Holland 1978
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Holland 1978
Between the Wars: 1974-78

  The rise of Dutch football in the early 1970s, and the unforgettable performance of the orange-clad team at the 1974 World Cup Finals, is of course the subject of another web site, which you may like to look at first, if you haven't already seen it:

  Holland had followed up the 1974 World Cup with an appearance in the Semi-Finals of the European Championship in 1976, although their elimination by Czechoslovakia was not a game which is recalled with affection, two players being sent off by the almost compulsively controversial British referee Clive Thomas.

Dutch line-up v Czechoslovakia

  The 'forgotten' Dutch team of 1976, lining up against Czechoslovakia. Johan Cruyff, Adri van Kraay, Wim Rijsbergen, Wim Suurbier, Willy van de Kerkhof, Rob Rensenbrink, Johnny Rep, Wim Jansen, Piet Schrijvers, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens. Yes, this team lost to Czechoslovakia.

Line-up v Yugoslavia

  Line-up for the third-place play-off against Yugoslavia, which Holland won 3-2. Krol, Van Kraay, Suurbier, Ruud Geels, Peter Arntz, Willy van de Kerkhof, Jan Peters, Jansen, Rensenbrink, René van de Kerkhof, Schrijvers.

  Nevertheless, most of the class of 1974 were still young enough to figure as contenders for international recognition, and they had qualified relatively comfortably for the 1978 World Cup, with a side which, though very changeable, contained a healthy sprinkling of veterans from that illustrious few weeks in Germany.

  On the club front, the balance of power within Holland had shifted considerably, with the Feyenoord side of the early 1970s now mostly in retirement and the great Ajax team of 1971-73 scattered to the four winds. Of that side, only Ruud Krol was still at the club, though in Piet Schrijvers and Ruud Geels they had brought in two members of the Dutch 1974 squad. Even the return of Rinus Michels as coach in the 1975-76 season had been unable to arrest the decline. PSV Eindhoven had won the championship for three out of the last four seasons, also the UEFA Cup in 1978 - beating Johnny Rep's Bastia in the Final - and were now the dominant contributors to the international squad, numbering six of the 22 players chosen. Other than an appearance in the UEFA Cup Final by Twente in 1975, PSV's recent triumph had been the only mark made on European club football by the Dutch in recent seasons. And the Barcelona side of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens had failed to win the Spanish League for four years now, and had made but little impact at the European level since the heady days of 1975.

  Further afield, changes were afoot too. Bayern's three-year reign as European champions had been ended in 1977, and Liverpool's two European Cup wins had ushered in an era of domination by the English clubs, although England had again been unable to qualify for the 1978 World Cup. By the late 1970's, just about every club and international team played in a rigid 4-4-2 formation, with few variations on this theme. If the defensive straightjacket which had looked like strangling the game in the late 1960s and early 1970s had been replaced, it had been supplanted not by the "total football" of the German and Dutch teams of the 1972-74 period but by an emphasis on work-rate, on denying the other team space in which to play, and on scrapping for possession in midfield. Not that hard running off the ball hadn't been part of the total football ethos, it was just that the flexibility and unpredictability of this approach had fallen by the wayside in favour of a sterile uniformity which meant that, increasingly, every team played the game the same way and in the same formation. We needed a good World Cup.


  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the 1978 Holland squad was the man chosen to lead it. Ernst Happel, Austrian born and a World Cup Semi-Finalist for his country in 1954, had been coach of the Feyenoord team which won the European Cup in 1970, the first real breakthrough of Dutch football. Only a few weeks before the 1978 World Cup he had taken Belgian champions Club Brugge to the European Cup Final, in which they had lost 1-0 to Liverpool at Wembley. Though respected the world over, his name did not evoke visions of attacking football in the same way as, say, that of Michels. It was expected that his Holland team would adopt a very different philosophy to the 1974 side, with the emphasis much more on diligent defence than on flamboyant attack.

  He took over the Holland side from Jan Zwartkruis, who had led the team during qualification. As in 1974, the new coach was given the job description "Supervisor", and the incumbent allowed to retain the title of "Head Coach". Zwartkruis had famously described Happel as treating his players "like footballers, not like people", and the relationship between the two men was much less symbiotic than, say, between Michels and his predecessor and assistant Fadrhonc in 1974. Happel announced to the world that the Dutch team would play with a five-man midfield, probably inventing "wing-backs" about a decade before the position had a name (though why he felt it necessary to give his tactics away on the eve of the World Cup is a mystery), and had talked expansively about the team needing to rid itself of its "Cruyff complex" (though, again, what he expected to achieve by this pronouncement is anyone's guess).

  Quite the least appealing feature of the upcoming World Cup of 1978 was its location. Argentina was, without doubt, a country steeped in football history and passion, and, even if it was to be in winter, it could have been a fine venue for an international competition under most circumstances. But the military dictatorship which had recently seized power in that country were a reprehensible regime. Their excesses are catalogued elsewhere, and have no place on a site dedicated to the game of football: suffice it to say the whole world, including presumably even the upper echelons of FIFA, must have been aware of them. Attempts were made to move the tournament elsewhere (Holland itself was suggested by some), but these did not come to fruition, and Argentina got the World Cup it had long craved at the most inappropriate period in its history.

  It was surely obvious that, in the wrong hands, the World Cup or any major international sporting event could quickly be turned into a vehicle for nationalist propaganda (it has been done before, of course), and the dangers inherent in such a staging such an exercise in front of supporters as, shall we say, enthusiastic as the Argentinians scarcely needed pointing out. Yet the football authorities buried their collective heads in the sand, and the scene was set for a World Cup which, although it would be remembered for much good football, would also be one which, in several respects, left a nasty taste in the mouth.

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