Overmas and Dennis Bergkamp. Bergkamp’s winning goal, quickly made its way into the rank of some of the best goals the World Cup has ever produced.
In a tense semi-final game against Brazil where Patrick Kluivert’s thumping header leveled Ronaldo’s early goal. Penalty shootouts had to be invited over to decide the winner. The Dutch failed to hold their nerves and lost 2-4 on penalties. An already drooping Dutch spirit could find no importance in the third and fourth play-off game against debutantes Croatia. And the Netherlands lost 1-2.
2002 the disease of not qualifying struck Dutch football again. They returned in 2006 where they went out to 0-1 defeat by Portugal in the round of 16. In 2010, in the battle between two of the best underachievers in World football. the Netherlands lost to a David Villa late goal a few seconds to penalties after the Dutch had seen their defender Johnny Heitinga sent off some under 1 minute earlier.
To make the World Cup finals thrice and never win it, can be sorely excruciating. Four years later in Brazil, the Dutch livened up themselves again. Raising their World Cup curtain with a 5-1 drubbing of the defending champions Spain, they made the progress all the way to the semi-finals where they lost on penalties to Lionel Messi’s Argentina. In the third and fourth play-off, the Netherlands found some motivation in playing the host and five times World Champions Brazil, wiping the floor with the Brazilians in a 3-0 romp.
In 2018 again, strange to a footballing force of the Netherlands’, the Dutch failed to qualify amidst bizarre results. They have made a return in 2022 in Qatar this year.
They are incontestably perennial favourites and are already sighing amongst the top six or seven countries likely to make home with the diadem. So, the million €uro question is: Will this World Cup finally be the Netherlands’?
Source: Nana Kweku Bosomtwi.
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