It started after game one, firstly as a joke: Germany had beaten Australia 4-0 in a superb performance, while the Netherlands played just well enough to grind out a 2-0 win over Denmark. Germany is playing like the Netherlands and the Netherlands like Germany, people said. Ha, ha. Then, as the tournament went on, it was no longer a joke. It was true. Germany hit four past England and Argentina, while Holland scrambled past Japan and Slovakia and beat Brazil with two goals from set-pieces.
The pair won't meet in Sunday¹s World Cup final, as Germany took the comparison to its logical conclusion and was knocked out in the semifinal, just as the Netherlands was in the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships. Instead, the Netherlands will face Spain, a team that has taken the Dutch mantle as the neutrals' favourite after excelling over the past few seasons, and in its semifinal win over Germany, with its tiki-taka passing game.
Germany's presence will still loom large on Sunday as the Dutch attempt to exorcise the memory of defeats in the 1978 final (to Argentina) and the 1974 final (to West Germany). Beating Spain to win the World Cup would secure the Netherlands a place in history, but not give it what it craves most: closure on 1974.
The Dutch team of 1974 is one of the most famous in soccer history: inspired by Ajax's
Part of the reason that West Germany beat Holland in 1974 was down to the man-marking job its midfielder
Now the wheel has come full circle: the Germans have gone Dutch, specifically in Bayern Munich's recruitment of coach
"Holland used to regard this style of play as the devil and was always above it,"
In the early rounds, like most Dutch fans, Winner assumed that the Netherlands was saving itself, that more exciting soccer would come in the knockout rounds, when it mattered. But it hasn't and the fact that
The presence of
Speaking to Winner about Dutch football is the linguistic version of watching re-runs of that 1974 side: full of original ideas that seem complicated but are in fact surprisingly simple. He puts the problems between
His friend, the political scientist
Every fan supporting Holland has a dilemma if not before Sunday, then certainly after it: to accept that this style is the new reality of Dutch football (and by extension, society) or to hope that future teams will continue to pay homage to the Cruyff era, even if it ends, as it has done so many times, in glorious failure. "I would really love it if Holland won the World Cup and said to itself, 'See, when we play like everyone else, we can win it,'" added Winner. "And then after that, to go back to its old way of playing."