The chief architects of total football during the 1970s, a period during which they were twice FIFA World Cup™ finalists, Netherlands had to wait until 1988 to clinch their only major honour: the UEFA European Championship.
Their losses at the last hurdle in 1974 and 1978 represent Dutch football's two most glorious, and painful, moments from their eight FIFA World Cup participations.
In West Germany in 1974, the Dutch side led by the imperious Johan Cruyff exhibited an ultra-modern brand of football. In the final, they opened the scoring as early as the first minute, before being floored by two knockout blows from the host nation.
Four years later, fate was against them again in the final, as an Argentine side roared on by an entire nation eventually prevailed 3-1 in extra time. For Dutch coach Rinus Michels and his golden generation, that defeat was the footballing equivalent of an unfinished symphony.
Since then, Netherlands supporters have been yearning to see their team reach another FIFA World Cup Final. Yet despite regularly ranking among the pre-tournament favourites, the Oranjes have repeatedly fallen with their holy grail tantalisingly in sight.
In 1990, for example, a side packed with such world-class stars as Frank Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit seemed destined for glory before slumping out in the second round at the hands of a German side that went on to lift the trophy.
In 1998 in France, the Netherlands lost out on penalties at the end of a bewitching semi-final encounter with Brazil. Then at UEFA EURO 2000, held partly on home soil, history repeated itself with another semi-final defeat on penalties, this time at the hands of Italy.
A low point came in 2002 when the Netherlands failed to qualify for the final phase of the FIFA World Cup, at a time when their best players (the De Boer brothers, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Philip Cocu, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Jaap Stam) were starring for Europe's leading clubs.
Despite a decent performance at EURO 2004, when they again reached the semi-final, Dutch football's administrators opted to usher in a new era by replacing the experienced Dick Advocaat with the former star striker Van Basten. A flawless qualification campaign (ten wins and two draws) had the Dutch fans dreaming of glory again, only for their side to leave Germany early after a stormy last 16 stage loss to Portugal.
Despite losses to Romania and Belarus on the way, Van Basten
managed to guide the Dutch to EURO 2008, and the team sparkled in
the opening stage, crushing both Germany 2006 finalists Italy and
France by three goals, before losing in extra time to Russia in the
quarter-finals. Following the tournament, Van Basten, who had
agreed terms with Ajax Amsterdam, was replaced by Feyenoord boss
Bert van Marwijk.
With the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie now shining in the famous orange jersey, Netherlands will now be hopeful of making a place at South Africa 2010 their own.