Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
When Holland ride into Wembley it will be their seventh visit. It's a stage renowned for controversy and drama, but it's one on which every Dutch footballer wants to play. Previous pilgrimages to the cathedral of football have seen humblings and masterclasses.
Euro 96 Group A, 18 June 1996: England 4-1 Netherlands The last Dutch visit, 15 years ago, will live long in the English memory. The summer of 1996 was when football came home. Guus Hiddink's side arrived without the injured Frank de Boer but on the cusp of a golden generation, with many players educated at an Ajax side who had reached the last two Champions League finals.
The first sign of their ‘intent’, on behalf of a well-known sportswear firm, was a billboard campaign featuring Patrick Kluivert superimposed on the Dutch tricolour with a simple message to the England boss: 'Venables, Quit Now'.
However, as was to become typical of Oranje get-togethers, the confidence was followed by chaos and drama. Amid reports (decried by Clarence Seedorf as media mischief) of a racial divide in the camp, Edgar Davids decided to air his grievances with Hiddink.
In a radio interview, the man nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ by Louis van Gaal sank his teeth into the national coach: “Hiddink must take his head out of players’ asses, so he can see better.” Davids was sent home. An integral part of the Dutch midfield, he would be very much missed when the Netherlands faced the home nation.
In a result still celebrated in England, the hosts humiliated Hiddink's side 4-1 beneath the Twin Towers. Described by many as Terry Venables' finest hour, it was Hiddink’s darkest.
“It was a big defeat," said the coach. "I felt isolated. England taught us a lesson in every aspect of the game.” Dennis Bergkamp added that the result haunted him and would only be exorcised if he gained revenge – but his playing path would never again cross with the England team.
Phillip Cocu, now an assistant coach of the Oranje, came on that night as a 72nd-minute substitute. By that point the English onslaught led by Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham had put the hosts 4-0 up. “We have to be really pleased for ourselves,” Venables beamed. "Personally, it's the most satisfying performance of all time, because of the quality of the opposition. This sort of result doesn't happen to Holland very often.”
The reaction back home centered around the Davids affair, as Hiddink was labelled a coach choosing to cut his nose to spite his face. England’s 4-1 victory remains Oranje’s heaviest defeat in tournament football.
USA 94 qualification, 28 April 1993: England 2-2 NetherlandsThe English saw that Wembley win as revenge of sorts for what had happened three years previously. Well-placed in chasing qualification for the 1994 World Cup, having won three and drawn one of their opening four fixtures, England took a 2-0 lead after 22 minutes through a brilliant John Barnes free-kick and David Platt's tap-in after Les Ferdinand had hit the post.
Paul Gascoigne was running the game for England, until he was on the receiving end of Dutch captain Jan Wouters' elbow. "It was never my intention to injure Paul," Wouters later insisted. "The injury was so unfortunate for England because for the first 20 minutes Gascoigne was the best player on the field.”
To add insult to Gascoigne's injury, Wouters helped the Dutch halve the deficit 10 minutes before half-time when his sumptuous pass was volleyed home by Inter Milan forward Dennis Bergkamp.
Gascoigne was replaced at half-time and England looked increasingly nervy until with four minutes remaining, Des Walker brought down Marc Overmars in the area. Peter van Vossen needed no second invitation to level the scores.
“We had a little bit of luck at Wembley," reflected Dutch boss Dick Advocaat. "It was a great game, with good football from both sides, and England nearly did enough."
His captain disagreed. “To come back like that was not luck. You have to give credit to the fighting qualities of the team. If we had lost that one, we would have been finished.”
Whether or not teams make their own luck, the result would ultimately prove vital to the Dutch qualifying for the 1994 World Cup – ahead of England, for whom this started a run of five games yielding only one win. “Coming back from 2-0 down in England really kept our hopes alive,” Bergkamp said. "It was a key result.”
Friendly, 23 March 1988: England 2-2 NetherlandsFive years and a month before The Battle of Wouters' Elbow, the teams again shared a 2-2 Wembley draw, this time in a friendly. Aged 25, Ronald Koeman – at the time the Eredivisie's leading scorer with 21 goals – ended up skippering his country for just the third time, but it would be another defender making the headlines.
