It is said history is written by the victors. The Dutch team defeated in the 1974 World Cup final challenge that.
Four decades on, as many people recall Johan Cruyff, Johnny Rep and here, opening the scoring, Johan Neeskens, as they do West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and the goalkeeper here, Sepp Maier.
This was the era of Total Football, when the Holland of Cruyff and coach Rinus Michels won hearts and minds — and matches — with a style that combined skill with tempo and aggression with creativity.
Johan Neeskens puts away a penalty during the opening exchanges of 1974 World Cup final between Holland and Germany
They may have lost this final 2-1, but that has not negated the affection in which the Dutch of ’74 are held. Nor did defeat curb the influence of Michels and Cruyff, which is still being felt today at Barcelona and, via Pep Guardiola, at Manchester City.
Total Football was intense football, a smothering of the opposition with skill and possession. Attack as the best form of defence.
Famed for their forward artistry, along the way to the 1974 final in Munich, Holland beat, among others, Uruguay 2-0, Argentina 4-0 and Brazil 2-0.
In six games to the final, the Dutch conceded one goal. In doing this the Dutch changed perceptions globally about where the beautiful game was being fully expressed — not in South America, where a defensiveness inhibited Brazil — but in a small western Europe nation.
Germany would eventually turn the game around and their winner was scored by Gerd Muller towards the end of the first half
Holland, of course, had never won the World Cup and still have not, but back in 1974 they had not been at a finals since 1938. They did not qualify for the 1972 European Championship in Belgium either, which was won by West Germany. But they were a coming force, centred on the European Cup-winning club team at Ajax — who were the best in Europe in 1971, ’72 and ’73.
Cruyff was the fulcrum, the athletic and intellectual driver, but there was talent throughout the squad and, in manager Michels, there was a man with a plan. Holland pressed opponents in numbers, regained possession as soon as possible. It worked.
Holland’s form meant that even though the Germans were on their home turf, the Dutch entered the final confident. This was demonstrated from the kick-off when the men in orange passed the ball around with utter assurance. With West Germany retreating into their own half, the Dutch put together 13 passes without a German touching the ball.
Holland had been admirable throughout the tournament — they managed to beat Argentina 4-0 during their semi-final match
The 14th pass was to Cruyff. Holland’s lead attacker was in the centre circle, five yards inside the German half. Everything was in front of him. From there Cruyff set off, sweeping towards and past Berti Vogts, reaching the German box and breaking in. Uli Hoeness stopped that with a blatant trip.
The referee, Jack Taylor from England, pointed to the spot without hesitation. The World Cup final was less than 60 seconds old and Holland had a penalty. Still no German player had touched the ball.
At this moment claims of Dutch superiority were justified. In the great book on Dutch football, Brilliant Orange, the German winger Bernd Holzenbein says: ‘In the tunnel, we planned to look them in the eye, to show we were as big as they were. They had the feeling they were invincible — you could see it in their eyes. Their attitude was, “How many goals do you want to lose by today, boys?”
‘I tried to look them in the eye, but I couldn’t do it. They made us feel small.’
Franz Beckenbaeur gestures at his team-mates as they face the brilliant Holland side in the final at the Olympiastadion
German footballers are hardly known for such feelings. It is one measure of how imposing Holland had become.
Nevertheless, the Dutch were human. Neeskens had scored two penalties against Bulgaria — one taken twice — but he was only 22 and as he was to say later: ‘After less than two minutes, I’d hardly touched the ball and wasn’t even warm. Then you have to make that penalty in front of 80,000 who are against you and of course the whole world is watching it.’
Neeskens’s preference was to hit penalties hard to the keeper’s right. But as he ran up, cold and with the world watching: ‘At the last step, I thought, “No, I’m going to shoot the other way”.’
Maier’s movement to his right meant Neeskens’s shot went down the middle and in. A slight scuff brought an atmospheric spray of white chalk from the spot. It was a penalty, and a photograph, with a whiff of history.
Yet it did not win Holland the World Cup. Before half-time Paul Breitner had scored a penalty for West Germany and Gerd Muller added a second. Beckenbauer, not Cruyff, lifted the trophy.
The Dutch are remembered, though. Second is not nowhere.