17 min: Whoops! Holland are their own worst enemies at times. Davids wonks a wayward pass to Numan out on the left. It’s so firmly hit and in his attempt to keep the ball from going out for a throw-in, Numan miscontrols the ball into the path of Ortega, who’s on it in a flash. Suddenly realising that Ortega has a free run at his defence, Numan cynically brings him down, conceding a free-kick and injuring himself in the process. As he lies prone on the turf, a yellow card is flashed in his direction. How heartless. He’s hurt himself, in case you didn’t see! From the resulting free-kick, Argentina nearly find the equaliser. It was taken short and the sublime Veron loped ominously into Dutch territory. Upon reaching the area, he played a lovely wall pass with Batistuta, Holland carved open like a biology student dissecting a frog, but was just unable to reach the return on the stretch and Van der Sar plunges on the ball. Veron holds his head in his hands, but it’s coming. Argentina know it. More importantly, Holland know it.
14 min: Everything Argentina do is going through Ortega as usual, but his curled cross towards Batistuta from the left is headed away by Frank De Boer, and Stam completes the clearance. The goal doesn’t really seem to have overly knocked Argentina out of their stride; they’re still dominating possession.
GOAL! Holland 1-0 Argentina (Kluivert, 12 min)
Holland take the lead against the run of play! And what a superb, clinical strike it is too. They’ve been well below par in midfield, but Ronald De Boer has taken the game by the scruff of the neck here, dodging Almeyda’s challenge and gliding supremely through a centre as soft as mushy peas. Twenty-five yards from goal, it looked for a moment as if he would shoot, but instead he disguised his intentions and chipped a delightful pass towards Bergkamp, who had edged to the left. Showing typically wonderful awareness, Bergkamp sliced open Argentina’s dizzy defence, coaxing the ball into the path of Kluivert with a gorgeously cushioned header, allowing the striker to stroll through the middle and coolly clip the ball over the onrushing Roa from 15 yards out. That was a sublime team goal. And yet so crushingly simple. A sea of orange explodes.
11 min: Batistuta, Veron and Simeone have a meeting of minds over the free-kick, which is 25 yards from goal, just to the left, perfect for the right-footer. Presumably Batistuta makes that point, because the other two reluctantly step aside. Between them they tee up Batistuta for the shot, but Davids charges away from the wall to block the free-kick. It’s fair to say he’s up for this one.
10 min: Despite that early chance for Jonk, Argentina are the more assured side, with a greater fluency on the ball. Holland look a tad edgy. And now Stam is booked, betraying those frayed nerves, as he halts a menacing burst from Ortega in from the left with a clumsy challenge. He was holding on to Ortega’s shirt for good measure too.
9 min: Again Lopez looks to embarrass Stam with his pace, running on to a through ball from deep. Stam does excellently to cover the danger, easily matching the nippy forward stride for stride, getting his body in between him and ball before lumping it up the left flank for a throw-in. Argentina work it out to the left and Chamot looks to slide it through to Lopez, but the ball is ushered back to Van Der Sar.
8 min: Another foul from Davids, this time on Veron, who looks imploringly at the referee. Davids needs to be careful here.
7 min: Veron tries to slip a pass through for Batistuta but Stam cuts it out. Moments later, Ortega is brought down by the snarling Davids, the pitbull snapping away at his heels. That engrossing battle will be one to watch.
6 min: Jonk whips the corner into the near post where Frank De Boer manages to flick a header into the danger area, but Roa does well to claim the ball confidently.
5 min: Holland stir and nearly take the lead! Under little pressure, Ayala plays a sloppy pass straight out of defence to Kluivert, who instantly knocks a cute pass over the top to Bergkamp. He is forced a tad wide, out on the left, and is unable to shoot. Instead he rolls a pass inside to Kluivert, who’s blocked off by Sensini. From the clearance, Cocu’s drive from the edge of the area is deflected to the right of the area, where Jonk loops a beautiful volley against the near post. The ball comes back at pace to Jonk, who’s unable to control it, and after half-chances for Kluivert and Cocu, the ball is deflected behind for a corner out on the left.
4 min: Holland really miss the pace of Overmars. He was insanely brilliant for Arsenal’s Double winners last season.
3 min: Lopez twists and turns on the right side of the area. He’s a tricky little striker, this one. Eventually he fires in a low cross, which Frank De Boer knocks out to the edge of the area. Ortega, always mischievous, assumes control, but Davids halts his menacing foray into the heart of Holland’s area. Argentina are on top in these early stages.
2 min: Here’s the first glimpse of Ortega, the key man for Argentina, as he jinks and twists past a couple of Dutch challenges on the halfway line, eventually persuading Numan to bring him down. In such a tight spot, his nifty footwork was a joy to watch there.
