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  • Mich Obia

De Oranje: The Luckless National Team

The Netherlands is a country located in Western Europe with a total area of just about 41,850 km. Although the Netherlands is known for its vibrant tulip fields and Windmills of Kinderdijk, they are equally known for their football talent. From legends such as Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, and Ruud Gullit to modern icons such as Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, and Robin Van Persie, they all have graced the field for the “Oranje”. This tiny country has solidified itself as a true force to be reckoned with on the global stage. Every time the World Cup comes around, the Netherlands are always among the favorites to win it all, but ever since their first World Cup appearance in 1934, the Oranje have never seemed to have what it takes to win the illustrious trophy.

(Image: Bleacher Report)

The Netherlands' first golden generation appeared in the 1970s when they reached the World Cup finals in 1974, 1978, and the 1976 Euro Championship finals. Unfortunately, the Oranje could not reach glory in any of the finals but instead created a lasting impression in football with the iconic “Totaalvoetbal”(Total Football). Total Football is a football tactic in which the vacant space left by a player who moves out of position is instantly filled by a teammate. This allows any outfield player to play in any role, midfield, attack or defense, and if pulled off correctly, enables the team to attack fluently and defend as a unit. Throughout the 1970’s the Netherlands was the embodiment of Total Football. Total Football originated from the legendary Dutch manager Rinus Michels who centered Total Football around a young Johan Cruyff. Total Football requires a high sense of football intelligence and athletic players, something that all the Oranje players had in abundance. With the mercurial right winger, Johnny Rep, the versatile defender Ruud Krol, Jan Jongbloed known as the original sweeper keeper, and the conductor Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands topped their group and reached the finals against West Germany. In the process, they annihilated Argentina 4-0 in the second round and beat the favorites Brazil 2-0 in the final match of the group stage. In the final, it is said the Germans did not even touch the ball after Johan Neeskens had scored. Cruyff produced his usual magic by darting all over West Germany's box with the West German defenders aimlessly hacking him. However, the Oranje conceded a penalty and before the first half, Gerd Müller gave West Germany the lead ultimately sealing their victory. Without Johan Cruyff in the squad (he retired in October 1977), all hope seemed to be lost. Though expectations were low, the Oranje made it to the finals beating Austria and Italy. Unfortunately, defeat would follow in the 1978 World Cup at the hands of an inspired Argentina side with legends Mario Kempes and Osvaldo Ardiles. Even worse, Ruud Krol and Rob Resenbrink, both key players for the Oranje, would retire two years later.

The early 1980s was a period of decline for the Netherlands as they failed to qualify for the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, as well as the Euro 1984. However, Rinus Michels returned to coach the Netherlands and success soon followed. The Oranje won six out of eight matches in Group 5 to qualify for the Euro 1988 and were drawn in the same group as the Soviet Union, England, and Ireland. The Netherlands lost to the Soviet Union 1-0, who were a dominant force in the Euros, but would go on to beat England 3-1 with a Van Basten hat-trick. Three days later they scraped a 1-0 win against Ireland pitting them in second place and into the semi-finals against West Germany. The Netherlands were looking for revenge for the 1974 World Cup final while West Germany was seeking to extend their record to cement their dominance over the Netherlands. The first half ended 0-0, but in the 55th minute, Lothar Matthäus converted a penalty. The Oranje fought back and won a penalty in the 74th minute, converted by Ronald Koeman, and in the 88th minute, Van Basten slid the ball to the far left side of the goal to go up 2-1 against West Germany, serving the knockout blow. The Soviet Union surprisingly beat Italy and marked a rematch of the group stage against the Netherlands. In the Olympiastadion in Munich, the Oranje would finally lift a major trophy beating the Soviet Union 2-0 thanks to a Ruud Gullit header and a world-class volley from Marco Van Basten.

The Netherlands then had another low period after being knocked out of the 1990 World Cup by their rivals West Germany, losing in a penalty shootout against the eventual underdog winners Denmark in the 1992 Euros and losing 3-2 to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup, despite Dennis Berkamp leading the team with three goals. Skipping ahead to 2010, the Netherlands shined during that year's World Cup in South Africa. They won all of their games in Group 9 to qualify for the World Cup and subsequently topped Group E, with wins over Japan, Denmark, and Cameroon, all strong teams at the time. They would go on to beat Slovakia in the Round of 16 and play Brazil in the quarter-finals. Wesley Sneijder was vital against Brazil, scoring two goals in the second half after trailing Brazil 1-0. The Netherlands defeated Brazil’s rivals Uruguay in the semi-finals setting up the finals against a compelling Spain squad who had beaten Portugal and Germany 1-0. The game was tight from the beginning with many fouls committed and multiple missed opportunities on both sides. Unfortunately, the Netherlands would concede from a volley by Andres Iniesta eventually winning the game for the Spaniards. To make matters worse, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff publicly said he was “ashamed” of Bert van Marwijk’s style of play, which he called “anti-football”. To say the least, morale was at rock bottom in the country.

While luck may not always be on their side, the Oranje have continued to capture the hearts of football fans worldwide, myself included, with their fluid style of play. With an impressive performance in the 2022 World Cup, losing in penalties in the quarter-finals to the eventual champions Argentina, and young talents such as Xavi Simons, Ryan Gravenberch, and Jeremie Frimpong, along with world-class players like Virgil Van Dijk, Cody Gakpo, and Frenkie De Jong, there is still time for the Oranje. The Netherlands remain a force in global football. We hope that one day, the World Cup will find it’s way into a Dutchman’s hands.

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