By Ken Pendleton - USSoccerPlayers (Jan. 19, 2006) — No one questions that the Dutch took revenge when they beat West Germany 2-1 in Hamburg to advance to the finals of the 1988 European Championships. The question is: What were they taking revenge for? Was it the World Cup final defeat by the Germans in ’74, or World War II? Perhaps those two events cannot be separated.
In the ’74 final, the Dutch scored via a penalty gained after a long series of seemingly nonchalant passes. Eventually Johan Cruyff retrieved the ball, glided into the penalty area, and was brought down by an anxious Uli Hoeness. Despite being the home side, the first time the Germans touched the ball was after Sepp Maier retrieved it from his net.
The sustained move and the goal emphatically expressed just how superior the Dutch were. Even the Germans, as Bernd Holzenbein makes clear, seemed to concede the point, even before the match had started.
“In the tunnel, we planned to look them in the eye, to show we were as big as they were,” he said. “They had the feeling they were invincible — you could see it in their eyes. Their attitude to us 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.”
The problem for the Dutch was that this goal flattered to deceive. It transformed confidence into arrogance. Asking how many goals do you want to lose by is one thing, playing like there is no need to score again is quite another. The Germans were so down, so close to being out, that the Dutch only needed to finish them off. But Holland, as Johnny Rep makes clear, was content to express their contempt without scoring.
“We wanted to make fun of the Germans,” he said. “We didn’t think about it, but we did it, passing the ball around and around. We forgot to score the second goal.”
And Wim van Hanegem, who had lost his father and two brothers to a bombing during the War, added, “I didn’t mind if we won 1-0, as long as we humiliated them.”
What was his gripe with the German players? “Well, they’ve got the wrong ancestors.”
And so it was. For 25 minutes the Dutch passed the reigning European champions dizzy, without even appearing to extend themselves, but did not bother to create a single clear chance. One was left with the impression that they wanted to walk the ball in, create a goal that would consummate the ease with which they were subduing their one-time occupiers. The Germans, for their part, were gradually fighting their way off the ropes. They were not ready to go on the offensive just yet, but, as Rep claims, the spanking they were being administered motivated them.
“When you see the film of the game, you can see that the Germans got more and more angry,” he said. “It was our fault. It would have been much better if West Germany had scored in the first minute.”
The Germans, for obvious reasons, were not quite as consumed by the War. But Franz Beckenbauer did make one very useful allusion to it. Cruyff’s penalty had been awarded by one Jack Taylor and Beckenbauer had no qualms questioning his judgment by pointing out that, “You are an Englishman.”
The insinuation, as Der Kaiser later admitted, was that Taylor was prejudiced against the Germans because of the War. This may have paid a vital dividend once the Germans were finally able to muster some attacks. Holzenbein dribbled into the Dutch box and seemed to dive, but Taylor mistakenly, by his own later admission, gave a penalty.
Paul Breitner (a self-proclaimed Maoist) easily converted and the Germans proceeded to control the rest of the half. It was their only good spell, but it proved to be decisive. The Dutch actually created the best opportunity. Cruyff broke from a deep position and, after drawing out Maier, deftly laid the ball off to Rep, but he could do no better than shoot right at Maier.
The Germans, however, created a series of chances and scored a goal that highlighted the difference between the two teams. First, the scorer, Gerd Mueller, was the antithesis of Total Football. Der Bomber, as he was called, did only one thing well, score goals, and he did not venture far from the penalty area to do it. His specialty was what German manager Helmut Schoen called Little Goals. On this occasion, he collected a cross from the right by Rainer Bohnhof, awkwardly played it away from the defender and slowly rolled into the far corner. It was not a clear chance and it lacked style, but that somehow seemed a fitting rebuke to the way the Dutch had played. (“The purpose of playing, we would like to remind you, is to win, not just to play around.”)
At that moment, Dutch TV announcer Herman Kuiphof famously remarked, “They tricked us again,” meaning, according to the author of Brilliant Orange, David Winner, that, “In the 1930s we thought the Germans would never attack us because they were our neighbors and they said they won’t attack us. And in the first half hour of that game the Germans did not come. We had the ball, we controlled it. And somehow the Germans said, ‘We’re not coming.’ And we went to sleep. And while we were asleep, they attacked us. Again.”
Now that they were behind, the Dutch came resolutely to life. For the purpose of this piece, there’s no need to chronicle all of their chances, but suffice it to say that they did more than enough in the second half to turn the tide. The woodwork, Maier, or one of his defenders always managed to do just enough. At one point, Cruyff looked skyward. It didn’t look like he was begging for a favor, only for justice. The Dutch were better that day. The Dutch knew it, every neutral knew it, and even most Germans would admit it.
But the Germans held out, and won.
In the immediate aftermath, the Dutch were treated like heroes, because of the revolutionary style they introduced, both at home and abroad. Van Hanegem wept, which was quite understandable given his family history, but most of the players seemed to take it in stride. It was, in the words written in Jongbloed’s journal, “a short disappointment which slowly passed into a being-satisfied-with-silver.”
As time has passed, however, it has acquired much more profound and disturbing meaning. In the words of psychoanalyst Anna Enquist, “We can’t admit to ourselves that something can be so important. But it matters very much. There is still deep unresolved trauma about 1974. It’s a very living pain, like an unpunished crime.”
The implications of that sense of injustice would not fully manifest themselves until Holland took their revenge against West Germany in EURO 88.