The Netherlands national team have been a regular fixture at World Cup finals from 1974 onwards, having been present at all-but three of the tournaments that have taken place since. With just one week remaining until an incredibly exciting opening game against defending champions Spain at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, I focus retrospectively on one of their most prominent past attempts to bring back the trophy.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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cruyff total footHolland scarcely featured in the earliest editions of the World Cup, with knockouts at the first-round stage in both 1934 and 1938 being all they had to show for their brief participation. That pre-World War Two failure then gave way to a remarkable 36-year wait before finally qualifying for the 1974 version held in West Germany.

Renowned coach Rinus Michels led a side full of verve and swagger, including the devastatingly brilliant Barcelona forward Johan Cruyff. It was to be the very first airing of the much-vaunted tactical masterplan known as ‘Total Football’ on the global stage and the Dutch undoubtedly possessed the squad needed to achieve unprecented success. Boasting the combined talents of Cruyff, Rob Rensenbrink, Johnny Rep and Johan Neeskens, the Oranje travelled to Germany without any fear or trepidation.

Even so, many observers didn’t give them a chance due to consistently missing out on so many previous World Cup competitions and therefore they were readily dismissed as rank outsiders. However, they swept Uruguay aside 2-0 in Hannover thanks to a Rep double, prior to a goalless draw with Sweden in Dortmund. Staying on at the Westfalenstadion, the Dutch hammered Bulgaria 4-1 with goals from Neeskens(2), Rep and De Jong propelling them to the pinnacle of their first round pool.

A further group phase represented round two in those days and it was during the opening clash with Argentina when the world eventually sat up and took notice of those resplendent in orange. Two goals plundered in each half put paid to the highly-fancied South Americans and the belief that had been palpable within the Dutch camp for the entire duration up to that point proved fully justified. Cruyff hit the first and last when sandwiching strikes by defender Ruud Krol and prolific forward Johnny Rep, which suggested Holland had swiftly evolved into an unstoppable force.

East Germany were dismissed easily 2-0 (Neeskens, Rensenbrink) in the same Gelsenkirchen arena that witnessed the mauling of the Argentinians, while a welcome return visit to industrial neighbours Dortmund saw the Dutch dominate an encounter with Brazil by the same scoreline. Both Neeskens and Cruyff struck to take the Oranje through as group winners having scored an outstanding 8 goals and conceded none. Their superior stamina, skill on the ball, movement and passing ability left those watching in awe and opponents trailing in their wake. The dynamic fluidity of ‘Total Football’ reigned supreme, as the Dutch masters set about changing the face of football forever.

And, so to Munich’s Olympiastadion for the 1974 World Cup final against the host nation in front of a partisan 75,000 crowd. Cruyff and company had lit up the tournament in a way never seen previously from a European team and possibly matched only by the wonderful Brazilian side of 1970 in the manner of their sweeping attacking play. West Germany entered the tie as favourites, but nobody was taking the Dutch lightly anymore – the hosts knew they were in for an extremely tough encounter that afternoon.

English referee Jack Taylor handed the dark horses from the lowlands a wonderful opportunity to take an early advantage when awarding a penalty kick in the first minute of a showpiece event contested between the bitterest of rivals. Captain Cruyff went on a dashing run into the area from the centre circle before he was cut down ruthlessly by Uli Hoeness. Deadly striker Johan Neeskens stepped up to slot the ball beyond the keeper with ease to put the Dutch ahead and shock the majority of spectators in attendance; they’d come to see a German victory and hadn’t bargained for this shattering setback. Parity was restored when Holzenbein burst into the box prior to being felled for yet another spot-kick on 25 minutes. Paul Breitner finished neatly into the bottom-right corner of the net to bring both the match and those sitting in the stands to life.

West Germany pushed forward relentlessly and duly notched again just two minutes before half-time through a slick turn and shot by the great Gerd Muller following an accurate cross from the right by Rainer Bonhof. The Borussia Moenchengladbach man could have tumbled in the area due to a defender’s lazy outstretched leg, but commendably stayed on his feet to cut the ball back for ‘Der Bomber’ to fire home emphatically. A further effort late on from Muller was controversially ruled out for offside, but that didn’t halt the Germans’ procession towards the claiming of their second World Cup triumph.

They may have just fallen short in the dogged pursuit of World Cup glory, but the dazzling Dutch had a place reserved in the hearts of most onlookers as they were rightly crowned ‘People’s Champions’ by the end of their glittering 1974 campaign. Despite the obvious disappointment surrounding the result it was an amazing success overall for the young stars to have reached the final, especially given the swashbuckling style in which they did it. Their daring displays throughout earned them universal respect in recognition of the sublime fashion of their football.

Should the class of 2014 get anywhere near replicating those memorable feats of the ’74 vintage, then Holland fans can look forward to an extremely enjoyable trip to Brazil this summer!