Later today, not sure about the time, it will be 33 years since Rob Rensenbrink hit the side post and Holland didn’t win the World Cup in Argentina in 1978.
Some historians believe the World Cup victory allowed the military junta to hold on to power for a couple of extra years. Which would cost the lives of a few more thousands of people. This may be highly speculative.
I imagine Rensenbrink would have re-written not only the story of 1978 but that of the World Cup of 1974 too. The trauma erased there and then. Though Holland would have probably lost it’s status as the “other” football power. The alternative. Become just another World Cup winning nation.
Rensenbrink himself would have been the first outright top scorer to lift the cup. Cruyff would have still been Holland’s greatest but Rensenbrink elevated to a legendary status. Quite rightly too. He was easily one of the top 3-4 forwards in world football back then. In no way inferior to Kempes or Dalglish. But the history of football is about history more than about football.
32 years later, when Arjen Robben was blocked by Casillas I had this strange thought. Do Robben and Sneijder really have the right to succeed where Cruyff and Rensenbrink ultimately failed? About an hour later, when the Dutch collected their losers medals – something they did not do in 1978 for political reasons – this thought had evaporated.
A few years ago I read a story how the members of the 1978 team are forgotten heroes in Argentina. Many of them have had unhappy lives. They are in the shadow of the Maradona team perceived to have won the cup for a democratic country rather than a dictatorship.
But the Dutch 1978 team are the forgotten losers. The 1974 team just complacently gave it away to a German team that won fair and square. The 1978 team overcame enormous adversity. Dealing with Cruyff’s mysterious absence. With a hostile political atmosphere particularly towards liberal Holland. And confronting the least ethical host nation campaign at least since Mussolini’s Italy.
The argentineans altered game times and referees. Engineered match throwing by a Peruvian goalkeeper. Unethically turned up late to the final. The host-friendly refereeing of 1966 or 2002 pale in contrast. A victory that should be considered hardly legitimate.
And still. That brave Dutch team have become the forgotten less glamorous losers.
Krol, Jansen (Suurbier 75), Brandts, Poortvleit
Neeskens, Haan, W. Van de Kerkhof, R. Van der Kerkhof,
Rep (Nanninga 58), Rensenbrink
Coach: Ernst Happel. An Austrian, he would have been the only foreign coach to win a world cup.