Holland face Germany and history with echoes of Euro 80

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Having qualified in style for the Euros, World Cup runners-up Holland face the Germans in the second group game with everything on the line. 2012? No, 1980, as a worried Mohamed Moallim explains…

The biggest grudge match in Europe takes centre stage once more. When the Netherlands face Germany in Kharkiv on Wednesday evening it will be the first competitive meeting since 2004. The potential outcome is striking: Germany once again have the chance to eliminate the Dutch from a major tournament.

The events of 1974's World Cup Final and 1990's spittle-flecked Round of 16 meeting are well documented. But what gets forgotten is an equally exciting German side effectively dispatching their neighbours in Euro 80.

The sides were in contrasting health when they locked horns for a crucial group game in Naples. Brimming with exuberance, West Germany were blooding another golden generation including Bernd Schuster, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Klaus Allofs and a 19-year-old Lothar Matthäus, who made his debut against the Dutch to win the first of his 150 caps.

On the other hand, Holland relied on some of the players that had agonisingly lost the World Cup final two years earlier in extra time. Sound familiar?

With the group winners going straight through to the final, the 3-2 West German win all but ended any hope of Oranje progression. After two World Cup finals and a third place at Euro 76, that failure would ultimately spell the end of Jan Zwartkruis, a manager who was popular with the players, yet maligned by the press and public. Again, there are strong echoes with the present.

Schuster ran the game as the Dutch were downed

Zwartkruis and Bert van Marwijk are two peas in a pod. Ardent disciplinarians, they turned sides in danger of stagnating into solid, results-first outfits. Zwartkruis, formerly of the army, took over from George Knobel after Euro 76, when the Dutch were in danger of eating themselves.

Swiftly introducing discipline to the point of training the players like an army general, he soon met with player complaints and took a step back. Van Marwijk hasn’t gone that far – maybe he should have – but has certainly addressed splits within the camp, saying he doesn’t expect his players to be buddies but professional enough to work together for the same cause.

Despite leading Oranje to successful qualification for Argentina 78, before the finals Zwartkruis was ignominiously demoted to assistant under Ernst Happel – although a mid-tournament mutiny meant that from the second round Zwartkruis was effectively coaching Oranje with Happel a puppet manager. But for all his man-management prowess, he was no miracle worker, and by the summer of 1980 he had squeezed out every pip.

Oranje qualified for Euro 80 in dramatic fashion; after winning five of their first six games then being held at home by group leaders Poland, they travelled to Leipzig for their final game and came back from two goals down to win. Heading to Italy for the Euros, the double World Cup finalists' confidence was understandably high, but they would only play three group games before returning home embarrassed.

In their opening game they were fortunate to beat tournament underdogs Greece 1-0 with a penalty, but luck deserted them against Germany in the baking heat of Naples: despite a rearguard fight, they were downed by Klaus Allofs’ hat-trick.

14 Jun 1980: The old rivals walk out at Napoli's largely empty stadium

The ugliness of the rivalry and ill-discipline of the Dutch – to Zwartkruis's horror – spilled out: Johnny Rep hit Harald Schumacher, who then fought with Huub Stevens, and René van de Kerkhof punched Bernd Schuster. “To them, beating us is the best thing there is,” Karl-Heinz Förster said. “They hate us so much more than we hate them.”

Three days later, Oranje drew their final group game against Czechoslovakia, who finished as group runners-up to reach the third/fourth-placed play-off; the result also guaranteed the Germans top slot and thus their third consecutive Euros final. The contrast with the Dutch couldn't be greater.

It was a disaster. Years before the coining of the term WAGs, Zwartkruis blamed the players' partners for distracting the squad, but in truth his side was a shadow of its former self – mentally as well as physically – before and during the tournament. The friendlies prior didn’t show a team on a serious mission, but glimpses of a disjointed unit. Once again, there are echoes with the present, after Oranje's disorganised defeat at home to Bulgaria recently.

NEWS, 26 May 2012: Bulgaria inflict home defeat on sloppy Dutch

The fallout from summer 1980 ended a golden generation. Zwartkruis was soon out of a job. Ruud Krol would retire, return and retire again, a farce which only confirmed how far and fast the nation had fallen. Having been absent from 10 straight final stages since the 1930s, the Dutch returned to the doldrums by failing to qualify for Spain 82, France 84 or Mexico 86.

Fear mounts with pressure, and after Euro 2012's shock opening defeat against Denmark, the Dutch need to try harder against Germany or risk first-week elimination: as Joachim Löw notes, it's “all or nothing for Oranje”. With the Germans superior and Holland desperate, there’s every chance the cynicism adopted against Spain could return. Throw in the rivalry and things could get ugly.

As the match draws near, the wise old heads are having their say. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a participant in 1980, sees reflections of the past in the present. “The current German team reminds me of Oranje,” he said but warned. “The Dutch played beautiful football but at the end of the tournament died in beauty.” Johan Cruyff calls Germany the only “dangerous” team at the Euros.

Van Marwijk's refusal to renovate could eventually be his downfall: perhaps he’s taken this generation of players as far as he can. True, the Dutch created (and wasted) chances against Denmark, but that only masked serious internal concerns.

NEWS, 9 Jun 2012: Profligate Dutch punished by Denmark

The German press, especially Bild, indulged in good old-fashioned schadenfreude. This is the essence of rivalry: one side’s failure is celebrated by the other. It has always been the case and will continue.

Van Marwijk was given a four-year extension last December, but his approval rating continues to plummet. Calls for his removal will intensify if Holland crash out at the first hurdle – unimaginable a month ago, with players talking of glory, but exactly the same happened in 1980: pride hurt, with Oranje facing an uncertain future, it becomes even more unbearable with Germany standing tall. Again.