By Aidan Elder | Chief Sports Writer
The Dutch: “We don’t like you.”
The Germans: “Well, we don’t actually mind you.”
The Dutch: “Errr … well, we still don’t like you. In fact, that condescension makes us like you even less.”
The Germans: “That’s a pity, but ok then.”
And so began one of the fiercest rivalries in world football. Many neighbours will say they don’t like each other, but these two tend to back up the lip service with genuine aggression, bouts of violence and occasional airborne saliva.
The sociologists trace the resentment back to the Nazi occupation of the low country. The less pretentious trace it back to the World Cup Final of 1974, the first competitive meeting of the two sides. The ground-breaking Total Football of Johan Cruyff and the Dutch was outdone by the organisation and work ethic of Franz Beckenbauer and the Germans.
Sly tackles and erratic refereeing littered the game and defeat left a bitter taste in Dutch mouths. Reflecting on where it went wrong, Dutch winger, Johnny Rep later explained: “We wanted to humiliate the Germans. It wasn’t something we’d thought about, but we did it. We started knocking the ball around – and we forgot to score a second.”
Four years later in Argentina, the rivalry got another competitive run out in a relatively ‘calm’ 2-2 draw. It was less sedate at Euro 80 in a 3-2 victory for Germany marked by a fight between Toni Schumacher in goal for Germany and Huub Stevens of the Oranje, and Bernd Schuster getting a punch in the face.
The ‘revenge for the war’ narrative featured heavily in Euro 88. In fairness, the symbolism was hard to ignore as the Dutch arrived on German soil looking like a team capable of becoming an all-conquering force. The sight of Ruud Gullit holding the trophy aloft sparked wild celebrations around the Netherlands, but it was the dispatching of Germany in the semi-final that provided communal therapy for a nation. “We gave joy to the older generation. I saw their emotions, their tears,” said Gullit in the aftermath.
The Euro 88 meeting was notable for another incident. After swapping jerseys with Olaf Thon, Ronald Koeman mimicked wiping his arse with the German apparel. The incident opened a new era of rivalry between the nations that was less about the wounds of the war and distinctly more low-brow. Both sides could claim it was down to some lofty perceived slight, but it felt more childish and nonsensical than before.
The skin, hair and spit flew on that infamous night in Milan at Italia 90. In an almost Mark Clattenburg show of ineptitude, the referee, Juan Loustau, gives Voller two yellow cards – one seemingly for being furious Frank Rijkaard spat in his hair and one for making a vain attempt to reach a ball that dropped safely into the arms of Hans van Breukelen. On reflection Rijkaard looks like the instigator, catalyst and villain of the piece and Voller looks immensely hard done by, but in the ultra-surreal environment, the decision almost seems to make sense.
Two competitive meetings have happened since and as no hospital or hairdressing treatment was required, the games were feisty but comparatively peaceful. At Euro 1992, the Dutch ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in the group stage and twelve years later the spoils were shared in a result that contributed to sending the Germans home before the knockout rounds.
Overall, the Germans carry the slight edge in terms of wins and superior dismay towards their neighbours. They’ve got three wins versus the two the Netherlands have managed. It feels like the disdain is stronger on the Dutch side of the border, as illustrated by former German international Karlheinz Förster who pointed out: “They hate us so much more than we hate them.”
The Germans may generally be the less aggressive part of the rivalry, but they’d still cherish a victory. One that knocks the Dutch out of Euro 2012 would be even sweeter again.