The 1994 World Cup was a bit of a disappointment. Losing against the later winner sort of is a bandaid for the wound as the Dutch expression goes, but we didn’t have to lose that game as that particular Brazil was not that good. Or so we told ourselves…
After Advocaat, the nation wanted someone else and Guus Hiddink – of PSV Europa Cup fame – took the helm. His master class of learning was the EC1996 in England. A disastrous campaign, although it wasn’t so much an Oranje issue but an Ajax problem, Hiddink inherited.
But Hiddink learned fast. He took the right decision by sending Davids home and restoring order. More importantly he selected the right support team for the World Cup, inviting Rijkaard as assistant (who had a good feel of what the coloured Oranje players needed), Neeskens (all around good coach and Oranje legend) and Ronald Koeman.
The team Hiddink worked with in England showed quite some promise. Bergkamp, of course. Cocu. Seedorf. Davids. Players who developed and grew over the years and with the likes of Kluivert, Van Hooijdonk, Zenden and De Boer became quite a mature team.
Qualifying was easy. Hiddink finished first in a group with Belgium, Wales, San Marino and Turkey scoring 28 times in 8 games.
Holland was – as usual – seen as a potential winner of this World Cup. Although the usual suspects France (home country), Brazil and Germany were rated as high or higher.
The first game of the tournament for Holland was versus Belgium. The arch enemy of the Dutch. Hiddink started that game in a 4-4-2, the system he played with PSV and leaving Bergkamp on the bench. Goal machine Hasselbaink played next to Kluivert. We played them twice in the qualifications and we expected to beat them again in this first group game. But we didn’t. We lost. Not the game, as it ended in 0-0 but we lost Patrick Kluivert, who allowed himself to be provoked by Staelens and copped the red card.
The other opponents in the group seemed doable, with South Korea and Mexico as underdogs, but the latter was known to be a tough and pretty good opponent.
South Korea appeared an easy target and Hiddink must have made his name there, against Bum Kun Cha’s team. Holland won 5-0 in an impressive display with an outstanding Ronald de Boer and Phillip Cocu. Apart from them two on the score sheet, it was Overmars, Bergkamp – who started, and Pierre van Hooijdonk who relieved Dennis after 80 minutes.
With that performance, the world started to pay attention. A bit. As South Korea was not yet a force to reckon with. Next up Mexico. A fascinating albeit frsutrating game, with Oranje scoring twice very early in the game and seemed ready to take Mexico out altogether but the Mexicans fought back! They were no Mexican’ts… No gringo, they scored two late goals and secured a draw.
In the first knock out round, Oranje faced Yugoslavia. A dangerous opponent. Traditionally, a team full of highly skilled players and a football nation with an impressive pedigree. This Yugoslavia was getting a little bit older but was still impressive with names like Stojkovic, Savicevic, Mijatovic, Mihajovic and Stojkovic… All players employed by teams like Lazio Roma, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Sampdoria, to name a few. It was a tight match. Tough. A real battle. With even Dennis Bergkamp joining in the festivities… He scored the first for Holland but quickly in the second half the game was drawn. Yugoslavia gets to take a penalty and Oranje is lucky to escape when Mihjatovic rattles the woodwork. Oranje’s man of the tournament Edgar Davids scored the winner with a distance strike in the last minute of the game and that is when you know you have a chance to go all the way. Because that is having the luck of the champions…
In the quarter finals we met one of the favourites for the title, Argentina. And what a team it was: Batistuta, Veron, Ortega, Diego Simeone (yes him), Roberto Ayala, Zanetti (yes him) and coached by legend Danielle Passarella… In Marseille we took them on in a match that had it all. Great football, good goals, drama and red cards, balls on the post and a late winner. Probably one of the most amazing goals in the history of Dutch football.
Instead of my trying to explain what happened: watch this.
Only two games to go… Brazil in the semi finals and most likely France in the finals. Mario Zagalo’s team was having some problems. They didn’t play their usual creative game and gambled on Ronaldo’s brilliance. The young Inter and former PSV players almost succumbed under the pressure but scored the 1-0 against Oranje right after the break. Up to then, Holland (De Boer and Stam) were able to keep him from scoring but as per usual he found the net in his typical opportunistic style.
Holland outplayed Brazil in the second half and it seemed a matter of time for Oranje to score. Hiddink brought a midfielder for a defender in the 56th minute (Winter for Reiziger) and Van Hooijdonk replaced Bolo Zenden in the 75th minute (Zenden played for the injured Overmars). Van Hooijdonk deserved to get a penalty late in the extra time, after Kluivert had scored a massive header to equalise but referee Buljsaim ignored the push in the tall Forest player’s back and allowed the game to be played on.
1-1 after 120 minutes and a new penalty drama would ensue. After Zweden (1992) and England (1996), it would be Brazil (not known to be great penalty takers of stoppers for that matter) and goalie Taffarel would end up being the hero of the night. Frank de Boer and Bergkamp would score their penalties. But Phillip Cocu and Ronald de Boer would miss while all Brazilians scored theirs. With Kluivert and Van Hooijdonk on the pitch, one wonders what would have happened if these two would have taken the penalties, as one would expect….
Oranje played a last game, the little finals for the 3rd place, against Croatia, but in all honesty, I never even watched that game. I did see the Zenden goal, which was quite a special one. I also remember how his celebrations failed…
Despite not winning it (yet again) Hiddink did manage to garner a lot of credit for his work and Oranje is hailed as champions when they return. And Guus ends up signing a big deal with Real Madrid, while Cocu, the De Boer bros, Jaap Stam and Sar made nice transfers to other clubs.
Edgar Davids was the man of the tournament for many. He was the bad seed in 1996, sent home. But in 1998 he cuddled his coach in front of millions watching. The press-shy pitbull spoke once, recently, about the 1998 World Cup and what it meant to him.
In 1996 Oranje failed. In 1998, Oranje impressed. With the same coach and practically the same players? How was that possible?
“It wasn’t expected I suppose. I played at Juve and people asked me “what are the Dutch going to do?”.. We were known as the imploding team. We had issues in 1990 and 1994 and then with me in 1996. But we made good agreements. We learned from that. We decided to check our egos at the door and go hard for the team and each other. We were all very proud. We wanted to show the world what we could do. And it was a tremendous tournament. The best time at Oranje ever, for me. The coaches had developed more, the players were more mature and lots of us played at European top clubs. The mix was ideal between shrewdness, youthful optimism, skills, experience and grit. We really wanted to wipe out the 1996 experience. What also helped, was that everything off pitch was really well organised. We had a lot of free time. The balance between work and play was good. And we had an amazing hotel just close to Monte Carlo, close to the Mediterranean. It was superb.”
A lot of improvements versus 1996?
“Well for me, yes…key things. The food options were better and we could use our own physios. For players, that is crucial. Hiddink was smart like that. And he didn’t want offend the KNVB so he rented rooms in a hotel next door, hahaha. That is where the so-called non-KNVB physios stayed. Also, Johan Neeskens was assistant coach and that was special for me. As a kid, he was my hero. And to train with him was just amazing.”
You insulted Hiddink in 1996 and told him he was unfair and biased. He banned you from representative football. Did that hurt?
“To be honest? At first, it didn’t. I had more time for myself. The qualification games can be horrific. Flying to Helsinki or Minsk or Malta… Playing on a bad pitch against players who are out to hurt you. But when the World Cup came on the horizon I started to feel the itch… Hans Jorritsma was instrumental. He arranged a meeting in Italy. I told him: “Beautiful words aren’t always true. And true words aren’t alway beautiful”. That struck a chord with him. Since then we were good.”
How do you look back on that incident now?
“We had a difference in culture and age groups in England. I think that this new generation deserved to play. We were better. And the better players need to play. I would have said something now again if I was in that situation. But I would have said it differently, hahahaha.”
How was it to comeback into the group.
“Awkward. There was a lot of media and some players were a bit distant. But after half a day, all is normal. It depends how you perform, really. If you play well, you’re accepted. Easy as.”
You started on the bench against Belgium. But against South Korea we saw a very proud man listening to the anthem.
“I have always been super proud to be part of the Dutch national team.”
And then you ended up in the Team of the World Cup.
“When I arrived at Oranje I said: I am here for one reason only. To play top football and win that cup, hahahahaha.”
And in the knock out stages, you score the winner against Yugoslavia…
“Now that is a little boy’s dream eh? Scoring at the World Cup is superb but scoring the winner is super superb. And to score so late just after they missed a penalty. I was going nuts. We could have been sent home there and then you know?”
And then there was that touching embrace at the side line?
“Hahahaha, I never intended that. It just happened. But it’s good when two people get close again after such a clash.”
After the Argentina win, the semi finals clash with Brazil….
“I remember we traveled their per helicopter. I was annoyed with that. I thought that was over the top. We enjoyed traeling by bus. Having fun, singing along a CD of Dutch songs… And suddenly someone decided on that chopper to save time.”
“I was so intensely focused on winning against Brazil. I wanted to beat them the most. That is the ultimate football nation. We could have done it. We were never great in penalty kicks but I do think we would have beaten France in the finals. Brazil was weak.”
How do you look back?
“Still gives me a headache. Because I wanted to win that Croatia game too. But most of the players had taken a beating by that loss vs Brazil so we were not there. We lost.”
How do you see Holland perform at this World Cup?
“I think Holland is an outsider. Everytime we did well, we were outsiders. Everytime we are favourites, we end up disappointing. But there are many contenders this time around. Our group is already tough with Spain and Chile although I don’t think Chile is as good as people say and Spain could be over the hill a bit. But it will be hard.”
Who is the Edgar Davids of this current team?
“If all goes well, they will all have some Edgar Davids in them. That is probably what the team needs: every player to have that mentality. Skills is not enough anymore.”