Holland 1978
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Holland 1974.
Group A, Wednesday 21st June 1978 (13.45):
Dutch flag Holland 2 Italy 1 Italian flag
Scorers -
Brandts (OG) Brandts Haan
19 mins 49 mins 74 mins

Teams -
  1 Schrijvers  
  22 Brandts   5 Krol   2 Poortvliet  
6 Jansen   9 Haan   13 Neeskens   11 W. Van de Kerkhof
  10 R. Van de Kerkhof   16 Rep   12 Rensenbrink  

  18 Bettega   21 Rossi  
15 Zaccarelli   10 Benetti   14 Tardelli   16 Causio
3 Cabrini   8 Scirea   4 Cuccureddu   5 Gentile
  1 Zoff  

Substitutes -
8 Jongbloed for 1 Schrijvers 21 mins
17 C. Sala for 16 Causio 46 mins
4 Van Kraay for 16 Rep 65 mins
19 Graziani for 18 Bettega 79 mins
Unused Substitutes -
3 Schoenaker 7 Wildschut 21 Lubse
(Source is KNVB site;
TV caption lists 14 Boskamp, not Schoenaker)
6 Maldera 9 Antognioni 12 Conti

Cautioned - Rep Benetti Haan Tardelli Cabrini

Estadio Monumental Referee - Angel Martinez (Spain).
Linesmen - Orazco (Peru), Pestarino (Argentina).
Venue - Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires.
Attendance 68,000.

Line-up v Italy (thanks Stefano for the photo)

  Between Holland and a second successive World Cup Final now stood an Italy team generally regarded as among the strongest sides in the competition. They had already beaten Argentina in a first round game, and, if not the greatest Italian team ever to grace a World Cup competition, were certainly a long way from the worst. Strong in defence, as ever, well-organised in midfield, and blessed with a couple of incisive strikers, they would have made worthy enough champions themselves.

  The inclusion of Antonello Cuccureddu as deputy for the injured defender Mauro Bellugi meant that they included no less than nine players from the Juventus team which had beaten Ajax on penalties in the European Cup Quarter-Final just over three months ago, Renato Zaccarelli and Paulo Rossi being the interlopers. Krol and Schrijvers had been on the losing side in that encounter, and Happel's FC Brugge had beaten Juve in the subsequent Semi-Final. Of the Italy team on duty today, no less than six (Dino Zoff, Claudio Gentile, Gaetano Scirea, Antonio Cabrini, Marco Tardelli and of course Rossi) would take part in the 1982 Final win in Spain against West Germany, and Zoff, whose path had first crossed with some of these Dutchmen in the 1973 European Cup Final, was of course to be the coach of the Italian team which ended Holland's hopes at Euro 2000.

Line-up v Italy
Line-up against Italy.
Back: Rep, Schrijvers, Brandts, René van de Kerkhof, Neeskens, Krol.
Front: Jansen, Willy van de Kerkhof, Poortvliet, Rensenbrink, Haan.

  For Holland, Neeskens took up his post in midfield, though playing much deeper than he usually did, with the excellent Wildschut somewhat unluckily the one to make way, dropping down to substitute. Holland's first choice team? Maybe the absent defenders Suurbier and Rijsbergen were still missed, although many would say the youngsters, Brandts and Poortvliet, were performing well enough to stay in the team anyway. For the former, in particular, this was to be a day to remember. The action now shifted to the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, which would also be the venue for the Final. Holland wore white again, and, again, it's hard to explain why.

Group A Table (after 2 games).


P W D L F A Pts
Holland 2 1 1 0 7 3 3
Italy 2 1 1 0 1 0 3
W.Germany 2 0 2 0 2 2 2
Austria 2 0 0 2 1 6 0

  Whichever team won would qualify for the Final. A draw would favour Holland - except if West Germany beat Austria by four goals or more. Score flashes from Cordoba soon confirmed this scenario to be unlikely.

  The game was everything you'd expect from what was effectively a Semi-Final. Italy, much criticised for their cautious approach to their previous games in the Group, knew they needed to win this one, and attacked for all they were worth. Though the game was physical right from the start, there was much good football to admire from both teams. It was a game which would not have been out of place in the 1990s, with very little use of the width of the pitch, and space in midfield at a premium, as both teams worked hard to deny the other side room to play. It was also a contest in which the pendulum of fortune swung dramatically over the course of the 90 minutes.

Benetti (not Bettega!) causing early problems for Holland.
Thanks to 'fratellipretari' for the photo.

  Italy held the early advantage, playing by far the more positive football, and much more disciplined in their defensive duties. For half an hour or so, Holland were, almost uniquely, overwhelmed in midfield, and could have changed ends two or three goals down. Rossi headed a corner over from close range, Cabrini blasted a shot over the bar, and Franco Causio was sent clear from a throw-in, forcing Schrijvers to come off his line and intercept. Holland struggled to make any headway against tight marking, Rep in particular being forcefully policed by Gentile, and, when Rensenbrink briefly lost his marker to head over the bar, it was little more than a token protest. Brandts's back-pass to Schrijvers required more urgent action from the Dutch goalkeeper, then Romeo Benetti put Causio through to miss an open goal.

Neeskens closing in on Scirea

  At last, inevitably, Italy took the lead - in unexpected fashion. A swift one-two found Roberto Bettega free beyond the square Dutch back line, and it seemed the veteran striker must score, or at least get a shot in on target. But Ernie Brandts set off in pursuit of what seemed a lost cause, and, when Bettega struggled to get the ball under control with his first touch, swept past him and propelled the ball into the Dutch net.

Brandts (on ground) beats Bettega to the ball but puts it past Schrijvers
Thanks to 'fratellipretari' for the photo.