Peep! We’re off! Argentina get us under way, kicking from left to right. They are in their traditional blue and white stripes, Holland in their Brilliant Oranje. Holland immediately win possession, Kluivert spreading play out to the left for Numan, who knocks a pass down the left-hand channel for Davids to chase. He manages to reach the ball before it drifts out for a goal-kick, only to concede a free-kick as he grapples with Zanetti.
The teams are out on the pitch. The sky is blue, the weather is hot and it’s the third World Cup quarter-final. Hip hip! Or should that be Hup Hup? No, because we’re totally impartial around here. Vamos!
Holland name the hamstrung Marc Overmars on the bench, while Patrick Kluivert returns in place of Clarence Seedorf. He will partner Dennis Bergkamp up front. Argentina make one change, Roberto Sensini replacing Nelson Vivas in defence.
Holland (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Reiziger, Stam, Frank De Boer, Numan; Ronald De Boer, Jonk, Davids, Cocu; Bergkamp, Kluivert. Subs: De Goey, Ooijer, Bogarde, Van Bronckhorst, Winter, Seedorf, Zenden, Overmars, Hasselbaink, Van Hooijdonk.
Argentina (3-3-2-2): Roa; Ayala, Chamot, Sensini; Zanetti, Almeyda, Simeone; Veron, Ortega; Lopez, Batistuta. Subs: Pineda, Burgos, Paz, Vivas, Astrada, Cavallero, Balbo, Crespo, Gallardo, Delgado.
Referee: Arturo Brizio Carter (Mexico).
The venue: Stade Velodrome, Marseille.
For the winners: A semi-final against world champions Brazil.
Here, would anyone like a large helping of jingoism? With a nice slice of xenophobia on the side. Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ll have heard about the slightly controversial match that took place in St Etienne four days ago. So, no prizes for guessing who England fans will be supporting here. Plus they’re suckers for hard-luck stories. Backing the Dutch will feel normal.
Which way will it go, though? All hype aside, Argentina are fortunate to be in this quarter-final at England’s expense. After all Glenn Hoddle’s side were magnificent on Tuesday night. Only, nothing went their way, Paul Scholes missing a glorious chance to make it 3-1 and lights out in the first half, David Beckham having a wee meltdown, Diego Simeone being Diego Simeone, Alan Shearer foolishly elbowing Carlos Roa as Sol Campbell ‘scored’, a curiously-placed divot denying Michael Owen when he went on another of those engrossing runs of his, a blatant handball in the area by Jose Chamot going unpunished during extra-time, David Seaman somehow letting in Roberto Ayala’s atrocious penalty in the shoot-out and Kevin Keegan predicting that David Batty would score his. Oh Kevin! You make your own luck and all that, but still. If that match proved anything, it is that Argentina, for all their exquisite talent, are very much there for the taking.
Then again, Argentina might say the same about Holland. And with good reason too. The Dutch drew two of their group games, only managing a win against South Korea, and were then downright shabby against Yugoslavia in their second-round match. With the match poised at 1-1 in the second half, they were let off the hook when Predrag Mijatovic plonked a penalty against the bar, before Edgar Davids won it for Holland with a hit-and-hope effort from the edge of the area in the last minute. Again, there’s terrific flair in that side, but it’s yet to really catch fire. But what do I know? Both sides are still unbeaten. It’s bound to be tight.
The mere mention of Rob Rensenbrink should be enough to send a shiver down the spine of any Holland fan old enough to remember the 1978 World Cup. Rensenbrink, of course, is the byword for footballing misfortune, the man who stared glory in the face and blinked. He was the man who could have altered history, who could have defined a generation. Instead he was the man who missed – in the last minute of the World Cup final.
With the match against the hosts Argentina delicately poised at 1-1, Holland had a free-kick just inside their half. From the centre circle, it was sent long into the Argentina area by Ruud Krol. The defending was poor, Argentina’s right-back allowing the pass to bounce through to Rensenbrink, whose run had gone unnoticed by his supposed marker. The attacker reached the ball before the goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol, stuck out his left leg and poked a shot goalwards from the left side of the six-yard box.
As he made contact with the ball, Fillol clattered into him, which would hardly have made a difference to Rensenbrink if his effort had rolled into the empty goal. How could it have? With the last kick of the match, he would have won the World Cup for Holland, for the first time, four years after they had lost in the final to West Germany. But the ball took one final bounce on its journey and that was all it required to alter the shot’s trajectory, kick fatefully away from goal, on to the near post and back out into the area. It was hacked clear, and moments later the full-time whistle blew.
Needless to say, Argentina scored twice in extra-time to secure a 3-1 victory. They, not Holland, had their name on the trophy for the first time. Eight years later, they won it for the second time. Twenty years later, Holland have not gone closer. Today they have a chance for revenge, an opportunity to reach the last four at Argentina’s expense. Will Rensenbrink be watching?
Kick-off: 3.30pm BST, 4.30pm in Marseille (or 7.45pm BST in the year 2020).