Monday, October 31, 2011

Third place still mattered in those days, although for the Yugoslavs it was not exactly something to look forward. From the first minute against Holland it was detectable that Yugoslavia was not firm and determined. The boys in blue attacked, wanted to win, but… there was also something dead in their spirit. Yet, there were no changes in the starting eleven – Yugoslavia was seemingly willing to fight for the third place. But so was Holland, and it was exciting match at the end. Unlike Yugoslavia, the Dutch made changes – Neeskens and van Hanegem were unable to play because of their expulsions against CSSR. Johnny Rep was also absent – he had mediocre match with the Czechs and that seemed the apparent reason. But may be it was not the real reason – players refusing to play were old news about the Dutch. Cruyff was also not on the pitch – the biggest ‘change’, if coach Knobel was permitted to make changes – the mouthy superstar was suspended for two yellow cards. Rene van de Kerkhof and Ruud Geels finally got their chance along with entirely unknown Peters and Arntz. Holland looked more crippled than improved and Yugoslavia once again had the edge in Zagreb.
At least in the first minute. In the 39th minute the result was 2-0 for Holland – the substitutes proved their worth. May be it was time to forget about Cruyff ? May be not… Holland was not so supreme as two years before; with van de Kerkhof twins it was grittier team, lacking finesse and creativity. Holland looked tougher than usual, but Yugoslavia was not waving the white flag and in the absence of Cruyff and Neeskens – the advantage of technical skills and imagination. The regular time ended 2-2.
Holland managed to win in the extra time – Ruud Geels scored his second and this time winning goal in the 107th minute. Once again extra time was the nemesis of the Yugoslavs – unlike their West European opponents, the Yugoslav players did not manage well overtime, neither physically, nor psychologically.
Holland got bronze and perhaps impromptu introduced its own future - Cruyff-less team, with Willy and Rene van de Kerkhof commandeering the game. It was unlikely concocted by George Knobel – he was sacked right away. Indeed, it is very questionable what exactly Knobel did with team Holland – old problems remained without even an attempt for solution. Goalkeeping was a liability – Schrijvers was hardly a good keeper, yet he was first choice. Jan Ruiter, who played splendidly for Anderlecht, was mere reserve – and actually played only once for Holland during his long career. Van Kraay, not exactly newcomer, but hardly a regular before, was rather conservative addition to the defense line, but Rijsbergen and Jansen – Michels’ improvisation in 1974 – were kept precisely where Michels put them. Ruud Geels played well and finally looked like firm starter. Somewhat Holland failed short of the expected.
Zagreb, June 19, Maksimir Stadion
Netherlands 3-2 Yugoslavia [aet]
[Geels 27, 107, W.van de Kerkhof 39; Katalisnki 43, Dzajic 82]
[ref: Hungerbühler (Switzerland); att: 7,000]
Netherlands: Schrijvers, Suurbier, Van Kraay, Krol, Jansen (46 Meutstege), Peters, Arntz (71 Kist), W.van de Kerkhof, R.van de Kerkhof, Geels, Rensenbrink
Yugoslavia: Petrovic, Buljan, Muzinic, Oblak, Katalinski, Zungul (46 Halilhodzic),Jerkovic, Popivoda, Surjak, Acimovic (46 Vladic), Dzajic
Yugoslavia finishing forth. This team was seen as better than the one from 1974 and potential European champion. Plenty of talent, plenty of experience, plenty of motivation. At the end – a disappointment. May be harshly judged by the fans and the media. May be justly so – they failed to win on home turf. This is the line up from the home match against Sweden in the qualifying group, played in Zagreb and confidently won 3-0. Same team lost both final games… true, in extra time, but great teams do not lose. Before the match with Holland Dragan Dzajic announced that the ‘little final’ will be his last appearance for the national team A great player stepped down.
The ‘forgotten’ Holland of 1976. Nobody knew that this will be the last big international tournament for Cruyff. Apart from that, it looks like Dutch practical whimsicality was in good health: remember Cruyff playing with different kit than the rest of the team in 1974? Five more players joined him in 1976 and Holland was really mixed on the pitch. Some with two stripes, others with Adidas’ three.

Standing from left to right: Piet Schrijvers, Ruud Krol, Wim Meutstege, George Knobel, Wim Suurbier, Johan Neeskens, Johan Cruijff, Wim van Hanegem and Jan Ruiter.
Sitting left to right: Adri van Kraay, Wim Rijsbergen, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink, Willy van de Kerkhof, Jan Peters, René van de Kerkhof and Ruud Geels.
As a whole, a good, strong squad. Perhaps everybody was seeing them as gods, and when gods fail… in fact, it was a winning team: a silver and a bronze so far. What’s wrong with that? Except of deserving better coach.