Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pounding Nigerian fufu!

I was unable to watch Ghana-Nigeria in the semifinal of the African Nations Cup, but sitting in my office in Caracas I followed the match online as Ghana pounded some Nigerian fufu!! I was delighted about Ghana's victory, wishing I was back in Ghana! As an old Ghanaian friend used to say, I was "happy like a Christmas Chicken!"

The 1-0 victory on a goal by Asamoah Gyan (who after also scoring the winner against Angola is turning into the great saviour for the Black Stars) was apparently hard-fought with the Wigan goalie Richard Kingson playing a great match that brought Ghana to the final
Still, Ghana's victory is amazing and augurs well for the World Cup, since Ghana is playing without some of its usual starters: Chelsea's Michael Essien, Inter's Sulley Muntari, Bologna's Stephen Appiah, Fulham's John Paintsil and Breda's dangerous striker Matthew Amoah have all been absent for different reasons, but the strength of Ghanaian football is now shown by the many (young) players that are able to take over.
Even with substitutes Ghana is one of the best teams of Africa!
And they may prove to be the best if they are hopefully able to kick the Egyptians back to the pyramids! (Egypt destroyed Algeria 4-0 in the other semifinal, getting some bitter revenge on being eliminated from the World Cup by the Algerians).
Go Black Stars!

Greatest World Cup matches: Hungary-El Salvador (1982)

In the 1982 first round group Argentina, Belgium, Hungary and El Salvador drew each other in group 3. Argentina surprisingly lost 1-0 to Belgium in the opening match, before Hungary was to open in Elche against El Salvador, who were only playing their second world cup ever, after losing all their three matches during the 1970 World Cup.
There were not many expectations to El Salvador against the strong European side. The small central American country was in the midst of a civil war, and the team itself was unknown and with little to offer.
In the meantime, the Hungarians had a strong team, although they had been decaying since their golden days, and didn’t have the same stars they used to, although some of them were stars in their respective clubs, such as Royal Antwerp’s Lászlo Fazekas and Ferencvaros’ Tibor Nyilasi.
As the match started it was also Tibor Nyilasi who opened the scoreboard after only four minutes, on a nice header following a corner-kick. On two further goals by Gabor Pölöskei and Lászlo Fazekas, the score was 3-0 by half-time; a large difference, but worse was to come.
Ten minutes into the second half József Toth and Fazekas had made it 4 and 5-0 respectively against a pathetically passive Salvadorean defense. It all looked as a training session for the Hungarians who understandably relaxed and gave the Salvadoreans more space, and in the 64th minute this bore fruit when Luis Ramírez Zapata scored for El Salvador. The Salvadorean players celebrated the goal as if the goal was important, and in some ways it was, as it remains the only goal El Salvador has ever scored in a World Cup.
The Salvadorans appeared so happy to score one goal, that they perhaps forgot to play, and for the remainder of the match El Salvador completely fell apart. Lászlo Kiss became the first and only player in a World Cup to come on as a substitute and score three goals, while Lázár Szentes also scored before Tibor Nyilasi, who had opened the scoreboard, also closed it with the tenth Hungarian goal.
El Salvador had been utterly humiliated while Hungary had started the tournament very well to say the least!
However, in the end the match meant nothing: El Salvador went on to lose with a bit less, 1-0 to Belgium and 2-0 to Argentina. Hungary on the other hand lost 4-1 to Argentina and after a 1-1 with Belgium, were  out of the tournament alongside the Salvadorans despite of their impressive scoreline.
Their victory against El Salvador still stands as the largest scoreline in World Cup history.

