Received wisdom has it that no one remembers the losing finalists. Not true.
Nobody who ever watched the 1974 World Cup culminating in the final in Munich’s Olympiastadion will ever forget the Johan Cruyff-inspired Netherlands team that ultimately fell short of its apparent destiny.
When Bert van Marwijk‘s team line up against Spain in the Soccer City Stadium, they will attempt to become the first Dutch side to be crowned world champions.
Yet not even the most fervent admirers of the current squad would claim the 2010 vintage Oranje could match the team that helped define the concept of Total Football.
Dutch football was on a high in the early seventies with Ajax succeeding Feyenoord as European Cup winners in 1971, the first of a hat-trick of victories in the competition for the Amsterdam club.
Yet the Dutch game was about more than trophies, it was about a style of play that was entirely fluid and allowed the likes of Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Johnny Rep to showcase their outstanding individual skills.
Coming into the finals in 1974 it seemed as though Holland were the natural heirs to the unforgettable Brazil side of 1970 and after reaching the final, many people assumed Rinus Michels‘ side were now just 90 minutes away from the ultimate triumph.
That was certainly the way it appeared for the opening 90 seconds when the supremely confident Dutch stroked the ball around the pitch before Cruyff darted into the German box and was brought down by Uli Hoeness.
English referee Jack Taylor awarded the penalty which was crashed home by Neeskens and Holland were one up before the hosts had even touched the ball.
A weaker team may have lost their nerve after such a shattering start to the game but West Germany, the reigning European champions, were a highly experienced side who had reached the semi-finals four years previously and included players of the calibre of Franz Beckenbauer, Wolfgang Overath and Gerd Muller.
The Germans had the mental strength to withstand Holland’s fearsome opening while they were also helped in part by the Dutch side’s determination to claim victory in style against opponents they regarded as fierce rivals. “I always felt that the Dutch set out to humiliate the Germans,” Taylor told the Daily Telegraph last week.
West Germany forced their way back on level terms in the 25th minute when Taylor awarded his second penalty of the game when Bernd Holzenbein was tripped by Wim Jansen and Paul Breitner beat Jan Jongbloed from the spot.
Then two minutes before half-time Muller’s snapshot put the hosts ahead and there proved to be no way back for Holland despite their increasingly frantic efforts during the second half.
Four years later, the Dutch were again beaten in the final of by the host nation, this time losing to Argentina. Thirty-two years on, will it be third time lucky for the Netherlands when they face Spain?
This is how the two teams lined up in front of a crowd of 75,200 on July 7, 1974.
Netherlands (4-3-3): Jongbloed; Suurbier, Rijsbergen (De Jong 69), Haan, Krol; Jansen, Neeskens, Van Hanagem; Rep, Cruyff, Resenbrink (R van der Kerkof 46).
West Germany (4-3-3): Maier; Vogts, Schwarzenbeck, Breitner; Bonhof, Hoeness, Overath; Grabowski, Muller, Holzenbein.
Johann Cruyff Tribute : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr1VWSntqRg