Ruud Doevendans has been an official columnist for a Dutch club and owns one of the largest
collections of soccer videos containing hundreds of World Cup matches. We at PWC are proud to have him as
a columnist. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
the World Cup.
Read earlier columns
Reaching the Final
It is unbelievable. My grandfather, who loved football and lived from 1903 until 1973, never saw his country reach the World Cup final. I am 45 now. Next Sunday will be ‘my’ third World Cup final with Holland. That’s how it can go.
I think I may say that I am not a nationalistic person. I will never ever, even not next Sunday, dress myself up in orange or wear carrots on my head. No way. I can watch matches in which Holland plays, pretty unbiased. But it is hard to describe what goes through my mind now Holland has, for the first time in 32 years, reached the highest, the biggest that football has to offer. The World Cup final. Read it again: the World Cup final. It is impossible to say what it does to you and I am not even going to try.
Maybe you, well respected reader and visitor of Planet World Cup, are Brazilian. Or German or Italian. In that case you will probably say: so what? You are used to reaching such big finals. But this country I live in has 16 million people. That is not 58 million (Italy), 82 million (Germany) or 200 million (Brazil). We have a fine infrastructure when it comes to football but still we have ‘a little less’ to choose from. And then we are that country that always plays nice football, but has already quit the tournament once the big guns play for titles. That’s how it is, am I right? We never win. That’s a rule when Holland plays. We play fine football, technically gifted, attackminded. But in the end someone else wins.
It is two hours after the semi final now. Tuesday July 6th has turned into Wednesday July 7th. Thirty-six years ago to the day, Holland played its first final in Munich against West Germany. I was nine years old. We watched the match at my grandma’s house. She had a colour television, we at home would have had to watch it in black and white. At half time Holland were losing 2-1. I was crying. My father lied to me: ‘Come on boy, they will turn things around in the second half.’ As we all know, they didn’t. West Germany hang on to their lead and won the World Cup for the second time. Until I was able to see the match again in full length many years later, I was one of about 15 million here in Holland who really thought the German victory was completely undeserved. I must admit now it wasn’t. Germany had the same number of chances and had a goal uncorrectly disallowed. Germany’s penalty kick was a fluke, but when Holland got a spotkick in the second minute Cruijff was fouled outside the box. Losing against West-Germany was a national trauma for 14 years.
A new chance came up in 1978. Again Holland reached the final and had to play the host nation and, again, they lost. Again no title, again second. The worst place in sports. A period of drought followed and only ended, all of a sudden, during Euro 1988 when this country finally won a huge price. The European Championship. In the semi’s, maybe even more important, Holland beat the Germans. A late revenche for 1974. We thought it couldn’t get any better. And still, to be completely fair, I think that team was quite a bit better than the current Oranje. Let alone the 1974 team. Better than that Holland will never be, I am sure. Even if Holland manage to win the final next Sunday, the players will not reach the status that Cruijff, Neeskens and Van Hanegem have. They were simply better.
But that was ‘only’ a European Championship. This is the World Cup. You are one win away from being the best in the world, from eternal fame in your country and worldwide. Never will followers of football forget who you were. We still know Nasazzi, Andrade and Castro because they won the World Cup in 1930. Combi, Schiavio and Orsi are still names that everyone remembers; they won it in 1934. You don’t have to be a great player: Stephane Guivarc’h was a World Cup winner in 1998. Brazilian goalie Felix won it in 1970. I know that this Holland team will not be the best world champion in history, if they make it. Even more: they may be one of the weakest. I know this World Cup again has been disappointing looking at the quality. But then again, just imagine what a 7th win in a row may mean. For Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel, John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuijt and Robin van Persie. And all the others. Managed by Bert van Marwijk, the down-to-earth coach. Can he do what Rinus Michels and Ernst Happel couldn’t, what Guus Hiddink didn’t? Louis van Gaal didn’t even qualify in 2002.
Maybe a bit strange, what crosses my mind just at this moment: what will be Edwin van der Sar’s thoughts now? He was the outstanding figure for Holland in so many matches. He wanted an international title with Holland so badly. I am pretty sure he would give all his trophy’s and awards back if he could be in this final. Now he has quit, they reach the final. People might think that it was all because of Van der Sar that they didn’t in earlier tournaments.
Holland is in the final again. I never forgot how it was when I was 9 and 13 years old. The tension, the way we watched the matches. How I got up that sunday morning, June 25th 1978, fevering towards the start of the match later that day. My two own sons now are 11 and 14 years old, about the same age I had back then. I really hope that they will carry this experience with them and think back to it when they grow older. I told them: ‘Be aware of the fact that these weeks, these matches are really something exceptional that you might never see again in your entire life. Live it and enjoy it!’
I can tell you: seeing your country play in a World Cup final is really something special. Remember my grandfather never experienced it. He died 374 days too early.
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