Match Stats:
  • 15th June 1982, Nuevo Estadio, Elche
  • Attendance: 23,000
  • Referee: Ibrahim Youssef-Al-Doy (Bahrain)
Hungary-El Salvador 10-1
Goals: 1-0 Nyilasi (4), 2-0 Pölöskei (11), 3-0 Fazekas (23), 4-0 Tóth (50), 5-0 Fazekas (54), 5-1 L. Ramirez (64), 6-1 L. Kiss (69), 7-1 L. Kiss (72), 8-1 Szentes (73), 9-1 L. Kiss (76), 10-1 Nyilasi (83)

Hungary: Meszaros; Martos, Balint, Tóth, Mueller (Szentes), Garaba, Fazekas, Nyilasi, Torocsik (L. Kiss), Poloskei, Sallai
El Salvador: Mora; Castillo, Jovel, Recinos, Ventura (Fagoaga), Rugamas (L. Ramirez), Hernandez, Huezo, Gonzalez, Rivas, J. Rodriguez

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Salvador Cabañas

I just want to say that all my thoughts and prayers go to Paraguay's outstanding striker who was cowardly shot in the head in Mexico. A great player whom everyone was looking forward to seeing in the World Cup.
I hope he recovers soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Milano derby

One of the greatest derby's of world football took place yesterday in Milano, namely that between Inter Milan and AC Milan. This one had been looked forward to as Inter's lead in the Serie A had seemed to be threatened by an AC Milan side that lately has started playing outstanding, in particular Ronaldinho who seems to have flourished like in his younger days. However, today was all about Inter Milan, who truly showed who the best team is; in the first minutes they overran AC Milan, and the Argentinean Diego Milito brought Inter ahead. Even though Wesley Sneijder was shown a very strange red card, Inter continued to dominate and the Macedonian player Goran Pandev brought Inter ahead 2-0 on a beautiful free kick.
In the last minutes of the match AC Milan was given a penalty as Lucio was thrown out for Inter Milan. However, in front of his countryman Julio Cesar, Ronaldinho missed the penalty.
The title seems on its way to Inter who with this victory cements their leadership of the Serie with 9 points ahead of AC Milan on second place.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ghana and Algeria in the semifinal!

There were two major surprises in the African Cup quarterfinals today.
In the first one, the home side of Angola were surprisingly eliminated by Ghana, who without their star Michael Essien managed a somewhat fortunate and hard-fought 1-0 victory on a goal by Stade Rennais' Asamoah Gyan. Ghana is set to play the winner of Zambia-Nigeria, and a match against their West African rivals Nigeria would surely be a drama!
Go Ghana!

The other quarterfinal saw an even greater surprise as Ivory Coast was eliminated by the interesting Algerians in a dramatic match: in the last minute of the match Ivory Coast went ahead 2-1 on a truly spectacular goal by Galatasaray's Kader Keita. But in the dying seconds of the match Algeria threw everything forward, and managed to equalize by the big Glasgow Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra. The match went into extra time, and Hamer Bouazza from Blackpool scored the winner for the Algerians.
Algeria are surprise qualifers for the World Cup in South Africa, and are not considered to have a chance against England, the USA and Slovenia. But surely these teams should be watching the Algerians!
Algeria will surely have a difficult semifinal as they will face the winner of Egypt-Cameroon. The Egyptians will surely want to show that they are the better team after Algeria elminiated them from the World Cup, prompting a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. However, with today's result Algeria have proven that they are indeed a match for any team! Look out for Algeria!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Football blues

I am having football blues. I guess I have moved to a non-footballing country, and I actually miss to go to a good pub and watch some football over a large pint of beer. But also, I am wondering whether this will be a football year that will bring some of the great moments; will my teams win anything? Will I watch any memorable matches? Will this World Cup will be memorable....?
Sure I will remember it; I record everything about a World Cup. But will it have some amazing matches? Will it have any matches that I will remember watching? The moment? The place? The people I watched it with?
Last World Cup was not that good in terms of quality and excitement. Still, I remember it mostly for being in Ghana for the memorable matches of that country. Will the next world cup bring any memorable moments...? (Venezuela is not in the world cup!).
I need a few pints of beer and talk football, something I haven't done for ages! Good I have this blog!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: Argentina-Netherlands (1978)