Tony Adams would have the dubious honour of scoring at both ends, first equalising for the Dutch – converting a Wouters cross – after Gary Lineker had put England in front. John Bosman would give Holland the lead before Adams redeemed himself, heading in a second-half Trevor Steven free-kick to become the only England player to score for both sides.
At full-time the capacity crowd applauded the two sets of players off. This was the appetiser before the main course as three months later they would meet in Frankfurt. One of the notable absentees for Rinus Michels, who had won the European Cup here in 1971, was training in Milan in an ultimately successful bid to get fit for the finals. His name: Marco van Basten.
European Cup Final, 20 May 1992: Barcelona 1-0 SampdoriaWembley has always held a romanticism for Dutch players. Johan Cruyff showcased his breathtaking talent as his Ajax dismantled Panathinaikos in the 1971 European Cup final. “Playing at Wembley was something totally special because Wembley has always been different,” the legendary No.14 recalled. Twenty-one years later he would be back to guide FC Barcelona to their first European Cup title.
The image of him stepping over an advertising hoarding after his comptriot Ronald Koeman struck his free-kick is just as potent in the minds of Cules everywhere as the goal itself. “That win at Wembley is part of the fabric of Barcelona today,” Koeman reminisced.
In one of his post-match press conferences Cruyff would utter the phrase ‘en un moment dado’ [at a given moment]. The phrase never existed – he would often literally translate terms from Dutch into Spanish – but it has now entered the Spanish lexicon.
European Cup Final, 2 June 1971: Ajax 2-0 PanathinaikosCruyff's first European Cup success at Wembley was achieved without the one player who could challenge him for the title of the true Total Footballer: Ruud Krol. The left-back broke his leg in a league game against NEC, just before the European Cup semi-final against Atlético Madrid and the domestic Cup final against Sparta Rotterdam.
It was the lowest point in his career. As a result it robbed him of the opportunity of playing at the venue for his club. “Nowhere in the world is a venue noisier than Wembley,” he recollected. “And I was there, among the players, but they got to play and I could only watch. It was the hardest moment of my career. That feeling then and there, the sound, the excitement, that’s why you play football.”
Ajax would beat Ferenc Puskás's Greek champions 2-0. Once referee Jack Taylor brought the game to a close, a sea of Dutch fans ran onto the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. “Wembley has never seen scenes like this,” Kenneth Wolstenholme declared.
Friendlies, 14 January 1970: England 0-0 NetherlandsKrol made his international debut against England at the age of 20, in November 1969 in Amsterdam; the Dutch lost by a single goal. However he made amends in the reverse fixture two months later at Wembley, England's first game of the 1970s. It ended goalless, but after an imperious defensive display Francis Lee called Krol the finest left-back he'd ever faced.
Friendly, 9 February 1977: England 0-2 NetherlandsIt would be seven years before Krol and ‘clockwork Oranje’ would return to North London, under new boss Jan Zwartkruis. In only his third game in charge, the former Dutch military XI coach would deliver Holland’s first win anywhere against England.
Roughly midway between two World Cup final appearances, a star-studded side that included Willy van de Kerkhof, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink and Johan Cruyff were overshadowed by Jan Peters; having won 10 caps without a goal, the NEC midfielder scored a brace in a famous 2-0 victory.
England boss Don Revie was left in awe. “Holland were magnificent, the best international performance at Wembley since the Hungarians in 1953. They taught us a lesson. They showed us tonight how far we've got to go.”
Friendly, 25 May 1982: England 2-0 NetherlandsFive years later in May 1982, England would reverse the score in Krol’s last appearance at the stadium and his penultimate game for Oranje, Tony Woodcock and Paul Mariner condemning Kees Rijvers’ men.
Two of current Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk’s former AZ teammates, Hugo Hovenkamp and Kees Kist, played in the only Dutch triumph at Wembley. Hovenkamp is one of three Dutch internationals to make their debuts at the stadium (the other two are Peter Boeve in 1982 and Adick Koot in 1988).
Van Marwijk could add to that select group on Wednesday night: he has given debut call-ups to Ola John and Luciano Narsingh. But the coach may not think this is the time for experimentation: without a win in his last three matches the game takes on added significance.
With the European Championship a few months away, there’s an opportunity for the Dutch to record their second win at the home of football, but in the wider picture a chance to send a signal of intent as the clock ticks down to Poland and Ukraine.
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