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Going for gold (or orange)

The Netherlands and Brazil have a rich history at the World Cup


A Dutch fan (left) cheers on his team clad in orange and holding an orange clog. A Brazil fan (right) sports a yellow T-shirt and Brazil flag. AFP

WITH England failing to qualify for either the 1974 or 1978 finals, the 1970s was the lost decade for English football. Instead of being forced to live England’s every misplaced pass or errant shot, I was able to follow the teams that played the best football.

In those days hair was long, shorts were tight and football was total. Unshackled from defensive duties, full-backs would maraud forwards in wave upon wave of attack upon hapless defenders. The match that always gave me that extra special tingle of anticipation was the Netherlands against Brazil – orange against gold.

Total football may have created highlights, but it did not bring success. Despite being the best footballing team in both 1974 and 1978 tournaments, the Dutch lost both finals. Clearly the most skilful team to grace the golden shirt since Pele’s masters of 1970, the Brazilians of 1982 crashed out to Paolo Rossi’s Italians in the second round.

What the Germans, Italians and Argentineans had that the Brazilians and Dutch did not was quality defenders.

And so the dark cloud of defensive football descended upon the World Cup.

Germany and Argentina shared finals and trophies in 1986 and 1990, but won few friends. The latter final almost descended into anti-football. Brazil was not to taste success again until 1994 when, captained by current coach Dunga, they fully embraced pragmatic football. That year’s final still remains the only one without a regulation time goal in the history of the competition.

The Dutch have yet to win a World Cup.

Thanks to the quarterfinal draw in South Africa, once more orange will battle with gold, and Germany will take on Argentina. The strange twist of fate is that this time the boot is on the other attacking foot.

Despite having produced some of the most beautiful games of football in World Cup history, this afternoon’s clash between Brazil and the Netherlands is likely to be a cagey affair. With the midfield flooded and tempo slow, goals will be at a premium. Both teams have only conceded two so far.

However the following afternoon, Germany against Argentina should be fast and open. Coach Diego Maradonna has shaped a team around his own personality and in Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi, he has the forward power to back up his words. Germany will sit believing that in Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and Lukas Podolski they have the players to hit Argentina on the break as they did to devastating effect against England.

Two fast, skilful, attacking teams meeting head-to-head with a place in the last four at stake, surely enough to whet any football fan’s appetite. Just a pity it’s Argentina versus Germany, rather than orange against gold.

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