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The story of the 1974 World Cup

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Jonathan Stevenson | 08:14 UK time, Monday, 17 May 2010

Between now and the start of the World Cup, we will be looking back at previous tournaments with the help of some of the key characters and the BBC's archive footage. Today, we speak to the man who witnessed the Cruyff turn at first hand and the top scorer at the 1974 finals.

West Germany, June & July, 1974

Marked tightly by the Swedish right-back Jan Olsson, Netherlands' forward Johan Cruyff collects a long pass, holds off his opponent and then produces an outrageous piece of skill to flick the ball between his own legs and totally bamboozle Olsson, who struggles to keep his balance. The cross comes to nothing, but a legend is born.

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The Group Three game between Sweden and the Netherlands in Dortmund ended 0-0, but afterwards no-one was talking about the result. In Cruyff, the world had a new sporting icon; and in his artist-laden Dutch team, a vision of what was never before thought possible on a football field.

If a single moment could ever define a World Cup tournament, then surely this was it.

Having watched the moment on television a thousand times, I wanted to ask Olsson what was going through his mind at the precise moment he was outwitted by the genius conductor of the Dutch Total Football orchestra. Luckily, as he himself would confess, Olsson is never happier than when talking about the incident.

"I only hope my English is good enough to do the Cruyff turn moment justice," Olsson begins. Make up your own minds, but I think he succeeds.

"A ball was played into the corner and my first thought was to be aggressive and get after him and win the ball," he added. "I was happy, because I had him in the corner.

"I've got to be honest - I didn't understand what happened next. I thought I had the ball, then the next moment realised I didn't. I'd never seen anything like it. People in the crowd, my team-mates - they were all laughing at what they had seen. After the game, it's all anyone wanted to talk about and it's been that way ever since.

"I never get tired of seeing it, no way. I'm proud of my career, but what Cruyff did was beyond my capacity. He could have done it to anyone and I feel lucky it was me that day, lucky that I got to meet and play against the great Johan Cruyff."

The Netherlands' impact on the tournament was as dramatic as it was sudden. The Dutch had not been to a World Cup since a first-round exit in 1938, yet with their daring style and balletic beauty they quickly became the country every neutral wanted to watch and every nation wanted to avoid. Especially as the hosts, West Germany, and the holders, Brazil, seemed to struggle from the outset.

The Brazilians, minus the legendary Pele for a first World Cup since 1954, stuttered to draws against Yugoslavia (who mauled Zaire 9-0) and Scotland, only creeping into the second group stage on goal difference ahead of the unfortunate Scots, while the West Germans suffered a humbling defeat on their own patch to their neighbours from the East.

Meanwhile in Group Four, Poland were proving the Netherlands were not the only impressive new kids on the block. Inspired by the goals of speedy forward Grzegorz Lato, the Poles upset the established order by dumping out an Italy side containing the midfield talents of a certain Fabio Capello, in his first World Cup campaign.

"We weren't among the favourites, we were more like Cinderella," Lato, who is now president of the Polish FA, told me. "But we felt like the pressure was more intense because all the experts had predicted an early exit for us.

"This made us work even harder to achieve our goals. When we beat Argentina 3-2 we became convinced we could beat anybody and then when we won against Italy our confidence just soared."

Lato went on to become the tournament's top scorer with seven goals and only defeat to West Germany, on a waterlogged pitch that these days would not be deemed playable, cost them a place in the World Cup final. It is a match that still infuriates Lato all this time later.

"Who knows what would have happened without all that rain and a wet field?" he added. "It wasn't a football game, it was water polo. Today a match in such conditions simply would not happen. I hold a grudge because it should have been delayed until the next day. In such conditions, it was not sport.

"But that was a golden age for Polish football and they were some of the most important experiences of my life. The Golden Boot at a World Cup is a real trophy for a player and I could only understand the enormity of what had happened when the tournament was over."

The Netherlands, meanwhile, were continuing on their merry way to the final and a comfortable changing-of-the-guard 2-0 win over the Brazilians secured their place in Munich, where they were destined to meet with a host nation that had improved as the competition progressed.

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With a minute on the clock and before the Germans had even touched the ball, the Dutch were ahead. Cruyff, picking the ball up just inside the German half, burst past two defenders to get into the area before his run was halted by Uli Hoeness's clumsy tackle. As the crowd fell silent, English referee Jack Taylor pointed to the spot and awarded the first penalty in World Cup final history, which Johan Neeskens duly converted.

The Germans struggled as the Dutch dictated the play, but the crucial second goal never came and, after Paul Breitner levelled from the spot for the hosts, arch-poacher Gerd Muller swivelled and fired past Jan Jongbloed for what proved to be the winner. It was Muller's 14th and last World Cup goal, a record that stood until the Brazilian Ronaldo broke it in 2006.

The team that everyone wanted to win lost. Ugly recriminations followed too, after a story had been published the day before the final in the German tabloid Bild accusing some of the Dutch players of misbehaving in their hotel pool after the win over Brazil. It was later alleged the girls they were accused of frolicking with were paid for by Bild, who were blamed with staging the whole event.

But the damage had been done. Midfielder Arie Haan admits the story had an impact on Dutch preparations for the final. "We changed a little bit the night before the final," said Haan. "Before we did not think, but afterwards we knew what it was like to be famous, to be the best. It started with the articles, then came the pressure and the stress. The wives were on the phone wanting to know what happened."

The tournament ended in disarray for a Netherlands team that for so long seemed certain to get their hands on the trophy. But their impact on a generation of football supporters, mesmerised and hypnotised by an extravagantly talented group of free spirits wearing those brilliant orange shirts, will never be forgotten.

As Cruyff once said in a sentence that defined the Dutch team of 1974: "It's better to lose with your own vision than with someone else's."

