The first World Cup I watched was in 1974: a rag-tag bunch of footballers with long retro '70s hair and their shirts hanging out even before kickoff took the world by storm.
Holland unleashed "total football" and the soccer world hasn't been the same since. A long-haired student myself at the time, I was enthralled by their brilliance. Johan Cruyff and his team tore through the opposition. They beat Argentina 4-0 and so dominant were they, it could have been double that. Brazil's solution was to hack them all game long (enforcement was far more lenient back then). All it did was to minimize their loss to 2-0.
They faced the hosts, West Germany in the final. West Germany was the second best team in the tournament but few outside Germany thought they could beat Holland.
Holland kicked off and strung together 15 passes before Cruyff was fouled in the area after beating three German defenders. The first touch by a German player was Sepp Maier, the goalie picking up the ball from the back of the net.
Holland continued playing beautiful soccer but seemed to forget the object is goals, not aesthetics. Germany equalized from a penalty that looked a lot more like a dive than a foul. Right before half time Gerd Mueller, "Der Bomber," scored a typical goal to give the West Germans the lead.
West Germany's defense tightened in the second half and Holland couldn't score again. They are one of the greatest teams to ever win the World Cup.
They had another chance in 1978 but lost again in the final with much the same team, minus Johan Cruyff, against the hosts Argentina. They hit the post in the 90th minute but lost 3-1 in extra time. Since then, the closest they came was losing on penalties to Brazil in the 1998 semifinal.
They should overcome Uruguay and make the finals for the first time since 1978. Uruguay should be no more than a minor hurdle for this year's Dutch team. Without the suspended Luis Suarez up front and injuries in the defense Uruguay will be hard pressed to contain the Dutch.
The absence of Suarez will make it far easier for Holland to contain Diego Forlan. The betting odds reflect this and Holland should be set for their third final.
It's Uruguay's first match against a contender thanks to an easy bracket, and like others they will fall by the wayside with their weakened team.
That leaves Germany and Spain in the other semifinal. For analysis on that game, read my preview here on why Germany will beat Spain.
That would leave us with a delectable final between two European powers. The winner will be the first European team to win the Cup outside Europe. It seems the announcement of the death of European soccer after the round of 16 was a bit premature.
Germany could be this year's version of the Dutch team in 1974. Other than a slight hiccup against Serbia (the '74 Dutch team had one as well) they have looked a cut above any of the other teams.
Holland will be a tough nut for Germany to crack. Holland could even be called the host nation. They ruled South Africa (before it became South Africa) until the early 19th century. A few miles away from Green Point stadium in Cape Town is the Castle of Good Hope built by the original Dutch settlers over a 30 year period starting in 1666.
Germany and Holland have a long rivalry in soccer. This would be their fourth meeting in the World Cup. They drew in 1998 in a second round group game and had a nasty spat in the round of 16 in Italy in 1990.
Holland was one of the favorites that year, coming off winning the Euro Nations in 1988 where they beat Germany in the semifinal. The Germans were determined to get under the Dutch skin in the 1990 meeting and a spitting episode in the 21st minute got Frank Rijkaard sent off along with Rudi Voeller. The Dutch lost their composure and they couldn't settle down, losing 2-1.
Holland, with a population of about 16 million people is by far the smallest of the traditional world soccer powers over the past 50 years. Since 1970 they have managed to produce a constant stream of quality players and quality teams. The ones from the Cruyff and the Ruud Gullitt years stand out, but none of their teams lack a high degree of quality.
The current team doesn't yet compare with those two elite teams. However great they were, neither won a World Cup. Could 2010 be a Dutch treat for Holland and their wonderful fans, among the best in the world?
A Germany-Holland final will also allow their fans to use one of the best chants in all of soccer. "Give us back our bicycles" is their favorite chant when playing their neighbors to the East. It refers to World War II when the Germans confiscated all the bicycles in Holland after invading in 1940.
Holland have yet to beat Germany in World Cup finals play. Assuming they do meet this time, Germany will probably be the favorites. In 1974 the boot was on the other foot with Holland favored. Will history repeat itself with the underdog winning?
Hup Holland. It's time a new team are crowned World Champions.
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