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The Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje By Gary Thacker

Release date: 13th July, 2021
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

List Price: 16.99
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For Dutchmen and women, the bare facts make for uncomfortable reading: Netherlands hold the record for playing in the most World Cup finals (three) without being crowned world champions.

Their heyday came during the mid-Seventies when an outstanding team playing brilliant ?Total Football?, an often breath-taking style of play they perfected, reached the final in 1974 and 1978, losing on both occasions to the respective tournament?s hosts, West Germany and Argentina. They would fail again in 2010, losing 1-0 to Spain, which meant they were unable to jettison an unwanted moniker: ?The Beautiful Bridesmaids Dressed in Oranje?.

Fortunately, Gary Thacker has written a superb book, using that unwanted label as its title, which serves to remind us just how good (and unlucky) the Netherlands have been on the world stage.

Total football evolved domestically; it was first evident to a British audience in the late 1960s when Ajax of Amsterdam, featuring a youthful Johan Cruyff, hammered Liverpool, then undisputed champions of England, in the European Cup. Essentially, total football required players to be comfortable on the ball irrespective of their notional team position. It was not, therefore, unusual to see Cruyff at full back or defenders playing up-front.

The system worked at club level, with Ajax and Feynoord dominating the European Cup. Between 1969-73, the two clubs were crowned European champions on four occasions, Ajax winning the trophy three years in succession (they were also runners up in 1968).

Despite enjoying a period of prolonged club success, it wasn?t until 1974 that the Netherlands? national side made a belated appearance at the World Cup, their first for 36 years.

This was the tournament where Cruyff first executed the famed turn named after him as Holland beat Bulgaria 4-1. They hammered Argentina 4-0, then handed out a beating, both physical and football-wise, to perhaps the dirtiest Brazil side ever to appear in the World Cup, emerging as 2-0 victors.

The final appeared a foregone conclusion, especially after Johan Neeskens slotted home a penalty to put the Dutch 1-0 up before West Germany had touched the ball. Germany being Germany, however ensured they turned things around and won 2-1.

Four years later, the Dutch struggled to qualify from their group, famously losing 3-2 to Scotland, but their tournament gathered momentum and they faced Argentina in the final, taking the hosts to extra time before losing 3-1.

This particularly well-researched book makes you wonder how the Netherlands have never been crowned world champions. For a decade total football dominated, yet the Dutch remained the orange-clad bridesmaids rather than the bride.

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