- Amsterdam greets the 1974 FIFA World Cup’s beaten finalists
- Rinus Michels’ side’s ‘Total Football’ had captivated the world
- Johan Cruyff: “Maybe we were the real winners in the end”
These are the scenes that followed the most painful defeat in Dutch football history. But if it looks more like a delirious victory party than a mournful wake, this was for good reason.
Over time, the 2-1 loss to West Germany at the climax of the 1974 FIFA World Cup would become known as ‘The Lost Final’. Rinus Michels’ irresistible side had, after all, taken the lead before a single German player had touched the ball, and spent the next 20 minutes toying with their seemingly outclassed hosts.
“We wanted to make fun of the Germans,” striker Johnny Rep later admitted. “We forgot to score the second goal. When you see the film of the game, you can see the Germans got more and more angry. It was our fault.”
However, while the question of how and why they had gone on to lose would haunt the Dutch for decades, pride overshadowed pain in the game’s immediate aftermath. And there was plenty to be proud of.
Michels’ ‘Clockwork Oranje’ had captivated the watching world in ‘74, showcasing a thrilling and famously fluid brand of football that is still remembered and celebrated to this day. Carlos Alberto, captain of the legendary Brazilian team that had lifted the trophy four years earlier, was among its many fans. “The only team I’ve seen that did things differently was Holland at the 1974 World Cup,” said the Seleção icon. “Their carousel style of play was amazing to watch and marvellous for the game.”
Johan Cruyff revelled in such compliments, saying later: “There is no medal better than being acclaimed for your style.” He saw that, even in defeat, the Dutch had made an indelible mark on the World Cup - and their reception in Amsterdam reflected this. Cruyff & Co were greeted as heroes when they landed at Schipol Airport, and went on to a royal reception with the country’s queen and prime minister before being serenaded by tens of thousands of fans amid a party atmosphere at the city’s Leidseplein Square.
Michels, second from right in this picture, had been here before, looking out on cheering crowds from the balcony of the Stadsschouwburg theatre. But that was after Ajax’s European Cup wins, not in the wake of an excruciating and seemingly avoidable Final loss.
Then again, perhaps Cruyff was right about the relative importance of medals and trophies. As he said of that Final loss to The Guardian just a year before his passing: “Maybe we were the real winners in the end. I think the world remembers our team more.”
Did you know?
Johan Neeskens, one of the stars of that famous Dutch team, paid a visit to the FIFA World Football Museum last month and spoke about their Final defeats in 1974 and ’78.