Argentina vs Netherlands: A World Cup Rivalry

The World Cup quarter-finals have provided football fans around the world with some mouth-watering fixtures featuring some of the game's most decorated and revered nations. With the Netherlands facing Argentina in Lusail on Friday, the memories of supporters from both nations and beyond will look back to the heroics of Bergkamp, Kempes and Mascherano. With the two nations 12,000km apart, you could be forgiven for believing the two sides to have little history, but the World Cup has given this rivalry its platform to flourish, changing the shape of football forever.

Match 1 - Netherlands 4-0 Argentina, Gelsenkirchen (1974)

Perhaps surprisingly, the first meeting between the two nations at a World Cup came in 1974, 40 years after the tournament's beginnings in Uruguay (1930). Prior to the 1974 edition of football's greatest competition, the Netherlands could only boast a very modest and disappointing record in the international game. Successive first round exits in 1934 and 1938 meant any potential for a fixture against Argentina was unlikely. Despite finishing as runners-up in 1930, Argentina too had failed to make an impact at the World Cup, achieving no more than a quarter-final in 1966.

It would be at the 1974 World Cup, however, that football changed forever. Amongst a plethora of intriguing stories and unforgettable moments, the emergence of the Dutch with their unmistakable brand of 'total football' was what many would remember the most from the tournament. Led by the phenomenal Johan Cruyff, the Oranje had swept all others aside to qualify for the second group stage. There they would meet three of the world's greatest footballing nations for the opportunity to reach the World Cup Final.

Fixtures against Brazil and East Germany certainly helped to stoke the fires of anticipation, but before the Netherlands could face these challenges, a tie against Argentina would need to be played. Cruyff would inspire his side to victory over La Albiceleste, scoring twice with Ruud Krol and Johnny Rep adding further goals to a comfortable 4-0 victory. Newspapers from around the world would herald Dutch performance as 'sheer brilliance', going as far as to describe the triumph as 'torture' for the Argentines.

"Holland were in a different class. World class. Yes. I felt after this rain-drenched evening I was looking at the new World Champions" 
Belfast Telegraph, 27 June 1974

Of course, football doesn't always follow the script. Despite playing beautiful football and taking an early lead in the final against West Germany, the heroics of Gerd Muller would turn the match around and see Franz Beckenbauer lifting the new World Cup trophy instead of Cruyff. The Netherlands would be left thinking of what might have been as Argentina licked its wounds both on and off the pitch.

Match 2 - Netherlands 1-3 Argentina (aet), Buenos Aires (1978)

The 1978 World Cup remains one of football's most controversial tournaments. Held in Argentina amidst the dictatorship of a brutal military junta, events off the pitch would see many nations publicly consider their involvement in the competition. The Netherlands had qualified easily for the tournament but would compete in South America without the talismanic Cruyff. Many had believed Cruyff's absence to be linked to his personal feeling towards the Argentine government, but more recent interviews with the late forward laid the blame elsewhere. An attempted kidnapping of the Dutch star's family in the months prior to the start of the 1978 World Cup had a dramatic impact on where his priorities lay.

Argentina would benefit from numerous questionable decisions in both group stages. Their later kick-offs had given them a psychological edge over their opponents and the 6-0 victory over Peru is still questioned heavily today.

"I don't know, honestly [If the match was fixed], but Videla did many bad things, much worse than bribing, so... But, we did play a tremendous game against Peru." 
Leopoldo Luque

The Argentine national team were used for political gain as their victories only helped to spread a wave of nationalism across the country. It would be the first World Cup where 'sportswashing' was so openly practised to fool the watching world.

The Netherlands would scrape through their opening group stage before growing in strength in the second round. Once more, Johnny Rep would shine brightest as his goals downed Austria before two unbelievable Arie Haan strikes from range saw off the German and Italian challenge. The stage was set for a final between the 'total football' of the Dutch and the fired-up, patriotic hosts in Buenos Aires. In front of a frenzied 70,000 supporters and a sea of ticker-tape at the Estadio Monumental, the World Cup Final was about to begin.

The final itself was a genuinely good game. Mario Kempes opened the scoring before Dick Nanninga equalised with a powerful header 8 minutes from time. With the score locked at 1-1, extra time would be needed to separate the sides. A trademark solo run by Kempes, just before half-time in extra-time, was finished after a slice of good fortune. Roberto Bertoni completed the victory ten minutes later. For the Dutch, it would prove to be a second World Cup final defeat in succession, but without Johan Cruyff the squad could at least take some solace in their achievements.

Presenting the trophy to captain Daniel Passarella was militant leader General Videla. The World Cup had achieved national euphoria and a cover for the atrocities which would reconvene following the final. To this day, many commentators, including players from the Argentine squad believe the 1978 World Cup should never have been played. By participating in the finals, FIFA had turned its back on the thousands of 'disappeared' individuals and political prisoners in the South American state. But have we really learned anything from this?

To discover more about the 1978 World Cup - you can read our blog here...

