The Netherlands and the World Cup have always had a bit of a rocky relationship. They’ve missed out on the competition ten times out of nineteen tournaments and have faced huge heartache by losing in the final three times and winning none. Despite this however, the Dutch sometimes reserve their greatest performances for the World Cup and actually hold a relatively good record in the tournament itself. In the nine (counting second round groups in 74 and 78) group stages that they have competed in, they have progressed all nine times. This year however, facing a difficult group, is this unique record in serious danger?

  • By Ross Anderson
  • Follow Ross on Twitter

oranj 2010It may come as a surprise to a lot of people who can only remember the Dutch team of the recent future, but the Dutch took a long time to make their mark on the world’s biggest stage. Though the country originally submitted an application to host the very first World Cup in 1930, the Dutch did not participate after it was given to Uruguay, many of the players opting out for fear of losing their jobs during the depression in Europe if they travelled. With the next tournament being held much closer to home in Italy, Netherlands were much more happy to take part, though had to do so through the new process of qualifying. With the finals in 34, and 38 featuring single matches instead of group stages for the only time, the Dutch went out in both, just losing out 3-2 to Switzerland at the San Siro in 1934 and 3-0 to Czechoslovakia after extra time in Germany four years later.

After the World Cup started back up again in 1950 after the Second World War, the next 24 years on the World Cup map are pretty blank for the Dutch. After not entering the qualifiers for 50, and 54, Netherlands lost out on four successive qualifiers slowly becoming a forgotten team in the World Cup history. With the emergence of total football pioneered at Ajax, they finally did it. The Dutch would be in amongst the worlds best at the World Cup in West Germany in 74. This would be the Netherland’s first encounter with the Group Stages, finishing unbeaten in a table featuring Sweden, Bulgaria and Uruguay. These were the days though when the Second Round would also consist of a Group Stage format, and so the Dutch did it once more, winning three out of three in a tough group consisting of East Germany, Argentina, and Brazil. Thought they didn’t know it then, this would be the start of a record unique only to them, the first of nine successive Group Stage progressions. Though after seeing off this group, even the influence of Johan Cruyff couldn’t stop them losing the final 2-1 to hosts West Germany.

It was déjà vu four years later as an impressive Dutch side would eventually fail at the last hurdle again. This time though they made tough work of a First Round group featuring Iran, Peru and Scotland. After a good start against minnows Iran, they squeezed through on goal difference after a 0-0 draw with Peru and a 3-2 defeat (their first in a group stage) to a decent Scotland side. This was the last World Cup that FIFA would use the Group format for the second round and the Dutch produced much better form to finish top and remain unbeaten again after facing champions West Germany, Italy and Austria. Once again though it would end in heartbreak against the tournament’s host’s Argentina 3-1 after extra time.

After two successive final defeats took it’s toll, the team ultimately failed to make the next two World Cup’s. Missing out on qualification in a group with Belgium and France for the tournament in 82, and then an agonizing away goals defeat to that team Belgium again on away goals in a play-off for the competition in 86. These two failures meant that Italia 90 would be the next time the country would see their team on the world stage. Just like in 1978 the Dutch made hard work of a First Round group, the closest they have come yet to a Group Stage exit despite remaining unbeaten. Though they did remain unbeaten, they didn’t win any games either, scraping through after three draws against England, Ireland and (poorly) Egypt. Luckily for Netherlands, FIFA introduced a place in the Round of 16 to the four best third-placed teams in the groups, beating Austria and Scotland (again) to one of the spots. Unluckily though the Second Round group stage was scrapped so they couldn’t use their good group form and were quickly defeated in their third successive knockout tie by the winners for a third successive time (a pattern developed).

With 5 games without a win at World Cup Finals, qualification for USA 94 provided Netherlands with an opportunity to redeem themselves on the biggest stage, and this time they did regain a part of their dignity back. The First Round mixed them with minnows Saudi Arabia, Morocco and old foes Belgium who defeated the Dutch again, only their second defeat in a World Cup group. They did however beat the other two to top the group and set up a meeting with Ireland. This time at the fourth time of asking they won a knockout tie, winning 2-0. There was however another record that they just couldn’t shake. In the Quarter Finals they were defeated by the winners of the competition for the fourth time in a row, this time Brazil.

France 98 saw Netherlands go one step further, but would eventually be defeated against the same team. It started once more with another straightforward First Round. Topping their table unbeaten, two draws against Belgium and Mexico, and a 5-0 demolition of South Korea were enough to see them through again. After gaining confidence with their first ever knockout win in a World Cup finals versus Ireland four years before, they edged their way past Yugoslavia in the Second Round and one of the best goals ever from Dennis Bergkamp (had to mention it) helped them defeat Argentina in the Quarters. Penalty shoot-out heartbreak saw them defeated again by Brazil, but there was a shining light, Brazil losing to France in the final stopped the record becoming five straight tournament defeats to the eventual winners.

A straightforward looking qualifying group containing Portugal, Ireland, Estonia, Iceland and Andorra, turned into embarrassment as the Dutch failed to make it to South Korea in Japan after such a good tournament in France four years previously. Missing out on the World Cup saw Holland slip down the rankings and they entered the World Cup in Germany as third seeds. The team showed themselves as Group Stage specialists again as they advanced for a sixth time out of six from a potentially tricky table containing Argentina, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro. Though they remained unbeaten again, they lost out on top spot through goal difference meaning they faced a hard task in the knockout stage again against Portugal. It did turn out to be too hard as they were eliminated 1-0.

South Africa 2010, the last World Cup gave the Netherlands a great opportunity to keep the record they have worked hard to keep, to progress from the group stages again for a ninth time in a row. The team didn’t disappoint and they set up their best tournament since the 70’s by winning all three group matches against Japan, Denmark and Cameroon. This brilliant effort to keep their record alive going, saw them gain enough confidence to see off Slovakia, Brazil and Uruguay on their way to a third successive Final defeat this time at the hands Spain, a team that they had never played in any World Cup match before, either in Qualifying or Finals, but weirdly will play again on Friday night, bad omen?

They may not have had they best record at appearing in the World Cup and on another point, it may not matter that much, but their record in World Cup Finals group stages in pretty special, and which no team, no matter how many Finals they’ve been to can match. I believe that Group B at the 2014 World Cup is a lot trickier than first view and one that will face Netherlands with possibly their greatest threat to losing their record. Having never played Australia or Chile in a competitive match, having been defeated by Spain in their one and only World Cup match, and with the Dutch having only appeared at one South American World Cup in the past, we don’t have much to judge their chances on. The first match versus Spain will be key and will be difficult, but with a an undefeated run in the Group Stages running back to 1994 and ten matches, Netherlands have form and history on their side. Chile will also be a worthy foe, but if they can channel the ghosts of World Cup past, anything is possible. Stats are one things though and genuine quality is another, so whether on not you believe in fate is up to you but what is certain is Netherlands are going to have to play well to get past this task.

As a not very well-known manager in Scotland said: “Statistics are just like mini-skirts, they give you good ideas but hide the most important thing.” 

Netherlands World Cup Group Stage Record

Played: 27 Won: 16 Drawn: 9 Lost: 2   

Ross Anderson (3 Posts)

23 year old Journalism student from Montrose in Scotland. Picked up a liking for Dutch football after moving to Rotterdam in 2011 and became impressed by the Feyenoord fans love of football and their club. Kept in touch with the league after moving back to Scotland and found myself becoming a supporter of Feyenoord. Also a big supporter of Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League. Follow me on Twitter at @rossando91.