If you thought being an England fan was tough, spare a thought for the Dutch.
The 1974 World Cup final was their first. And it was probably the hardest of the three defeats to take. The Dutch were, after all, the proud proponents of ‘Total Football’ – a freewheeling expression of tactical and positional fluidity based on technical excellence, footballing intelligence and pure skill.
They were the sexiest team in the tournament playing their hated rivals in their own backyard.
And in Johan Cruyff, they had the ultimate total footballer; a man who could play any of five or six attacking roles, the creator of ‘The Cruyff Turn’ (premiered in a group game against Sweden) and the scorer of three goals in the tournament as part of Holland’s overall haul of 15 for and just 2 against.
But they didn’t win. They even took the lead in the final and didn’t win. Instead, they lost 2-1 to West Germany to mark the start of four decades of World Cup woe.
And their captain was an all-time great by the name of Franz Beckebauer.
‘The Kaiser’ was, in his Germanic way, a total footballer in his own right. He could stay deep and sweep behind the defence, play as centre-half, tidy up in front of the back four or venture even further up the pitch as an out-and-out midfielder.
His technique and balance meant he could carry the ball from back to front with graceful ease, destroying opposition attacks and then creating chances for his own team in the blink of an eye.
The 1974 format involved four groups of four, with the top two in each then going through to two further groups of four. The winners of those groups then played each other in the final.
Holland breezed through both of their groups. West Germany made slightly heavier weather of things early on, mainly because they played a historic match with their East German counterparts and managed to lose 1-0. Even then, cyncics suggested the defeat meant that both German teams advanced, but that’s a different story for another day.
The hosts were rather more clinical in the second group stages, winning all three games. This included a 1-0 victory over the tournament’s surprise package – the Poles.
Poland finished third in the end, which was the tiniest crumb of comfort for the England fans who had endured an agonising 90 minutes at Wembley the year before during which the Poles, inspired by their ‘clown’ goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, somehow kept a clean sheet and then pinched a goal on the break that saw them qualify for the World Cup ahead of the Three Lions.
Poland’s brilliant displays at the tournament proved that the Wembley win was no fluke. And in defender Zmuda, the sublimely talented skipper Kazimierz Deyna and the bald and deeply unathletic-looking striker Grzegorz Lato, they had three of the 1974 World Cup’s best players.
Home interest rested with a talented Scotland team that crashed and burned – as usual – because they couldn’t do enough against the teams they really were meant to beat. They finished third in their group on goal difference to Brazil. And Brazil’s 1974 vintage was a truly awful one who ended up trying to stay on terms with the Dutch by kicking lumps out of them.
And so to the final…
Holland scored early. Really early. So early, in fact, that the first German to touch the ball was Sepp Maier when he picked the ball out of the net in the second minute.
Cruyff was at the heart of the goal, bursting into the penalty area after the Dutch had kicked off and kept the ball with their usual ease. When Hoeness decided to stop Cruyff by bringing him down, English referee Jack Taylor made World Cup final history by awarding its first ever penalty.
Johan Neeskens scored from the spot and the West Germans then set about getting back into the match. In this they too were aided by Taylor. He’d already proved that he was the man for a big match decision, so he promptly made another one, awarding a second penalty when Holzenbein was fouled in the Dutch area after 24 minutes.
Paul Breitner duly scored – his third goal of the tournament an impressive haul for a left back – and the game was well and truly on.
It was decided before half-time when legendary striker Gerd Muller – breaker of English hearts at Mexico 1970 – scored his last-ever international goal on his last-ever appearance (he retired after the game) a couple of minutes before the break.
The strike wasn’t the cleanest, the shot not the fastest, but it was directed well enough to beat Jongbloed in the Dutch goal and send the West Germans into the dressing room 2-1 up.
That the score remained the same after 90 minutes was down to a glaring miss by Bonhof, a goal-line clearance from Breitner and a linesman ruling a Muller scorcher offside.
In truth, the final wasn’t a classic, mainly because the teams were so well-matched that they spent large swathes of the game cancelling each other out.
To call it a triumph of efficiency over style would be to do the West Germans a dis-service and to over-romanticise a Dutch team who were every bit as good defensively as they were going forward.
What the Dutch lacked was a true leader both on and off the pitch. That man was Beckenbauer. The Kaiser. And he was German and the Germans won.
It was a fitting climax to one of football’s greatest international careers.
We have a great selection of World Cup 1974 memorabilia available, all hand-signed by many of the great players who were there. And all our UK orders come with FREE postage.