Match 3 - Netherlands 2-1 Argentina, Marseille (1998)

Following two dramatic last 16 ties, the Netherlands and Argentina would one more meet at the World Cup. The first edition of FIFA's flagship competition to see 32 teams, the increase in participants would only help to provide more drama and intrigue for spectators. Both sides had progressed relatively unscathed from their groups to face stiff opposition in the knockout rounds. First, a 92nd minute Edgar Davids strike had downed Yugoslavia before Argentina defeated England in one of the tournament's best ever games.

Played in intense heat in the south of France, the prospect of a World Cup semi-final would see both sides battle it out in a 'sensational contest'. The game would begin at a blistering pace, Patrick Kluivert and Claudio Lopez trading goals in first 20 minutes. Chances would fall to both sides throughout the 90 minutes and challenges would fly in as referee Arturo Carter issued 6 yellow cards. In the 76th minute, Dutch full-back Arthur Numan would receive a second booking, leading to an early shower before Ariel Ortega came to blows with Dutch goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar three minutes from time. Angered at what he saw as unfair treatment throughout the match, the diminutive number 10 would headbutt Van Der Sar and see red.

The best of the drama would be saved for the final moments of the match as Frank De Boer's long ball sailed over the Argentine defence. There to meet the ball with one of the finest, most exquisite first touches in football history was Dennis Bergkamp. Bringing the ball down, he would use a second touch to cut inside of Roberto Ayala before finishing into the top corner with the outside of his boot. Clasping his hands to his face, even Bergkamp could scarcely believe the magnitude and sheer quality of the goal. Both Barry Davies and Jack Van Gelder would produce iconic commentaries of the strike with Van Gelder's in particular living long in the memory.

Netherlands would fall just short in the semi-finals, losing on penalties to a Ronaldo-inspired Brazil. The side would repeat their performance at Euro 2000, once more reaching the semi-finals and once more losing on penalties, this time to Italy. Argentina, on the other hand, would struggle in the resulting years, failing to progress beyond the quarter-finals of the Copa America. It would be 8 years before the next meeting of the two nations. But was it worth the wait?

Match 4 - Netherlands 0-0 Argentina, Frankfurt (2006)

Both the Netherlands and Argentina would enter the 2006 World Cup in Germany as favourites to lift the trophy in Berlin. Already sitting comfortably in the world's top 10, any match between the pair would naturally provoke interest around the globe. Both nations could boast squads with incredible strength in depth and full of superstars. Robben, Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Riquelme, Crespo and a teenage Messi just six names to feature in this unforgettable tournament. 

The match between these two giants of the game was entirely the opposite. Despite both nations featuring in what was billed as the 'Group of Death', results in the first two rounds of fixtures had left the match between Netherlands and Argentina as a 'dead rubber'. The Oranje and La Albiceleste had comfortably seen off the challenge of Cote d'Ivoire and Serbia and Montenegro, each progressing to the knockout rounds with a game to spare.

For the Guardian, the match itself had the feel of a 'phoney war' with each side making wholesale changes to their tried and tested starting XIs. Riquelme would come closest to scoring, seeing his effort deflected onto the post whereas Dirk Kuyt and Philip Cocu tested Argentine goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. The result would leave Argentina topping the group and the Netherlands facing a tougher potential journey to Berlin. Argentina would eventually fall on penalties to the hosts and, sure enough, the Netherlands exited in the last 16, scrapping it out with Portugal during the infamous 'Battle of Nuremburg'.

Match 5 - Netherlands 0-0 Argentina (aet) (Argentina win 4-2 on pens), Sao Paulo (2014)

Eight years after the dead rubber draw in Frankfurt, the two sides would once more go the goalless distance, this time in Brazil. Contrary to the sleep-inducing match-up in Germany, the match in Sao Paulo had far greater stakes to play for. Competing in the semi-finals of what had already been heralded as one of football history's greatest World Cups, the two sides would play out a nail-biting and anxiety-inducing 120 minutes of football.

Both sides had performed well at the tournament with the Netherlands shocking the watching world with a 5-1 victory over reigning champions Spain before Lionel Messi inspired Argentina past Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria to progress to the knockout rounds. There, La Albiceleste went the distance with Switzerland and narrowly beat a strong Belgian XI.  Holland had left in late against Mexico in the last 16 and coach Louis Van Gaal made what many believe to be the greatest tactical substitution ever in the quarter-finals. Substituting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul just before their shootout victory over Costa Rica in Salvador.

The match itself was cagey, described by the BBC as 'tedious' and in complete contrast to the other semi-final, the infamous 7-1 Germany victory over hosts Brazil. The most notable moment of the match would arrive in extra-time as Argentine captain Javier Mascherano make one of the game's greatest ever tackles to deny Arjen Robben what looked like a certain goal. This time around, Van Gaal could not make a late substitution and Krul remained on the bench as Argentina scored all four penalties past Cillessen. Wesley Sneijder and Ron Vlaar would miss their penalties and once again, Argentina were in the final, for a third time, against Germany.

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©The Football History Boys, 2022


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