So close yet so far.
That pretty much explains the World Cup experience for the Netherlands, a three-time losing finalist.
The first time they made it to the final was in 1974 in West Germany, the team’s first involvement in the World Cup since World War II.
Along with the Hungary team of 1954, the Dutch side that year is widely perceived to be the best-ever not to win the World Cup. The team, which was packed with players from the great Feyenoord and Ajax sides that dominated the European Cup in the early 1970s, pioneered “Total Football,” a strategy that effectively did away with positions — players were interchangeable on the field at all times.
The team was spearheaded by Johan Cruyff, who in a group match against Sweden showcased the move he is perhaps best known for — the “Cruyff Turn.”
With his back to Sweden defender Jan Olsson, Cruyff dragged the ball with his right foot behind his planted left foot, abruptly turned and darted toward the ball. Olsson appeared bamboozled, seemingly stuck to the ground while trying to understand what had just happened.
Cruyff scored three goals during the tournament, including a superb volley against Brazil that confirmed the team would make the final. And even though the Dutch would play host West Germany, the team in orange was widely expected to prevail. That was especially so after Johan Neeskens put the Netherlands ahead with a second-minute penalty, the first in World Cup final history.
Instead of pressing for more, the Dutch toyed with West Germany. Many observers thought the Dutch were looking to humiliate their opponents for a variety of historical reasons. Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands for much of World War II, breeding resentment that endured for decades.
Another penalty got West Germany level, however. And with two minutes left in the first half, striker Gerd Mueller put his team ahead, a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Dutch are still waiting to lift soccer’s most coveted trophy, losing again in the finals of 1978 and 2010.
It won’t be this year. The country’s national team failed to qualify for the tournament in Russia.
For more, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj0Yw9SrQhY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h74cfHLd2C8
AP World Cup coverage: www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup