Dutch hoping to repeat the magic of '74

Ruud van Nistelrooy took no time picking his favorite moment of the 1974 World Cup. "That solo run of Cruyff."

updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
  • Total Shares

Freiburg, Germany:

Ruud van Nistelrooy took no time picking his favorite moment of the 1974 World Cup. "That solo run of Cruyff." The thought alone brought a smile to his face. The mesmerizing surge of the greatest Dutch player in the first seconds of the final against West Germany is still revered as a national treasure, even though it was not enough to give the Netherlands the title in a 2-1 loss. Such skills are lacking now and if the oranje make it to the final again, it would be a study in contrast to the 1974 team which became known as the greatest never to win the trophy. The squad working out in the morning sunshine against a backdrop of Black Forest pines on Wednesday never captures the imagination like Johan Cruyff or Johan Neeskens did. Cruyff and Co. produced 'total football' of freeflowing moves between players seemingly positioning themselves at random. The system was so smooth, the Dutch came to be known as 'clockwork orange'. Coach Marco van Basten is keeping his players much more in a tactical straitjacket, where playing out of position may cost a player his place on the team for a long time. On Sunday, Serbia-Montenegro will have respect, but no-one is awestruck by this oranje. The team also faces Ivory Coast and Argentina in Group C, considered the toughest first-round group. "When it comes to quality, we are lesser than the teams that came before us. That is clear to everyone,'' said midfielder Mark van Bommel of UEFA Champions League winner FC Barcelona. Playing with the likes of Ronaldinho in Spain, he can see the difference every day. Bommel also said "At Barcelona, players do things instinctively, and it works because they are great players. Here, you have to compensate for that, you have to be even tighter together. And you have to live by every rule". The 1974 team had stars in every line - defense, midfield and attack. From Ruud Krol to Win van Hanegem to Robby Rensenbrink. Of the current forward line, no one is assured a place on their club's starting lineup. Not even Van Nistelrooy at Manchester United. Captain Edwin van der Sar, whose national team career goes back over a decade, says Van Basten has carefully adapted to the circumstances. After the Netherlands lost the semifinal of Euro 2004, Van Basten was called in as a novice to lead a team depleted of several veterans who had retired. Because the Dutch are so often divided by internal wrangling, Van Basten decided to make a clean break and has not called on either Edgar Davids, feeling comfortable with the few veteran like Van Nistelrooy and Van der Sar among a group of promising youngsters. His goal is to win Euro 2008 and the World Cup was originally seen as a waystation on the road. "It is a plus, but it would be unfair to have too high expectations," happily letting Brazil and Argentina carry the burden of favorites, he said. After a sterling qualification campaign though, keeping expectations under control has turned out to be wishful thinking. On top of that, the Netherlands have been among the top 3 in the FIFA ranking all season. Coming back to Germany is so laden with history and grudges after the 2-1 loss in the final that the whole country is rooting to do at least as well as 32 years ago. Up front, Van Nistelrooy and wingers Arjen Robben of Chelsea and Arsenal's Robin van Persie are expected to hold their own. The problems are in defense and midfield. The only department which looks stronger in 2006 is goalkeeping, where Van der Sar is as trusty as Jaap Jongbloed was shifty. Van Basten was so worried about the quality of his defense that he tried to lure the retired Jaap Stam of AC Milan back into the national team, but had no such luck. What is worse is a series of injuries pursuing the team. Early this week, five potential starters were all sidelined, and quality replacements are hard to come by. In training Wednesday, several showed signs of improvement, and midfielders Wesley Sneijder of Ajax and Rafael van der Vaart of Hamburger SV could well hold to the key to success. (AP)