In 1976 Argentina’s government was overthrown by a military coup. The country had been awarded to host the world cup two years before, and when the coup happened, FIFA, led by the new president João Havelange, found no reason to suspend the tournament as news from Argentina of the military junta's harsh repression and violence against political dissidents started coming out of the country. As the world cup approached, talks of boycotting the tournament came increased, but with little effect on most people, except for one of the best players of the time; the legendary Dutch player Johann Cruyff refused to participate in protest against Videla’s military government.
In the meantime, the Argentine military government put all efforts into creating a world cup where Argentina would ultimately be victorious, diverting the people’s attention away from the military repression and give a positive image of the regime. Many dissidents were jailed, millions and millions of dollars spent on infrastructure, and shortly before the tournament, the media was even prohibited from making critical comments of the national team, which was coached by the charismatic Cesar Luis Menotti.
In spite of this odious favouritism of the Argentinean team, there is no doubt that they had a very strong side that was further energized by the nationalist euphoria of the Argentinean fans, who arguably created one of the most intimidating atmospheres for the visiting sides ever seen in a world cup. Cesar Luis Menotti had even had the luxury of leaving a 17-year old superstar, Diego Armando Maradona, out of the Argentinean side, although he was already being hailed as the best player in the world.
The Argentinean team was built around a list of skillful players: the River Plate captain Daniel Passarella was also captain of the team, the Huracán (and later Tottenham legend) Osvaldo Ardiles commandeered the midfield, and there were powerful strikers in River Plate’s Leopoldo Luque and Valencia’s Mario Kempes, who had been top-scorer of the Spanish league for the two previous seasons. Finally, on goal, Argentina had Ubaldo Fillol, from River Plate, who rose to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and was instrumental in Argentina’s victory.
Still, Argentina’s way to the final remains highly controversial: in the first round they defeated Hungary and France, but lost to Italy only to take second place in their group. In the second round group they started by defeating Poland 2-0, on two goals by Kempes, and tied Brazil 0-0 before their final match against Peru. Due to the previous results in the group, Argentina had to win by at least four goals to make it to the final, and their subsequent 6-0 victory was thus shrouded by controversy, as the military government in Argentina transferred significant sums of money to Peru after the victory, and the Argentinean president, Videla, visited the Peruvian team just before the match.
No matter what happened, Argentina was euphoric as the team made it to the final, where they were to face the Netherlands, who were making it to their second world cup final in a row.
Even without Johan Cruyff, the Dutch team was excellent, with many experienced players from the 1974 World Cup, such as Johnny Rep, Rene van der Kerkhof, Johan Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink and captained by Ajax Amsterdam’s Ruud Krol. At the same time the team had been complemented by some new talents from the Dutch school such as Ajax Amsterdam’s Arie Haan, Roda’s Dick Nanninga, and PSV Eindhoven’s Ernie Brandt (who previously in the tournament, against Italy, had been the first player in a world cup to score a goal for each team in the same match).
In spite of the players, the Dutch team had not been as awesome as in 1974, and had only qualified from the first round behind Peru, after defeating Iran, tying with Peru and losing to Scotland. In the second round they had played 2-2 with their arch-rivals from West Germany, destroyed Austria 5-1, and made it to the final by defeating Italy 2-1.
The final in Buenos Aires Estadio Monumental was played in an extraordinary and intimidating atmosphere for the visiting Dutch team, that even before the match experienced a war of nerves as the Argentinean team delayed their entrance onto the pitch, and then protested about a plaster on Rene van der Kerkhof’s hand.
As the match started, the Dutch dominated, and Johnny Rep had a close header. However, after the first fifteen minutes the Argentineans got more into the match and had a couple of good chances, before Johnny Rep had another excellent shot that was extraordinarily saved by Fillol.
In the 38th minute Argentina went ahead 1-0 by Mario Kempes, who, receiving the ball from Leopoldo Luque had made a quick rush between two Dutch defenders and just pushed the ball under the Dutch goalkeeper Jongbloed.
In the last minutes of the first half, Fillol again saved Argentina on a close Dutch try, and first half ended with a lead for the home team. The match had not been pretty – there were many dirty free kicks from both sides, something that continued throughout the match and which the weak referee Sergio Gonella was unable to entirely bring under control.
Argentina came out to the second half with a well-organised defense, knowing that the Netherlands had to attack, and waiting for the counter-attack chances for their quick strikers – something that in fact brought them closer to scoring than the Dutch when Jongbloed made an excellent save alone with Luque.
Unable to break the deadlock, the Dutch coach Ernst Happel substituted Johnny Rep with Dick Nanninga. Only ten minutes from the end of the match, as it looked like Argentina would carry the day, Dick Nanninga silenced the entire stadium when he rose to a perfect header on a cross from Rene Van der Kerkhof and scored a beautiful goal.
1-1, and in the last ten minutes the Netherlands went for the victory against the stunned hosts: in the very last seconds the Dutch came very close to crowning themselves as world champions when Rob Rensenbrink hit the post.
The match now had to go into an extra time, where Argentina’s best player, Mario Kempes proved to be unstoppable for the tired Dutch defenders; his long rushes down the center had been difficult for the Netherlands the entire match, and fifteen minutes into the extra time another rush down the Dutch central defense got him through somehow luckily, and he made it 2-1. With fifteen minutes left against an exhausted Dutch side, Argentina had all the advantages, and it was not surprising when Sevilla’s Daniel Bertoni fortuitously received the ball during another Kempes raid, and made it 3-1 for Argentina.
Argentina was in ecstasy at their victory, forgetting the pains of the dictatorship. The later Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Lopez Esquivel, who was imprisoned at the time, told how guards and prisoners alike became united for some moments, in spite of the triumph being a huge propaganda victory for the military dictatorship.
Although the Argentinean title was shrouded in controversy about the role of the military junta, fixed matches and intimidation, as well as regrets from many players about how they had been used by the repressive regime, it was perhaps Leopoldo Luque who was most correct when he said that “Menotti and the players won the world cup, not the military. I was playing with Kempes and Bertoni, not with the Junta.”
However, Argentina’s first world cup title will always be shrouded by the political controversy surrounding it.

