In the second group stages the defending world champions of Brazil came face to face with the revelation of the tournament, the Dutch “Orange machine” in the last match of the groups that could see either side go to the world cup final.
After the great 1970 side, Brazil had undergone enormous changes; of the players that had played the 1970 final almost none were left, only Jairzinho and Rivelino, who were not able to lift the Brazilian play.
In spite of going undefeated through from the first round, Brazil had not been overwhelming: two 0-0 draws against Yugoslavia and Scotland, and a 3-0 victory against Zaire had been enough to just secure Brazil to go through ahead of Scotland on a one-goal difference. In the second round they still had a chance to get to the final though, as they had defeated East Germany and Argentina before the last match against the Netherlands, where a victory would put the South Americans in the final.
But the Brazilians were facing a confident Dutch side that had taken the world with storm. The Netherlands was coached by perhaps the greatest footballing genius ever, Rinus Michels, who had led Ajax Amsterdam to win the European Champions Cup in 1971, 1972 and 1974, by playing the style that came to be known as “Total Football”, where their extraordinarily athletic and technically-skilled players were able to play any position on the pitch, adapt their style to any opponent, and take advantage of any weak point in the opposition.
The Dutch team was full of many extraordinary players, many of whom had emerged from the Ajax Amsterdam footballing school. Among them, one stood out, namely the then-Barcelona player Johan Cruyff, who as Ajax Amsterdam player had been named European footballer of the year in 1971 and 1973 (and was to win the title again in 1974). Other of the extraordinary and versatile players were the Ajax midfielder Johan Neeskens, the also Ajax striker Johnny Rep, Anderlecht’s Rob Rensenbrink, and Feyenoord’s legendary defender Wim van Hanegem (Feyenoord had in fact won the European Champions Cup before Ajax in 1970 setting the stage for Dutch dominance in the 1970s).
Followed by a hordes of charming and orange-clad fans from across the Dutch-German border, the Dutch team had impressed everyone with their style. In the first round they had won their group after defeating Uruguay 2-0, Bulgaria 4-1 and tied 0-0 against Sweden. In their first two matches of the second round, they had destroyed Argentina 4-0 and defeated East Germany 2-0. Thus, a tie against Brazil would be enough to put them in the final.
Although Brazil had some chances at the start of the match, it was clear that the orange machine was making it difficult all over the pitch for the Brazilian world champions, who increasingly, as the game progressed became more foul in their attempts at stopping the Dutch attacking waves. Although first half ended 0-0, the Dutch had been the better side, and only five minutes into the second half, Netherlands went ahead: Johan Cruyff received the ball from Neeskens on the right side, and Neeskens himself ran forward into the Brazilian area. Cruyff crossed into the area where Neeskens just got ahead of the Brazilian defender and elegantly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper.
The Brazilians now had to score twice, but were unable to do anything against the strong Dutch, and only fifteen minutes later the Dutch scored again, this time on a goal by Cruyff himself, who in perfect balance first-timed a cross from Rensenbrink on the left side.
The goal frustrated the already tense Brazilians, who played uglier and made some extremely harsh attacks on the Dutch players. This culminated in the last minutes of the match when Atlético Madrid’s defender Luis Pereira was shown the red card after a vicious tackle on Neeskens. Pereira left the pitch making provocative signs at the Dutch fans.
The defending champions had not fallen with grace against a Dutch side that the entire football-loving world had fallen in love with, and were to take on the West German hosts in the final in Munich.
Although one of the best teams ever, the Dutch lost the final to the efficient Germans 2-1.
- 3rd July 1974, Westfalenstadium, Dortmund
- Attendance: 52,000
- Referee: Kurt Tschenscher (West Germany)
Goals: 1-0 Neeskens (50); 2-0 Cruyff (65)
Netherlands: Jongbloed; Haan, Van Hanegen, Jansen, Krol, Neeskens (Israel), Cruyff, Rensenbrink (de Jong), Suurbier, Rijsbergen, Rep
Brazil: Leão; Luis Pereira (RC, 84), Marinho Peres, Ze Maria, Marinho Chagas, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Paulo Cesar (Mirandinha), Valdomiro, Carpegiani, Dirceu