Heartbreak for Holland (2)

The context in which Holland reached the 1978 World Cup Final was very different from when they lost to West Germany four years ago. For one thing, the squad was more noteworthy for the players who were absent than for those in the team. The absence of Wim van Hanegem, Holland's best passer of the ball, was keenly felt, but it was the decision of Johan Cruyff, widely considered as the world's greatest player of the 1970s, to retire from international football that had the biggest impact, so much so that team supervisor Ernst Happel had talked expansively about the team needing to rid itself of its "Cruyff complex". Happel himself represented another major change for the team. His emphasis on diligent defence was very different from the philosophy of flamboyant attacking football adopted by Rinus Michel, the man who led the team four years ago.

The team still had most of the players of 1974, however. And although they still argued about money, about team selection and about how many stripes there should be on the orange jerseys (look at the photo above and you will see what this means), they made it to the Final despite a slow start, and found themselves once again facing the hosts. The Argentinian side had reached the Final in the most controversial fashion. The arrangement of the deciding game against Peru in the second group phase to kick off after Brazil had played Poland meant that they had a blatantly unfair advantage over Brazil. The arrangement gave them the knowledge that they needed at least four goals to triumph over Brazil, and they somehow managed to beat the hitherto strong Peru team 6-0, a result that still leaves tongues wagging.

The Final started and went on in an equally controversial manner. Not only were there pre-match incidents of poor sportsmanship such as Argentina's delayed entry into the stadium and their well-orchestrated protests about the plaster in Rene van de Kerkhof's wrist, the game was brutal beyond expectation. Both sides were engaged in the physical confrontations, but the Argentinian side had the advantage of being cheered on by the hysterical crowd and having many of the referee's decisions going their way. Despite the difficult circumstances and going 1-0 behind at half time, the Dutch side fought on gallantly and equalised through a header by substitue Dick Nanninga in the 82nd minute. And they could have won it before the final whistle when Rob Rensenbrink turned the ball past the Argentinian goalkeeper. Yet, incredibly, as the ball was destined to roll into the unguarded net, it was somehow deflected, onto the post and away to safety.

It wasn't to be the Dutch's day. Argentina managed to come up with thirty minutes of vigorous football at extra time and scored two goals that yet again brutally shattered Holland's World Cup Dreams.

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