Haan attempts first aid on Schrijvers, while Brandts contemplates how much money Jongbloed owes him   He also followed through on Piet Schrijvers, who had been advancing on the Italian forward more in hope than in expectation of making a save, and Brandts's challenge managed to damage the goalkeeper's knee so severely he had to be stretchered off. Jan Jongbloed, however, appeared to have made his peace with Happel (or perhaps the coach had fallen out with Doesburg!), and was back on the bench as substitute goalkeeper, and so, after a brief struggle to find his No 8 jersey, the man who, in the author's opinion, iconised the spirit of this Dutch team came off the bench to deal with the crisis.

Krol and Jongbloed discuss tactics: 'All-out attack seems a good idea to me, Ruud'
  Immediately, Italy moved in for the kill. Jongbloed saved from Rossi, as a strangely tentative Krol misjudged a header, and a fierce shot from Benetti following a corner brought an inspired save out of the stand-in goalie. At this point, Holland began to assert themselves a bit more in midfield, using the wide areas to rather better effect, and gradually began to gain a foothold in the game. A slick move between Rep and Rensenbrink was foiled by a very marginal offside decision, and from this point the Italians appeared to decide to sit on their precarious lead.

  By half-time, the Dutch were giving as good as they got, in football terms and physically. Haan's foul on Zaccarelli, following a free exchange of hacking by both teams, was worthy of more than the verbal admonishment he received, then the frustrated Rep was cautioned for a high challenge on Benetti. The Italian midfielder was himself booked for fouling Rensenbrink, his second yellow card of the tournament, meaning he would miss the Final if Italy qualified, and probably the true turning point of the game. Looking back from the twenty-first century, an age of mandatory cautions and automatic bans, it doesn't seem at all unusual for a player to be suspended for an important Final, but in 1978 it was just about unprecedented, and Italy in general, and Benetti in particular, seemed quite unable to deal with it. It's no exaggeration to say that the loss of concentration this caused was a major factor in Italy's demise.

  Holland, diligent and resourceful as ever, had dug themselves out of a hole, but still they needed a goal.

Brandts in action against Italy

Haan in action for Holland (thanks again, Stefano)   For the second half, Italy replaced the menacing Causio with Claudio Sala, a far more defensive player than the Juve right-winger. The Dutch for their part pushed Neeskens further forward, and the change in the pattern of play was almost instantaneous, a powerful header from the Barcelona midfielder at a Krol free-kick bringing a great save out of Zoff. Italy, confident of their ability to close the game down, had surrendered the initiative, a mistake that was to cost them dearly. Soon after the break, the vital goal arrived, and again the name of the scorer was a surprise. There was an exchange of headers just outside the Italian penalty area, Gentile and Rep went up for a challenge, and the ball dropped to Brandts. The central defender let fly (without even looking where the goals were, as the Italians ruefully complained) and the ball flew into the net, taking Brandts into Dutch football folklore with it.

Rossi being tackled by (I think) Neeskens - where's the ball though?!   As the game became stretched, the tackles became nastier and tempers frayed. The Dutch, as ever, were far from blameless. Haan was booked for a foul on Tardelli, then Rossi had the ball in the net as Bettega headed a cross his way, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. Indeed, the Dutch, now with the scoreline they needed, started to rely heavily on this offside weapon, and the efforts of the Italian strikers became more and more sporadic. Still they had their moments, though, Krol's superb tackle on Rossi saving one situation, but their composure had all but deserted them. Cabrini was booked for a gratuitous bite at Haan's ankles with the ball long gone, a foul which could well have produced the red card. The Dutch replaced the lukewarm Rep with Adri van Kraay, who adopted a holding position in what was now a five-man midfield, adding further to the Italians' frustrations. When Benetti elbowed Neeskens in the throat, the referee took no action, but Tardelli's two agricultural swings at Poortvliet in quick succession were more than he could tolerate, and another Italian would miss the Final.

Rossi's offside goal - well, he looks offside from this angle!

  Italy grew more frantic in attack, and less thorough in their defensive marking duties. With 15 minutes left, Gentile fouled Rensenbrink off the ball. Krol took the free-kick quickly to Haan, who advanced up the inside-left channel and let fly from his customary 25 yards. The ball whizzed past Zoff, who, like Maier before him, could do nothing but gape. Italy brought on Francesco Graziani for Benetti, but the contest was now beyond them. Rather than sit back and defend, Holland took the latter minutes of the game at a canter against a now dispirited Italy team. Zoff was called into action again, as Haan and Neeskens created a chance for full-back Poortvliet, a throwback to the days of total football that would have pleased Michels. The Italian goalkeeper was required to make another save when Rensenbrink burst between two defenders who were leaving a cross to each other.

Haan challenged by Rossi, again hard to tell where the ball was

  The game was ending, in marked contract to the way it had begun, with Holland totally on top, stern in defence, closing the game down in a manner the Italians would have appreciated, and with an efficiency the 1974 team could not have matched. Italy, with nothing more to lose, had attacked passionately enough, but, once the equaliser had gone in, they couldn't make another dent, and Holland were through to another World Cup Final. They had, frankly, struggled at first, and the manner of their passage through the first round had been unspectacular, to say the least, but the performances in the second phase had been exhilarating. Once again, as they went into a World Cup Final, they had the world behind them.

Group A Table.


P W D L F A Pts
Holland 3 2 1 0 9 4 5
Italy 3 1 1 1 2 2 3
W.Germany 3 0 2 1 4 5 2
Austria 3 1 0 2 4 8 2

Holland qualify for Final v Argentina; Italy for Third-Place Play-Off v Brazil.

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