Nearly Famous

Netherlands 1981-83 home

The Dutch national team of the 1970's was undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and successful of the era, if not of the last half a century. Exploding into the public's conscience through the beguiling skill of Johan Cruyff and his team-mates, those orange-shirted Dutch masters represented all that was great about football.

Having not entered or qualified for a World Cup since 1938, their return to the global stage in 1974 was much heralded but few people could have foreseen such a desire to make up for lost time. It was not just the fact that they won matches so regularly; more so the style with which they played, latterly labelled 'Total Football.' The Dutch team won their first round group with five points out of six, then topped their second round group with maximum points having beaten Brazil, East Germany and Argentina. In the end, their campaign ran out of steam in the Final, beaten 2-1 by West Germany, but not without leaving a lasting impression on world football.

Two years later, they qualified for the four-team European Championships in Yugoslavia having topped a tough qualifying group featuring Italy and Poland, to name but two. In Zagreb, they were beaten 3-1 after extra time by eventual champions Czechoslovakia, but their run of form showed that the Dutch team's 1974 World Cup campaign had been no fluke.

When the 1978 World Cup arrived, the Netherlands were one of the favourites to become outright champions. Off the back of a comfortably successful qualifying campaign where only Belgium offered any resistance, they arrived in Mendoza ready to take on anyone. Their first round proved frustrating, however, scraping through to the second round on goal difference after an unexpected draw against Peru and an eye-opening defeat to Scotland.

Thankfully for the Dutch, their second round group saw a return to winning ways as they beat Austria and Italy either side of a draw against West Germany. Anderlecht striker Rob Rensenbrink was tied with Mario Kempes on five tournament goals prior to the Final, and it seemed the men in Orange may be about to go one better than their runners-up finish in 1974.

Alas, Ernst Happel's squad were beaten once again by the hosts. A late goal by Dick Nanninga cancelled out the one Mario Kempes scored for Argentina after 38 minutes and the game went to extra time, but Kempes went on to add another before Daniel Bertoni confirmed a 3-1 victory in the 115th minute.

Fans of the Dutch team were hoping it would be 'third time lucky' as their team aimed once again for an elusive trophy. In qualifying for the 1980 European Championships, hope sprang eternal - not least after the team scored three goals or more in six of their eight matches. Only Poland took points from the Dutch, but it wasn't enough to stop them booking their place as one of the eight teams to reach the finals in Italy.

Once there, it was 'business as usual' as Kees Kist's goal earned an opening 1-0 win over Greece in Group A, but that goal preceded a considerable fall from grace where the Netherlands national team were concerned. In their second match, they pulled back two goals in the last eleven minutes but were beaten 3-2 by West Germany, while a 1-1 draw in their final game against Czechoslovakia meant the Dutch missed out on a semi-final place by just one goal compared to the Czech's record after three games.

And so the Dutch team were out, but worse was to come when they turned their attentions to the qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup. Their problems began when they were drawn in UEFA Group 2 which featured a Belgium side that had been runners-up in the 1980 European Championships, a French team growing in talent and confidence by the week and a Republic of Ireland team that contained many great players from the English First Division.

It was that very Irish side that beat the Netherlands 2-1 in their opening game, after which Belgium beat them 1-0 in Brussels. A 3-0 win over whipping boys Cyprus arrived at the right time in early 1981, providing as it did the momentum to beat France 1-0 the following month. A far-from-convincing 1-0 win in Cyprus came in late April to boost the Dutch team's points tally, but doubts were starting to creep in about their place in Group 2's hierarchy. A draw against the Irish in September 1981 preceded a 3-0 win over Belgium a month later, but all this lead to the Netherlands' crucial last game where they would play away to France on November 18th 1981.

The Dutch knew they had to beat the French and beat them heavily to have any chance of reaching the 1982 World Cup FInals in Spain. The problem for the Netherlands, however, was that this was France's penultimate match. Seventeen days later, France would play host to Cyprus in Paris, a match they surely win by some margin. In the end, the Dutch were undone by a beautiful curling free kick by Michel Platini and a precise shot from close range by Didier Six. That 2-0 defeat was not the point at which the Netherlands failed to qualify for Spain '82, but it inevitably came when France trounced Cyprus 4-0 on December 5th.

It was truly the end of an era for Dutch football. There was to be no qualification for Euro 84 or the 1986 World Cup thereafter, and we'd all have to wait until 1988 before Total Football was reinvented for the 1988 World Cup. As for the 1982 World Cup, what would the Netherlands have been wearing if they'd found themselves playing in the heat of Spain? The answer lies in this kit (see above) which was worn only a handful of times between 1981 and 1983.

Based on the adidas 'La Paz' template worn by many European teams in the early 1980's, it was the short-sleeved kit favoured by the Dutch during the warmer months of the year. It's first appearance came in April 1981 during the aforementioned 1-0 win away to Cyprus and was seen again during England's final friendly match before the 1982 World Cup - a 2-0 win for Ron Greenwood's team. Having been worn in a friendly match against Sweden (where the Swedes' away shirt was the more controversial) in April 1983, its final outing came five months later in a Euro 84 qualifier at home to Iceland.

Only worn a handful of times, this was a nice kit for the Dutch and it's a shame there wasn't a long-sleeved version to extend its popularity. And who knows, if the Netherlands had grabbed that second qualifying spot instead of France, it may have been seen in World Cup Group 4... where England would have been waiting again.