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Opinion
The Greatest Rivalry in Sports

The Greatest Rivalry in Sports

Published June 23, 2010

Like most everything in post-war Europe, the rivalry between Germany and the Netherlands can be said to have its origins in World War II. Like other nations under the yoke of the Nazis, the Dutch were not happy about it, to say the least. But many other countries were occupied by Germany, without a fierce hatred having developed between the two national teams. No, the best way to understand the emotions at play is to consider the footballing history. The first match that the two teams played against each other after the Second World War was the World Cup final in 1974. In West Germany. And that Dutch team wasn’t just any team, it was the brilliant Dutch national team that led by Johann Cruyff, one of those impossibly good football players that comes along every generation or so. Furthermore, the Dutch, under Rinus Michels, had invented a brand new tactical system, total football, that had brought an end to the reigning style of European football at the time, the dull, dreary catenaccio. Total football was exciting, it was beautiful and, important in a competitive sport, successful. Dutch clubs Feyenoord and Ajax won a boatload of international tournaments and both used the total football system. The 1974 World Cup was supposed to be the crowning glory of the Dutch and their style of football. And it so nearly, nearly was. The team scored 14 goals and conceded only 1 on their way to the final. The West Germans, captained by Franz Beckenbauer, had problems, they’d even managed to lose to East Germany, in the only competitive match those two teams would ever play. But… but… West Germany won the final. To say that the entire Dutch nation was crushed is no hyperbole. Since then the rivalry has been heated. The German and Dutch national teams haven’t met in a competitive match since a fairly uneventful group stage match at Euro 2004. But nearly every game the two teams had played before that had been intense affairs, featuring such things as spitting, punching, and Ronald Koeman wiping his butt with a German national team shirt. Here’s a translation of a match-by-match history from French sports magazine L’equipe.
But what is the state of things now?. The current generation of footballers was yet unborn when Cruyff’s Holland met Beckenbauer’s Germany. Sportswriter Uli Hesse, whose book Tor! The Story of German Football I heartily recommend, examined the current state of the rivalry and came to the conclusion that the rivalry is on the wane. And since I’m linking to Hesse, I might as well point you towards his reports on the two games Germany has played so far this World Cup, the 4-0 smashing of Australia (who are coached by a Dutchman, incidentally) and the 1-0 loss to Serbia (the game featured the first missed penalty by a German in the World Cup since 1982).
And finally, here’s a lighthearted Dutch commercial that features the rivalry.

Photo by Capellmeister.


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