Johan Neeskens comes second in our list of the twenty best Dutch players in World Cup history after starring at both the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.

neeskens oranjeWith his long sideburns Neeskens may have looked more like a rock-star than a footballer, but the midfielder was undoubtedly a genius, and one of the crucial players in the invention of total football. Along with Johan Cruyff, Neeskens was a part of the Ajax side that dominated European football in the early seventies under coach Rinus Michels, and the trio went into the 1974 World Cup aiming for glory.

Neeskens made the Dutch team tick during the 1974 World Cup, with his ferocious tackling unsettling opponents, and giving the likes of Cruyff the space to work his magic. The Ajax star had an endless amount of energy, making a tackle at one end before darting forward to join an attack. A real box-to-box midfielder.

Neeskens played a crucial role during the first group stage of the tournament, netting two penalties during the 4-1 win over Bulgaria which clinched Netherlands a place in the second round. The midfielder also netted in the 2-0 win over East Germany which saw the Dutch head into the final group game with Brazil only needing a draw to reach the final.

The match against Brazil was a brutal affair with the Brazilian’s going into the game with a clear game plan of stopping Neeskens in any way possible. The midfielder was on the end of an elbow to the face from captain Marinho Peres, while later on in the game Luís Pereira flew into the Dutchman with a waist high challenge, earning the Brazilian a red card. The plan didn’t work though as Neeskens opened the scoring with a brilliant lob over the keeper before Cruyff sealed the win with a spectacular effort.

Neeskens would open the scoring in the final against West Germany from the penalty spot, but the glorious Dutch side would eventually lose 2-1.

After the final Neeskens would leave Ajax for Spanish giants Barcelona, to join Johan Cruyff, who had made the same move just a year before.

Cruyff may have been absent from the Dutch squad that traveled to Argentina in 1978, but Neeskens was once again in terrific form to guide the Dutch to another final.

The midfielder missed two matches during the tournament after suffering an injury in the defeat to Scotland, but returned for the final group game against Italy which saw the Dutch qualify for the final after a 2-1 win.

Once again the Dutch came up against the host nation in Argentina, and in a ferocious game Neeskens was subjected to some rough treatment. The midfield star was punched to the ground late on by Argentine Passarella, which once again went unpunished by a referee who seemed out of his depth in a frosty atmosphere. The game ended 1-1, but in extra time Netherlands could not contain the Argentine’s and fell 3-1 in the end.

The Dutch teams of 1974 and 1978 have gone down in history as two of the best to never win the World Cup, and Neeskens was undoubtedly a star man in both sides.

Neeskens was the best all round midfielder in the world at the time, and possibly the greatest Dutch midfielder of all time. An inspiration on the pitch with a never say die attitude.

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