Monday, July 8, 2013

In retrospect, Holland's beginning of the 1978 campaign is usually described as 'slow', the convenient term for 'bad'. From a distance, the first match was won confidently – 3-0. It was also considered the easiest – against the outsider Iran. But Holland faced competent team, which was not intimidated at all and was equal most of the time. Holland struggled, lacked creativity, and won thanks to experience and will power. Happel said many times that he wanted not generals, but soldiers – and soldiers he got. They run a lot, fought a lot...

Will power and physicality won the match – even in a single captured moment it shows. Nobody was really happy – Holland got 2 points, but the team was obviously in trouble and urgent changes were needed. The problems were not lost on Happel – he used 3-4-3 scheme in the first match, with Rijsbergen in the middle of defense, Suurbier on the right, and Krol on the left. Haan, Jansen, Neeskens, and Willy van de Kerkhof in midfied, and Rene van de Kerkhof, Rep, and Rensenbrink in attack. Schrijvers between the goalposts. In other words, the best players, those expected not just to start, but to dominate. But there was no chemistry and actually the performance of many was inadequate. Rensenbrink scored all the goals, but he failed as successor of Cruyff, and the goals are even misleading: two were scored from penalties.

Against Peru Happel started with different tactic – 4-3-3 – and different players. Jongbloed; Suurbier and Poortvliet full back, and Krol – Rijsbergen central defenders; Neeskens, Jansen, and Willy van de Kerkhof in midfield; Rene van de Kerkhof, Haan, and Rensenbrink strikers. During the game Rensenbrink moved slightly back, attempting again playmaking role, and Will van de Kerkhof played more like left winger, with Haan as centre-forward. Holland, facing enthisiastic and well prepared Peruvian squad, again did not play well.
Krol looking in control of the ball – and the game, but the match was equal. Perhaps Peru played more dangerously, contrary to the photo, and Holland was lucky to survive a goalless tie. The attack was perhaps the biggest trouble and Happel already tried to improve it: Nanninga came twice already, replacing Rene van de Kerkhof in the first match, and Neeskens in the second.The little known player, practically a debutant at 29 years of age, changed absolutely nothing. Rep came back in the second half against Peru, replacing Rene van de Kerkhof – and nothing. Holland was running out of substitutes, already exhausting he striking options.

Since nothing was decided between the last match, Holland looked better on paper than on the field. Scotland was the most dangerous opponent for the Dutch, traditionally having difficulties against British teams. Holland was in much better position – Scotland needed a win by at least 3 goals difference to eliminate Holland, almost impossible task. At least on theory – on the pitch Scotland suddenly came to life and delivered fantastic game. The Dutch mostly tried to fence off Scottish attacks. Happel was still trying to find a working team – Haan was out and Rep was back. The rest were those from the match with Peru – and they were not great again. Most difficult was to figure out the worst player and substitute him in time – the candidates were too many... Neeskens was substituted in the 10th minute – by Boskamp, another nearing the age of 30 player, who hardly ever played for Holland before. After half-time Rijsbergen was no longer on the pitch either.

At first it was so bad – Rensenbrink scored, again from a penalty, in the 34th minute. But the Scots equalized just before half-time. Right after the start of the second half they scored again – from a penalty – and increased their attacks. In the 68th minute a fantastic attack of Gemmill ended with another goal and the end of Holland was quite at hand. Rep, however, reduced the Scottish lead two minutes later. The match ended 3-2 for Scotland and Holland qualified for the next round.
Not quite on their knees – or bums – but Holland was mostly trying to stop flying Scots. They survived , barely, thanks one more time to soldiering. No generals emerged so far... instead, some of the biggest names of the 1970s football were seeing themselves substituted or altogether benched. So far Holland was very disappointing and outright in trouble. It did not have well shaped team – rather, the search for some more or less effective combination of players continued. So far, Happel gave up on his preferred goalkeeper; gave up on his innovative 3-4-3 tactic; and desperately tried to find right place for Rensenbrink and Haan. After the match with Scotland it was very doubtful that Suurbier and Rijsbergen will be starters again. After his heavy injury in the match with Peru, Neeskens was probably out too. But Holland reached the second stage.

1. Peru 2 1 0 7-2 5

2. Holland 1 1 1 5-3 3

3. Scotland 1 1 1 5-6 3

4. Iran 0 1 2 2-8 1