Match stats:
  • 25th June, 1978, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires
  • Attendance: 77,260
  • Referee: Sergio Gonella (Italy)
Argentina-Netherlands 3-1 (after extra time)
Goals: 1-0 Kempes (38), 1-1 Nanninga (80), 2-1 Kempes (105), 3-1 Bertoni (115)

Argentina: Fillol, Olguin, L. Galvan, Passarella (c), Tarantini, Ardiles (Larrosa), Gallego, Kempes, Bertoni, Luque, Ortiz (Houseman)
Netherlands: Jongbloed, Jansen (Suurbier), Brandts, Krol, Poortvliet, Haan, W. Van der Kerkhof, Neeskens, R. Van der Kerkhof, Rep (Nanninga), Rensenbrink

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Super Tevez

In spite of Manchester City still being behind Manchester United in the Premier League (and in my view, Alex Ferguson's United is still far better, although the Glazers might soon ruin that as well...), today City defeated United 2-1 in the semifinal of the Carling Cup, and both City goals were scored by none other than Carlos Tevez.
Last season Carlos Tevez was not good enough for mighty Manchester United, so the talented Argentinean changed club: he stayed in the same city, but changed to Manchester City, who ambitiously is trying to catch up with its mighty neighbour by buying its way to success. Although City may still have a way to go, Carlos Tevez is having an outstanding season.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Côte d'Ivoire-Ghana

I cannot hide my subjective preference for Ghana, having lived there for many years, and seeing their progress to become one of the top African footballing nations, whom I have before said are the most likely candidate for an African finalist. However, after watching Côte d'Ivoire-Ghana last night in the African Cup of Nations, I must regrettably back off on this assertion, as Côte d'Ivoire were far superior to Ghana, and winning 3-1 was totally deserved (and it should have been 3-0 as the referee gave an unexistant penalty to Ghana in the last seconds of the match). Even when down to 10 men, Ghana was unable to put pressure on the Ivorian defense organised around an outstanding Kolo Touré. And in attack the Ivorians simply have what the Ghaneans lack: good strikers.
In the 2006 World Cup Ghana were a huge positive surprise (and I was delighted to be in Ghana myself), but many forgot that the Ghana side had one of the lowest shots-to-goal averages of all the teams in the tournament, displaying a horrible inefficiency. After seeing Ghana last night I am afraid that Ghana is still suffering from this, in spite of having an outstanding team otherwise....
I hope I am wrong, but I now believe a little less in Ghana for the world cup in South Africa.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Barcelona out

