Bergkamp’s sensational winner was the cherry on the cake of a thrilling match, in what has become one of the World Cup’s great rivalries.

  • By Andy Booth
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Delays, detours, and top level corruption had set the scene the last time these two meet in a World Cup, the final 20 years earlier. All the forces seemed to be against the Dutch that night, as the hosts, Argentina, played every trick in the book to make the experience of playing in Buenos Aires as hostile as possible.

Prior to kick-off Argentina had demanded that FIFA change from highly respected Israeli referee Abraham Klein and give the gig to an Italian, Sergio Gonella, instead. On the way to the stadium, the Dutch bus was sent proverbially and literally round the houses, pelted and shook to the cries of ‘Argentina! Argentina! Argentina!’ from the natives. Inside the Estadio Monumental, the Dutch were sent out early before kick-off, whilst the hosts held back in the changing rooms. The boos and jeers of the 70,000 partisan crowd were deafening. Complaints were lodged about the legality of René van de Kerkhof’s wrist cast, despite the winger having worn it in earlier rounds and the Dutch threat to walk off the field simply showed the cunning mind games were working.

The Argentinians won 3-1 after extra-time thanks to a brace from Golden Boot winner Mario Kempes and Daniel Bertoni. Football is full of ‘but’s’ and ‘if only’s’ and from a Dutch perspective few are bigger than the 90th minute of the 1978 final. Had Rob Rensenbrink’s 90th minute effort gone in, rather than hit the post he would have claimed the Golden Boot, not Yepes, and Netherlands would have lifted the World Cup, not Argentina. If only…

Daniel Passarella captained Argentina that day, and when the sides next met 20 years later in the quarter-finals of France 1998, Passarella was there again, this time as manager. The Vélodrome in Marseille was the venue this time, as the Dutch sought to exact revenge.

Both sides were somewhat fortunate to have reached the quarter-finals. A 92nd minute strike from Edgar Davids saw Guus Hiddink’s side scrape through with a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia in the round of 16 after Predrag Mijatović had crashed a penalty against the bar with the sides level. Meanwhile Argentina had come through on penalties after a 2-2 thriller with 10-man England.

An electric atmosphere greeted the sides, with floods of orange shirts making up for their absence in South America 20 years before. The match began at a frantic pace too. A blocked shot from Phillip Cocu fell kindly to Wim Jonk, but his sliced effort came back off the post.

The expectant crowd did not have to wait long for the deadlock to be broken though. In the 12th minute Ronald de Boer picked the ball up in centre midfield, drifted past a couple of Argentinian challenges and pinged a ball into Dennis Bergkamp. Despite the ball arriving at pace and waist height Bergkamp, knelt down and cushioned a perfectly weighted header into the path of the on running Patrick Kluivert. Kluivert, drafted in in place of the injured Marc Overmars, lifted the ball over the keeper Carlos Roa to make it 1-0. The goal is a delightful blend of direct attacking play with composed technical elegance, as of course was the goal that followed which understandably overshadows it.

Moments later Arthur Numan halted a rapid Argentinian counter attack by tripping Ariel Ortega. He received a yellow card but the incident was a microcosm for the open, fast, fiery nature of the fixture.

With the match so end-to-end, few were surprised when the games second goal followed just 5 minutes after the first. Woeful Dutch defending in which Michael Reizeger had badly mistimed an offside trap allowed Claudio Lopez to pounce on a Juan Sebastián Verón through ball. The Valencia man’s composed finish through the long legs of Edwin van der Saar levelled the scores. Ever threatening, the tricky number 10 Ortega long range effort before half time cannoned back off the post to level the hit the woodwork count too.

In the second half Argentina continued to probe, with Ortega and Verón pulling the strings. A charging run and forward pass from Verón found Gabriel Batistuta on the edge of the area and his left footed strike saw van der Saar well between but fortunately smashed back off the inside of the far post again.

With the game in the balance, legs tiring, and tempers on the edge, the intensity was about to go up another notch. A loose pass from Reizeger in midfield set-up an Argentinian counter-attack, at least it would have done had Diego Simeone not been stopped in his tracks by Numan. Already booked, the Mexican referee Arturo Brizio Carter had little choice but to send the left back off.

Down to 10-men, Netherlands were hanging on and an Argentinian break through seemed probable. When the diminutive Ortega went down in the box after a challenge from Jaap Stam, Dutch hearts were in their mouths. With Carter’s whistle to his lips, there was a huge sigh of relief as the right arm pointed away from the Dutch goal, indicating the referee had deemed Ortega guilty of simulation. In a moment of madness, Ortega, determined to stay in the spot light, stood up into van der Saar’s face knocking the Dutch keeper to the floor. Again, Carter brandished the red-card; 10 men a piece.


With the frantic pace of the game taking its toll the match seemed to be winding down with extra-time looming. That was until one of the finest goals in Dutch football history. Frank de Boer’s raking diagonal pass was brought down immaculately by Bergkamp. Like a magnet, he brought the ball under his control. One touch to stop the ball, one touch to take it away from Roberto Ayala, and one utterly composed finish with the outside of his right boot into the roof of the net.

Barry Davies’ commentary on the BBC perfectly captured the moment excellently.

“Beautifully pulled down by Bergkampppp! Oh what a goal! Dennis Bergkamp has won it for Holland! That was absolutely brilliant! From adversity to triumph for the Dutch. They who were silent are now in song.”

Bergkamp was just as amazed. As he ran towards the corner flag in celebration, both hands covered his face in disbelief. Being swamped by his team mates, whilst floods of orange clad supporters euphorically bounced up and down in the sunny stands became one of the defining images of the tournament.

The game was an epic, it had it all. And Bergkamp’s goal should be celebrated for the way it concluded such an exciting match as much as for its technical quality.

Andy Booth (27 Posts)