Saturday, March 23, 2013

Group 4 – more than deja vu: it looked like Holland and Belgium were eternally together in qualification groups. By now Belgium was changing generations and in decline. The success of FC Brugge and especially Anderlecht was more due to Dutch players, so Holland, already with big clout, looked the favourite. It was – the great stars were still here. True, they were dangerously aging and Cruyff in particular was difficult to deal with as ever, but with or without him, the team was just too strong. The new coach, who replaced the disaster Knobel, had low profile, but Jan Zwartkruis seemingly got along well with the moody stars. Or at least did not appear bothered by the moody superstars. One problem seemingly was solved – since Cruiff was unpredictable and nobody would know for sure when he wanted to play for Holland and when he was to decline, a change was swiftly made: the Dutch team was increasingly conduced on the field by Rensenbrink and the van der Kerkhoff twins. The Dutch stumbled at first, failing to overcome Northern Ireland at home – 2-2 – but, they delivered heavy blow in Antwerpen, beating Belgium 2-0. No more faulty steps after that, including the last of their fixtures – a 1-0 win over Belgium in Amsterdam. Belgium still had one more match to play, but it did not matter anymore, so they lost to Northern Ireland in Belfast, perhaps distorting the final table: Belgium ended with 3 wins and 3 losses, suggesting great weakness -which was not really the case. Holland, however, reigned supreme:

1.NETHERLANDS 6 5 1 0 11- 3 11

2.Belgium 6 3 0 3 7- 6 6

3.Northern Ireland 6 2 1 3 7- 6 5

4.Iceland 6 1 0 5 2-12 2

The table perhaps mislead many: Holland had problems, hidden by the shining record. Age and mood. It still looked familiar and mighty:
The friendly with England in 1977: familiar faces, led by Cruyff. Yet...
A 1978 version, to which Holland already was coming from some time. No Cruyff, nor many others old heroes, but whole bunch of unfamiliar names. Admittedly, an experimental team, with early appearance of Arnold Muhren, but closer to the team that played at the 1978 World Cup than the team above. The old guard carried on the qualification round, though.