Nick van Ruiven looks back at previous World Cups for Netherlands as they look to end forty years of hurt in Brazil this summer.

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ned chilOn Sunday, July 13th it will be forty years and six days ago since the Dutch national team exceeded all expectations by playing their first ever World Cup final against hosts West Germany. After Oranje’s flying start – Neeskens netted from the spot after Cruyff was fouled in the box – the Germans went on to break the Dutch hearts through goals by Paul Breitner and Gerd Mueller. Four years later the Dutch were in the final again, only to be heartbroken again by hosts Argentina.

Although Dutch clubs had begun to dominate European football in the early 1970, the Dutch national team still slightly fell behind. This would change in West Germany. Under the reign of former Ajax coach Rinus Michels and with Johan Cruyff as key figure the Dutch took the footballing world by storm with their Total Football. Oranje beat neighbours Belgium on goal difference in the qualifying stages in a group which also included Norway and Iceland.

In what would only be the nation’s third World Cup appearance, after missing out on every post-war tournament until that point, the Dutch would finally replicate their club football form on the international stage. Players like Cruyff, Neeskens, and Van Hanegem had already made a name for themselves at club level but this was the first time they had similar success for their country as well.

Even though Germany overcame that early Dutch storm, the Oranje players felt like moral winners. After returning back home, the Dutch Queen awarded coach Rinus Michels a royal honour.

Four years later the Dutch reached the final again, only to be beaten 3-1 after extra time by Argentina. Rob Rensenbrink saw a shot cannon off to post in the last minute of normal, before Kempes and Bertoni clinched the victory for the hosts.

Another period of World Cup absences followed, missing out of Spain 82 and Mexico 86 during a transition period which saw the heroes from 74 and 78 retire and be replaced by players such as Van Basten, Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit.

Oranje returned to the World Cup stage in Italy in 1990 on the back of their first ever tournament victory (EURO 88) and were now tipped to take their first World Cup home as well. It did however all go pear shaped as there was a fall out with the Dutch FA over the appointment of Leo Beenhakker as coach. Key players such as Van Basten, Ronald Koeman, Gullit and Rijkaard wanted Johan Cruyff as coach, but it is believed that Rinus Michels prevented this.

With Beenhakker in charge in Italy, Oranje managed to scrape through a group with England, Republic of Ireland and Egypt. The round of 16 was the final destination for the Dutch side as they lost 2-1 to arch rivals West Germany. To this day this game is famous for a spitting incident involving Frank Rijkaard and Gemany’s Rudi Voeller.

Four years later in the USA, a thunder free kick by Branco sent the Dutch home in the quarter-finals after a 2-3 thriller.

France 98 is regarded as the last chance for the golden generation mainly consisting of players whom had won the 1995 Champions League with Ajax. A penalty shoot-out against Brazil in the semi-final shattered those dreams once again.

Another transition period followed and after the Dutch missed out on Korea/Japan 2002 Louis van Gaal stepped down as coach. The Dutch were back in 2006 in Germany with fomer player Marco van Basten at the helm. A round of 16 game with Portugal saw yellow and red cards galore and it was Portugal’s Maniche who ended the Dutch dream once again.

Then came South Africa 2010. Many top players had just had the best club season of their lives, especially Champions League winner Wesley Sneijder. The then Inter Milan man took Oranje by the hand and led the Dutch to the final against Spain. Andres Iniesta broke Oranje’s hearts yet again, minutes after Arjen Robben saw an effort stopped by Casillas’ toe nail.

Now we are in Brazil and the Dutch have taken Group B by storm with a 5-3-2 formation copied by Louis van Gaal from former Feyenoord boss Ronald Koeman. The vastly inexperienced squad were thought to face a near impossible task of making it out of the group with Spain, Chile and Australia.

The first group game against turned into one of the most heroic Oranje games ever. Xabi Alonso punished a rookie error by Stefan de Vrij from the spot before the Oranje lion was unleashed. Robin van Persie scored a spectacular headed goal from a Daley Blind cross,  followed by goals from Robben (2x), De Vrij and another for Van Persie in  the second half.

The 5-3-2 formation did not work so well against Australia but after reverting back to a more familiar 4-3-3 the Dutch went on to victory yet again. Their final group game against Chile was played with the 5-3-2 formation again and was won 2-0 thanks to goals from subs Leroy Fer and Memphis Depay.

Next up will be Mexico (runners-up from Group A) and after that Costa Rica or Greece  potentially await the Dutch in the quarter-finals. If the squad can keep the momentum going one would have to fancy them to go the distance again and line up for yet another World Cup final against the hosts (Brazil this time around).

Could this be their year?…. To be continued!

Nick Van Ruiven (37 Posts)