Saturday, December 4, 2010

The ‘iron’ 3rd Round Robin group was unpredictable only for the second qualifying place – the first was reserved for Holland in everybody’s mind. Such certainties are often shattered. The opening match of Oranje was against 2-times World Champions Uruguay. The Dutch came on the pitch with surprising team – the entirely unknown goalie Jongbloed, and only three defensemen – Suurbier, Suurbier’s little known substitute Rijsbergen, and Krol. What? Two right fullbacks and not a single man in the middle? And no Keizer at the left wing either… some guy called Rensenbrink. What kind of joke is this?
The joke became clear immediately after the refferree started the game – Holland played great, not giving a damn about venerable former world champions. Since Uruguay was completely outplayed, the most important comentary of this match should be about Michels’ solution of defensive problems – he moved Haan back, combining him with Rijsbergen. It was fast and attacking minded duo, fitting the loose positioning of total football, and in case of some breakdown, Jongbloed was to sweep. The scheme worked, and although it was clear that Jongbloed was a pathetic goalie, there was no trouble whatsoever: the newly forged defense played with such efficiency, that there was nothing for the goalkeeper to do, even sweeping. First match, first fun, first win – 2-0. May be the result is not showing how superior the Dutch were, but it was first match after all.
Captain Cruyff and Masnik shake hands before the match started.
And little Masnik knew that his handshake was his best move against the flying Dutchman. Apart from new players, there was one more shock for the world: no three Adidas stripes on Cruyff’s kit.
The toughest game in the round robin group for Holland was their second, against Sweden. It was a bit rough, the Swedes played not only with great ambition, but also tackling hard. Inconvenient opposition for Oranje, yet, this was perhaps one of the best displays of Dutch versatality – just like Ajax, Holland was able to switch easily from elegance to hard physical game, whenever was a need. A 0-0 tie, which pretty much moved Holland to the second stage, but not Sweden.
Piet Keizer marked by Bjorn Nordqvist – a familiar duel from Dutch league. It was the last appearance for Keizer with orange jersey and it is even miracle that he played at the World Cup at all – he was not a friend of Rinus Michels. When Michels left Ajax for Barcelona, Keizer happily danced on a table to celebrate the end of yoke. By 1974 he was not a friend of Cruyff either.
Theoretically, Holland had a chance to miss second stage – if they lost to Bulgaria. Which was unthinkable. Once again, there was practically one team on the pitch, and although it was difficult to distinguish the colours of the opponents, one was certain that who has the ball was Dutch. In their third match Holland scored all the goals, winning 4-1. Krol scored in his own net, but he was hardly guilty of clumsiness – it was difficult situation in which he attempted to clear the ball behind the lines with a header. It ended in the net, but who cares – Holland was comfortably winning already.
Can you tell Bulgarians from Dutch? Of course you can – the celebrating ones are Dutch.
This photo describe the match in a nutshell: Holland scores; Bulgaria watches. After the final whistle, fun ended and business resumed: hawkish Cruyff read again their bonus contract and discovered that they were to be paid for every goal scored – the paper did not mentioned in which net. And he promptly went to claim bonus for Ruud Krol’s goal. And collected the payment. And after that one wonders why they did not score some more own goals in the next games.
After the round robin stage Holland emerged as a prime candidate for the World title. The improvised defense played well; Rensenbrink was a revelation, propelled to surperstardom – one of the discoveries of the tournament. The rest were… the rest. Nobody disappointed. Great form, really superior, and the strongest team so far. No German scheming either – Holland seemingly did not care who they were to play against. Even their poor goalie was not a liability – the ball very rarely appeared in the Dutch penalty area and goalie or no goalie, there was no risk. The team introduced a new tactical innovation in attack – strange long balls going a bit away from the net, not in the middle, as normally wingers supply balls for deadly headers. The Dutch innovation was deadlier, however – defences did not cover those areas, and there speedy boys in orange shirts run alone and untackled to score. One more change was His Greatness Cruyff – he played further back than remembered from before – more like classic midfielder than a striker. Perhaps 1974 was his greatest year – fantastic playmaker, conducting the flow of the game, his teammates, the whole field and the whole match.Holland was fun and magical. If there was something negative about the Dutch, it was there growing arrogance – it was noticed mostly by journalists at first: the team was increasingly confident that they were the best in every respect. World champions already. On the pitch arrogance was less obvious – may be just Cruyff, who never stopped yapping at the refferrees. May be in Holland it is called ‘debate’ or ‘expression of opinions’, but the refferees did not see it the same way and Cruyff was yellow-carded (which was very difficult to get in the 1970s!) It was even funny at the time: I remember the refferre showing yellow to His Greatness and asking him to turn back, as it was the practice then, to get his number for the books. Cruyff refused and pointed at the number on his shorts. Which may be interpreted as obscene comment as well, considering the nearness of genitalia, but the star was technically right: with numbers required on front of the shorts, what was the problem of the refferree – number he wants, number he gets! A little ego trip, but no breaking of the letter of the law. Arrogant or not, Holland captured the love of the football fans with their playing, not with their talking.