The Dutch German football rivalry: did it come to an end?

Munich, 1974, Olympic Stadium. “They tricked us again!”. This famous outburst by tv commentator Herman Kuiphof said it all. The German football team had just scored 2-1 in the World Cup Final, after the Dutch had gone ahead. The reference to the Second World War, the feeling that the Dutch had the best team (and better at football), but was going to lose the game all came together in that one single remark. The Dutch eventually lost the final, the Germans became world champions. A national trauma was born, it was the zenith of the Dutch German football rivalry.

The moment the Dutch thought they were World Champions: Johan Neeskens scoring 1-0 against West-Germany

Dutch German football rivalry: Smear campaign

The 1974 Dutch national football team stunned the world. Guided by their captain and one of the best players in the world, Johan Cruijff, the Dutch played a new kind of football, the famous total football. Thought of and invented by their coach, Rinus Michels, and perfectly executed on the pitch, the Dutch had played some terrific matches, scoring a lot of goals. They dominated the tournament. The final was reached and the opponent was West-Germany. In the days leading up to the final the psychological warfare started. The Dutch were arrogant and convinced they were going to win. The German press, mainly Bild Zeitung, started a smear campaign. “As far as I am concerned, it is war now,” Rinus Michels said at a press conference.

The best Dutch football player ever, Johan Cruijff, runs past two German players in the first minute of the 1974 World Cup Final

Dutch German football rivalry: Historic defeat

“We wanted to humiliate them”. Famous words from Dutch midfielder Willem van Hanegem years after the game. He considers it the biggest mistake the Dutch made in the final. After going 1-0 up in the first minute of the game, a penalty scored by Johan Neeskens, the Dutch passed the ball around, for lengths of time. Instead of pushing on, they wanted to humiliate the Germans, for being German, for the Second World War. But something else happened. The German footballers regained their ground, recollected their motivation and went for it. They scored 1-1, a still dubiously considered penalty, and then their striker, Gerd Muller, scored 2-1, just before halftime. Leaving the Dutch team in disarray about what had happened. In the second half the Dutch tried everything to give the game a different result, but they failed. The final whistle blew away their dreams of becoming world champions. What could have been the most historic event in Dutch football, became a national trauma. Referred to as ‘1974’ from then on. Just that year, and everybody in the Netherlands knew what was meant.

Dutch German football rivalry: Justice, at last

Fourteen years later, a new generation of Dutch football players, is coming of age. The likes of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman form the backbone of a new Dutch football team. After years of missing out on tournaments the Dutch qualify for the European Championships in West-Germany. Led by their coach, Rinus Michels, they reach the semi-final, where their opponent will be……West-Germany. The game, which takes place in Hamburg, would become historic for the Dutch. After getting behind, the Dutch manage to get the 1-1 and then, almost in the last minute of the game, Dutch striker, Marco van Basten, scores 2-1. Again a Dutch tv commentator, Evert ten Napel, says what everybody in the Netherlands is thinking: “Justice, at last!”. The Dutch reached the final against the Soviet Union and would go on to win their only trophy to date, European Champions of 1988.

Dutch German football rivalry
Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten in the final of the 1988 European Championships

Dutch German football rivalry: Nice guys

In general the Dutch never liked the way Germany played. Using tricks like diving, trying to trick opponents in getting a yellow card, playing very defensively, never playing the game how it should be, it was always considered to be a dirty way of trying to win games. But they always did. Germans players in the seventies, like Beckenbauer, Muller, Holzenbein and others were hated. And their equivalents in the eighties, like Klinsmann, Matthaus and Voller even more. Dutch boys grew up with this innate idea about German football; they’ll always be the enemy.

That has changed profoundly. After the German team performed poorly at tournaments between 1994 and 2000 the German Football Association decided to completely renew German football. A massive program was started on developing technical, and tactical skills in young players. The way German teams played changed. It was much more focussed on ball possession, a quick passing game, highly technical players and dominating the game. It paid out. The German football team would reach several tournament finals and eventually became World Champions in 2014. In a style that everybody liked. Even the people in the Netherlands. Long gone were the times that the Dutch wanted the Germans to lose pretty much any game they played. These new German teams played exciting football, had some amazing players, who were actually pretty nice guys. The whole attitude changed, and the Dutch started to gain respect for German football in ways their fathers and grandfathers could never have imagined. But they do. It’s been a long road since 1974, but the Dutch have to admit now: we like German football.

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