The assist-maker is often forgotten after a goal is scored, but when Dennis Bergkamp netted his sublimely controlled last-minute goal against Argentina in the quarter-final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™, football fans did not only remember the finish, but also the pass that led to the goal. From well behind the halfway line, Netherlands defender Frank de Boer fed a gliding pass over virtually every Argentinian players' head before Bergkamp sealed the famous win for the Dutch.
De Boer, Bergkamp and the rest of the Oranje were not able to defeat Brazil in the semi-final, but the Dutch captain said the tournament “is what put the name Frank de Boer on the map.”
“For me, the entire run to the semi-final was my finest World Cup memory. In the end I was named in the team of the tournament as well,” De Boer told www.sc.qa in an interview on the sidelines of his team's winter training camp at Aspire Academy in Qatar.
A veteran of two World Cup campaigns with the Netherlands, the former Barcelona defender and current Ajax coach also expressed his satisfaction with his team's winter preparations as the Dutch champions return to European action with a home game against Legia Warsaw in the UEFA Europa League.
“Every inch of grass is cut to perfection,” De Boer said. “The conditions are perfect, the weather is great. Normally during this time of the year we cannot do everything. In the Netherlands right now it’s windy and rainy. Here you can do everything you want and players can stay longer on the pitch.”
Admiration for Doha's facilities
In between his two World Cup appearances in 1994 and 1998, de Boer lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy with Ajax in 1995 before moving to Barcelona, Galatasaray and Rangers. Together with his twin brother Ronald, he then moved to Qatar to play for Al-Rayyan, where they remained for a year before moving – together once again – to another Qatari club, Al-Shamal. De Boer added that he is fully aware of the growing talent in the country where he last played football.
“I think it’s great, they’ve put a lot of effort and energy to lift the levels of Qatari players and Qatari clubs. Aspire Academy especially have been important in that [the AFC U-19 Cup win and the Gulf Cup win]. If you put this kind of place here with all the facilities, yes it costs a lot of money, but you will get results, and that’s what has happened.”
The captain of one of the most gifted generations of Dutch players including the likes of Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp or Patrick Kluivert, De Boer also said he expected a unique World Cup in Qatar given the short distances teams will have to travel. "I think it’s fantastic that everything is nearby. You don’t need to travel in a plane. It would be fantastic."
As a player de Boer was known for his gifted left foot, with which he took free-kicks, scored vital goals and played many sublime passes for the Netherlands and Barcelona, including one lofted pass which Rivaldo famously converted with a bicycle kick finish to seal a last-minute Champions League spot for the Catalan side.
However, things could have been quite different for the man that made the team of the tournament at the 1998 World Cup in France alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo. Asked what his fondest off-the-pitch memory was during a World Cup, De Boer noted the same tournament in France and the quality time spent with his Dutch team-mates.
In Marseille, he said: “We had a great time and would go to the beach club and use Jet Skis. Suddenly it was two or three of us on a jet ski, and on one occasion, if I didn’t pull my leg away quickly [my team-mate] Pierre Van Hooijdonk nearly cut my leg off with the Jet Ski he was driving. It’s important that you have fun with your team-mates, that also brings results.”
Despite that near miss, de Boer went on to enjoy a memorable tournament which was almost capped with an appearance in a major final, both in 1998 and in UEFA EURO 2000 on home soil. Now the Dutchman is playing an influential role as coach as the Amsterdam side attempts to secure a fifth successive domestic title, and once again bring out the talent that makes a major impact on European football.