It is five days since the beginning of Euro 2012 and it must be said that so far it has been a pleasantly surprising start, on the footballing side of things at least. With the first round of matches complete and the second round of group fixtures having begun on Tuesday, there has been no shortage of excitement. The first nine matches have produced 25 goals, two red cards, upset, villains controversy, heroes-both familiar and less well known, and some exhilarating and brilliantly colourful atmospheres; but few are likely to be as intense or as colourful as for this evening’s clash between Holland and Germany.
The two European neighbours have an intense national rivalry, footballing and otherwise, which stretches back to the German’s brutal occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. The first time that the two nations were able to, truly, pit their wits against each other on the pitch, after the end of hostilities in 1945, came on the greatest stage of all, the 1974 World Cup Final.
The tournament itself was staged in West Germany, giving the Germans home advantage. This was the Dutch team of Cruyff, Neeskens, Jansen and Jonny Rep. Under Rinus Michels this was the team dubbed “A Clockwork Orange” for their Total Voetbal style, which saw each player able to rotate, slot in and play wherever necessary. They were widely regarded, and rightly so, as the best team in the World.
However such was the bitterness and resentment towards the German nation within the Dutch squad, that the desire to humiliate their opponents was their own downfall. Despite taking the lead through a Johan Neeskens penalty in the second minute, the emotional Dutch would go on to lose 2-1 to the more pragmatic German team, which included Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Mueller.
The match and the result is known in Holland, to this day, as “De moeder aller nederlagen” (“The mother of all defeats”) and it only served to intensify the animosity felt by the people of Holland towards their wartime oppressors. A testament to the seething resentment felt by the Dutch about the game and the Germans, and why, is summed up perfectly by this statement from Wim van Hagenem, who played in midfield for Holland at the tournament.
“I didn’t give a damn about the score. 1–0 was enough, as long as we could humiliate them. I hate them. They murdered my family. My father, my sister, two of my brothers. Each time I faced Germany I was angst-filled.”
The teams met again at both the 1978 World Cup and the 1980 European Championships. Both matches were aggressive, if not downright violent, affairs. Fights broke out on the pitch amongst players, with Toni Schumacher and Huub Stevens coming to blows on one occasion and Bernd Schuster receiving a punch in the face from Rene van der Kerkhov on another. Both matches occurred in group stages of tournaments and as such the scorelines were secondary to the on-pitch rivalry.
Fast- forward eight years to Euro 88. Again West Germany is the backdrop, this time it’s staging the European Championship. West Germany, once more, face Holland, meeting in the semi-final. This is the Holland team of Koeman, Gullit, Rijkaard, van Basten, still under Rinus Michels, facing off against the W. Germany of Matthaeus, Voeller, and Klinsmann under the tutelage of The Kaiser himself, Franz Beckenbauer.
After taking the lead in the second half through a Matthaeus penalty after a foul by Rijkaard on Klinsmann, the Germans were pegged back just under twenty minutes from time when van Basten was toppled in the box. Koeman converted and then, with the match heading for extra time, slid a fantastic ball through to van Basten who, sliding in, angled the ball past the despairing Immel into the back of the net.
Holland went on to win the final against the Soviet Union and win their first, and only, major tournament trophy. It was the semi-final victory, however, that meant more to the Dutch nation than a thousand trophies. These sentiments were summed up perfectly by Rinus Michels when he addressed the crowd during the victory parade in Amsterdam.
“We won the tournament, but we all know that the semi-final was the real final”
The players realised what their achievement meant to their countrymen, this can be seen by the words of Hans van Breukelen (GK) and Ruud Gullit the Captain of the Dutch squad, who said respectively
“I had been waiting for that moment for fourteen years. Before the game I remembered my feelings watching TV as a teenager, and that boosted up my anger. I am happy to have been able to give this gift to the older generation, the ones that lived through the War.”
“We gave joy to the older generation. I saw their emotions, their tears.”
Although the German sides over the years could never quite grasp the full nature of the Dutch hatred towards them, likely because they didn’t fully grasp the horror that the Dutch nation was subjected to at the hands of their forefathers, this victory in 1988 exorcised a lot of demons for the Dutch nation. German sentiment on the Dutch rivalry is explained in these quotes, the first from Karl Heinz Rummenigge in 1978 and the second from Karl Heinz Foerster in 1980.
“The pressure was tremendous. The popular press was blowing up the old rivalry. We knew that on the pitch the Dutch were ready and waiting for us. We had to stay focused. I think it’s a true shame and pity that they regard football as an outlet for their hatred from the Second World War.”
“Before the game we knew that it was going to be tense. We had sworn to win, because that victory was so important to our sense of pride. To them, beating us is the best thing there is. They hate us so much more than we hate them.”
The two sides met again in a fiery encounter in the 1990 World Cup, a game infamous for the spitting incidents between Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Voeller, which resulted in both players being dismissed. West Germany won 2-1 and, although the game was bitterly contested, the animosity was more of a footballing nature than of a political one. Somewhere between the 1988 semi-final and the 1990 second round, the poisonous hatred been the two nations had been detoxified and had instead evolved into a more common football rivalry, in the style that might be seen at a bitter local derby.
Since then, a victory for Holland in the group stage of Euro 92 and a 1-1 draw at Euro 04 are the only two competitive matches that have been played between the two nations. The two met in a friendly late last year, with Germany making short-work of their opponents who put in a rather lacklustre display on the night.
As tonight’s game approaches, the rivalry is set to be renewed properly on the European stage. Germany eventually saw off a stubborn if unimaginative Portugal side 1-0 in their group b opener and sit joint top of the standings with every chance of going through. Holland conversely had a nightmare against Denmark in their opening encounter. An over-confident Holland began in second gear against the Danes, who took the lead midway through the first-half. Once behind, the Dutch had no answers. Denmark defended well but, in truth, Holland lacked creativity and struggled to lift the tempo of their game to truly cause Denmark real problems.
These two results mean that Holland must win this evening to have any real chance of qualification for the quarter finals. Going out in the first round is unthinkable for van Marwijk’s World Cup finalists. Pre-tournament third favourites and packed full of superstars, the Dutch must up their game completely and a change of tactics in midfield may be necessary from the coach if he is going to achieve optimum impact from his array of attacking riches.
Should Germany win the match, Holland will be out, after two games and, at the hands of their fiercest historical rivals! This would be too much for the Dutch nation to bear and their team of extremely well paid superstars would feel a torrent of anger and discontent. Should defeat occur, van Marwijk will lose his job, unquestionably. Cruyff has been vocal in his criticism,even before this tournament, about the team’s style of play under its current coach and, as we know, when Cruyff speaks in Holland people listen.
The Dutch need to come together, like they did in 1988, perhaps truly for the only time in their history as a footballing nation. They must defeat a German side that matches them in talent but surpasses them in spirit and unity. Individual differences must be put aside, players must play from their hearts, the soul of Dutch football and the Dutch nation must once more come together to defeat that most hated of enemies, Zie Germans!
Beckenbauer image by quapan. Holland 88 image by stekelbes