Barcelona won everything they participated in last season, but it is now certain that this feat won't be repeated. Last night Sevilla eliminated Barcelona from the Spanish Copa del Rey. Although losing 1-0 in Seville, the Southerners had won 2-1 in Barcelona, and are now ready for the next round.
Barcelona did defend its title feverishly though, and it was only bad luck and extraordinary goalkeeping from Palop that hindered a second goal for Barcelona.
The Catalans are still leading La Liga and in the CL, and it was bound to be difficult to repeat the amazing feat of last season. Still, with last night's result, many will be smelling blood!

Greatest World Cup Matches: West Germany-Netherlands (1974)

The two teams to dispute the final of the 1974 world cup in West Germany were undoubtedly the best teams in the world at the time: West Germany were defending European champions, and were led by Franz Beckenbauer, the Bayern Munich captain, and arguably one of the best players of all time. Solid on all places, they furthermore had the striker Gerd Müller, who after this tournament became the most scoring player of all world cups (until Ronaldo in 2002).
The home team had nevertheless not started the tournament well. In the first round they had only finished second in their group, after losing against East Germany in a politically loaded match in Hamburg. However, this match had apparently awakened the Germans, who in the second round had scored three consecutive victories against Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland, to make it to the final.
In spite of playing at home in Munich in front of almost 80,000 fans, the Germans were not favourites: they were facing the Netherlands, a team that had taken the world with storm. Coached by the former Ajax Amsterdam coach Rinus Michels, the Dutch “orange machine” played a style of football that came to be known as “Total football”, putting pressure everywhere on the pitch with its many extraordinary players, notably Barcelona’s Johann Cruyff, the European footballer of the year in 1971, 1973 and in 1974, and one of the best players of all time.
The Dutch had been incredible the entire tournament, winning their first round group ahead of Sweden, Bulgaria and Uruguay, and in the second round cruising through Argentina, East Germany, and finally defeating the defending world champions of Brazil 2-0.
Thousands of Dutch fans had crossed over to West Germany from the Netherlands to see what was in reality an extraordinary feat for the small country against its big neighbour, who many Dutch people had a hateful relationship to. For instance, the Dutch Feyenoord player Wim Van Hanegem, who had lost his father and two brothers during WWII, expressed his disdain for Germans when stating "I don't like Germans. Everytime I played against German players, I had a problem because of the war."
The stage was thus set for an enormous drama in Munich.
And it all started well for the Dutch favourites. As they gave up the ball they passed the ball around, without a single German player getting a touch, when the ball landed with Johann Cruyff. The small Borussia Mönchengladbach player known as “the Terrier”, Bertie Vogts, was appointed as the player who was to neutralize Cruyff, but he was unable to stop the Dutchman in this first minute, as he rushed at full speed directly towards the German goal. As he entered the German area a desperate Uli Hoeness tackled him, and the English referee Jack Taylor correctly awarded a penalty for the Dutch. The Ajax Amsterdam (and that year Barcelona) striker Johann Neeskens took the penalty and scored his fifth goal of the tournament, and the Dutch machine was ahead 1-0 after only one minute.
The Germans had not even touched the ball yet.
But if one thing has characterized German football throughout football history, it is that German teams never give up, and in front of their home crowd, the West German side increasingly managed to fight themselves into the match, and in particular Berti Vogts completely managed to neutralize Johann Cruyff, while the Dutch thought that they had the match under control. Johann Cruyff later recalled: “Being ahead so soon caught us off balance since we never expected that defeating the hosts would be so easy. We had a sense of vertigo. Germany was almost defeated, but we then started to make mistakes. Germany didn’t win the world cup, but we lost it.”
The Dutch were overconfident, and 25 minutes into the first half they were punished when Eintracht Frankfurt’s Bernd Hölzenbein stormed down the left side, and in a rush that reminded of Cruyff’s 24 minutes earlier, stormed into the Dutch area, and right before shooting, was brought down by Feyenoord’s Wim Jansen.
Referee Jack Taylor awarded the Germans the second penalty kick ever in a world cup final, and the outstanding Bayern Munich defensive midfielder (soon to become Real Madrid player) Paul Breitner made no mistake in scoring the equalizer for West Germany.
In spite of the Netherlands still often controlling the ball, the Germans now seemed more solid all over the pitch. Almost at the end of the first half the youngest German player, Rainer Bonhof, passed the ball into Gerd Müller inside the Dutch penalty box. The pass was too close to Müllers feet and the ball bounced backwards, away from Müller and the Dutch defender, but in a split-second Müller turned and shot immediately, not too hard, but past Jan Jongbloed in the Dutch goal.
The home team was up 2-1 at half-time, with the Dutch effectively having thrown away their early advantage.
The Dutch tried to attack feverishly in the second half, but the solid German defense and an excellent Sepp Maier on goal, prevented the Netherlands from scoring. On the opposite side, West Germany had more chances on counter-attack, with a Gerd Müller goal even being disallowed for off-side. In any case, the 2-1 result held for West Germany, who twenty years after their first world title in Switzerland, West Germany had deservedly won the world championship at home against a Dutch team that remains one of the best teams ever never to have won the world cup.

