When Giovanni van Bronckhorst shaped to shoot at 8.48pm on Tuesday, Uruguayans breathed a collective sigh of relief at the supposed formality of a Netherlands attack being aborted.
The distance - 35 yards - made a goal improbable. The angle - five yards from the left touchline - made one almost inconceivable. Besides, the left-back was not a renowned long-range specialist, a la Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben. He was, by stark contrast, a 35-year-old who had not scored in his last 29 qualifiers for – or matches at – the FIFA World Cup™, and whose only league goal in the entire 2009/10 season was registered at the wrong end: a miscue that ultimately cost Feyenoord victory over ADO Den Haag in February.
One second later, those sighs had been replaced by dropped jaws: spectators had witnessed Van Bronckhorst’s vicious drive rocket into the top corner of Fernando Muslera’s net, via the post, to set the Netherlands en route to a 3-2 victory and a place in the FIFA World Cup Final. “It was incredibly beautiful,” reflected Frank de Boer, the Netherlands’ assistant coach. “It was really a perfect shot. To strike a ball like that happens maybe once in a lifetime.”
It was incredibly beautiful. To strike a ball like that happens maybe once in a lifetime.
And while those at Green Point Stadium were rendered stupefied, history should have warned that, in shooting terms, wearing an orange shirt in a FIFA World Cup is akin to having a magician’s cape on one’s back. The Netherlands, indeed, have been responsible for a disproportionately high number of wonder goals in the competition. It took them ten to score one worthy of decorating highlight reels. But ever since that thunderbolt from Ruud Krol helped Rinus Michels’s side beat Argentina 4-0 at Germany 1974, spectacular Dutch goals have arrived in abundant supply.
The image of Johan Cruyff’s protracted right leg nonchalantly volleying home a left-wing cross against Brazil later that tournament is fondly remembered by his compatriots, while Argentina 1978 was the stage for an influx of Dutch gems. Among them were Johnny Rep collecting the ball inside his own half, playing a one-two with Wim Jansen, advancing forward and cracking a 25-yard shot past Scotland goalkeeper Alan Rough; Arie Haan’s 35-yard screamer against West Germany; the long-range Ernie Brandts bullet that levelled the scores against Italy, and the vicious, swerving Haan strike, from fully 30 yards and past the legendary Dino Zoff, that cannoned in off the post to snatch the Oranje victory in that match.
“We scored some really beautiful goals in those World Cups,” Michels later reflected. “I think it’s because Dutch players are encouraged to shoot, and of course we had some brilliant strikers of a ball in those teams.”
And so the trend established by Michels’s class on the 1970s continued. Indeed, although the Netherlands’ next FIFA World Cup campaign was a forgettable one, Ruud Gullit did provide one lasting memory by playing a one-two with Wim Kieft, somehow muscling his way between two Republic of Ireland defenders, and burying a firm, low drive into the bottom corner.
Wim Jonk’s 30-yard piledriver was one of the goals of USA 1994, while Dennis Bergkamp made a permanent imprint on the competition with three seconds of inimitable genius four years later. With the Netherlands and Argentina just one minute away from extra time in their quarter-final, the Dutch No8 sumptuously controlled a long punt forward from Frank de Boer, flicked the ball inside Roberto Ayala and, with the outside of a right boot responsible for copius magic, casually guided it into the back of Carlos Roa’s net. “It was one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen,” said his then-coach Guus Hiddink.
We scored some really beautiful goals in those World Cups. We had some brilliant strikers of a ball in those teams.
But for all the Netherlands’ wonder goals in the FIFA World Cup, none have come in a Final – they were on target through a Johan Neeskens penalty in a 2-1 defeat by West Germany in 1974, while a Dick Nanninga header was all they managed against Argentina in 1978.
Not that scoring a screamer in a major decider is alien to the Oranje. In the conclusion to UEFA EURO 1988, a high, hanging cross fell towards Marco van Basten, who, from a preposterous angle, looped a volley over Soviet Union goalkeeper Rinat Dasayev and into the back of his net. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest strikes in history.
And while any goal will do for Bert van Marwijk’s charges at Soccer City, against a team as meticulously organised as Spain and a keeper as formidable as Iker Casillas, perhaps a Netherlands victory is reliant on an addition to their enviable collection of corkers.