Match Stats:
  • 7th July, 1974, Olympia Stadion, Munich
  • Attendance: 77,833
  • Referee: John Taylor (England)
West Germany-Netherlands 2-1
Goals: 0-1 Neeskens (1) (pen); 1-1 Breitner (25) (pen); 2-1 Muller (43)

West Germany: Maier, Vogts, Schwarzenbeck, Beckenbauer, Breitner, Bonhof, Hoeness, Overath, Grabowski, Muller, Hölzenbein
Netherlands: Jongbloed, Suurbier, Rijsbergen (de Jong), Haan, Krol, Jansen, Van Hanegen, Neeskens, Rep, Cruyff, Rensenbrink (R. Van der Keerkof)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

African Cup of Nations Tragedy

I have been in Angola and I found it a wonderful country with wonderful people. Still, it has a sad history, poverty and violence, and although the country was awarded to host the 2010 African Cup of Nations the violence have alreayd overshadowed the entire tournament.
Upon passing the border from the DR Congo to the Angolan enclave of Cabinda, the bus carrying Togo's national side was attacked by gunmen of the separatist group FLEC. Three members of Togo's entourage have been confirmed killed, and Togo has understandably decided to withdraw from the tournament, where they otherwise faced some interesting matches against Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
There is nothing that can be said about the human tragedy here, but in footballing terms the real tragedy is for African football. At a time when Africa is set to host its first world cup, and when the world is finally looking to the African Cup of Nations as a tournament where serious World Cup contenders are participating (I am in Venezuela, where they for the first time are going to show live matches from the tournament), this can only put things in the wrong light, and take attention away from the high quality football we can expect.
That said, it means nothing for South Africa 2010: a different country and a different place, and indeed, Cabinda is a place that has been in conflict for decades - in this sense it more seemed like a miscalculation from Angolan authorities to have set matches there, as well as not have provided the proper protection for the Togolese team.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Greatest World Cup Matches: Netherlands-Brazil (1974)

The tournament of 1974 was designed somewhat differently from the previous tournaments: instead of quarterfinals and semifinals, the winners and runners-up of each group would go through to two play-off groups of four teams, whose winners would then dispute the final.
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.

Match Stats:
  • 3rd July 1974, Westfalenstadium, Dortmund
  • Attendance: 52,000
  • Referee: Kurt Tschenscher (West Germany)
Netherlands-Brazil 2-0
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