Watch Fabio Capello scoring for Italy in 1974 (UK only)
Watch Yugoslavia hammer Zaire 9-0 (UK only)
Watch Johan Cruyff inspire Holland to a 2-0 win over Brazil (UK only)

Let me know your memories of 1974. On Wednesday, the series continues with a look back at 1978 - including reflections from a man who became a national hero.


  • Comment number 1.

    I am in Germany so unfortunately cannot watch the videos but I will be looking those up on YouTube later. I am too young to remember the likes of Cruyff but have heard the stories. I look forward to being amazed!

  • Comment number 2.

    Johan Cruijff: the greatest ever.

  • Comment number 3.

    First World Cup that I saw in it's entirety - running home from school in time for the late afternoon kick-off, trying to convince my Mum that all my homework was done before the evening kick-off! And the realisation that supporting Scotland was going to be agony. I can still picture Bremner knocking the ball wide against Brazil when it looked like he had to score, the frustration of just scoring two against Zaire and then hammering Yugoslavia without managing to find the winning goal - to be repeated in later years against Netherlands, Russia, Uraguay

    And so like everyone else I became a Dutch fan - wonderful flowing football that deserved to win the tournament and then out in the garden with my Grandpa trying to perfect the Cruyff turn!

  • Comment number 4.

    Interesting article Stevo, as always. It's such a shame that Cruyff never graced another World Cup with his presence, and also that the Dutch have never claimed the trophy. Who knows what would've happened in 1978 had Cruyff been involved?

  • Comment number 5.

    The 1974 World Cup co-incided with my 'O'-Level and probably goes a long way in explaining my somewhat less than brilliant academic achievements.

    Everyone I knew in England was suddenly a Scottish supporter during the 1974 World Cup Finals and we all wanted them to do well in the competition, as England had failed miserably to qualify for the Finals in West Germany.

    On a more personal note, the fact that the 1974 World Cup co-incided with my 'O'-Level exams probably goes a long way in explaining my lacklustre academic achievements.

    I remember entering an 'Esso' competition to name a side which could represent Great Britain but my adoration of Rodney Marsh, instead of going for Kenny Dalglish, cost me dear. I only ended-up with the second-place prize of a week's holiday in the Lake District rather than an all-expenses trip to the World Cup Finals.

    Four nations qualified for the Finals for the first time - East Germany, Australia, Zaire (now DR Congo) and Haiti.

    Here's how they got on, together with the progress of every other nation in FIFA's World Cup history...

  • Comment number 6.

    Funniest memory was the Ziare freekick against Scotland.
    Lowest memory Billy Bremner's "miss" against Brazil.
    Best memory, seeing football played with style, grace and no shortage of skill - The Dutch Masters.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cruyff was a genius. I think when you talk about the pantheon of great footballers, he gets slightly overlooked somewhat. Everyone says Pele, Maradona and then people of this generation add Ronaldo, Zidane and Ronaldinho to the debate.

    Let's make this clear- Cruyff is the equal of any player I've mentioned there for natural ability and he also had a fantastic tactical brain as well. If you watch him play, I would describe it as like watching Zinedine Zidane with pace, which is frightening.

    Cruyff is a player that could be individualist and also set up team mates. He's also that rare thing - a truly great player who became a great manager. His influence is still evident in terms of todays Barcelona (he is advisor to the President Laporta and Guardiola played for him and is his protege)

  • Comment number 9.

    1974 was a good WC. Holland were magnificent as a team (it just wasn't down to Cruyff that they were so good) and deserved to win it. I remember being sorely disppointed that they didn't. Other highlights included Poland who were also good and of course the East Germans beating their more illustrious counterparts in the West.

    Also notable for the poor performances of those who contested the 1970 final: Italy and Brazil (who adopted a different approach to to their 1970 side and were a very poor team that year). Bet you Billy Bremner re-lived that miss against Brazil over and over again. We should have beaten them.

    Johnathan I do have to say that no one will be surprised that you didn't make anything of the only unbeaten side in the tournament: Scotland, who had reached the finals after a very very long absence. Honestly, if England were in this tournment half the piece would have been about it. Like people in England, those in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland pay out BBC license fees too Johnathan!!!! You work for the BBC not the EBC remember1? okay you probably don't but the point is a fair one.

    And the Scotland side were a very good team including the likes of Danny McGrain, Peter Lorimer, Billy Bremner, Tommy Hutchinson and Joe Jordan. It was also the last hurrah for the great Denis Law. They should have done so much better.

  • Comment number 10.

    C'mon Rob... lay off... At the end of the day, Scotland failed. Gloriously or whatever.

    The Germans... did it to Puskas' Hungary as well... buggers.

  • Comment number 11.

    At 9. Rob04, this tournament was memorable mainly for Holland & Cruyff, West Germany, Poland and Brazil the holders being disappointing after their 1970 tournament. Scotland never got past the first round. He's only got limited space and he mentioned that the Scots were unlucky. If someone did a piece on Euro 92 or Euro 2000 they wouldn't mention England, apart from saying how disastrous it was.

    I thought Scotland had a more memorable tournament (not necessarily for the right reasons) in 1978. Archie Gemmill? He'll mention that.

  • Comment number 12.

    As a Scot, this is where the heartbreak stared!
    Although in 1974, that was only from departing the competition and on goal diffirence at that. At least we played well in ALL our games. Scotland had some cracking players that actually believed they were good enough to be on that stage and were.

    Brazil sadly were a shadow of the team that 4 years earlier had wowed us all. But the Dutch cheered us up on that front.

  • Comment number 13.

    (UK only) is going to haunt me throughout this World Cup on the website

  • Comment number 14.

    'Holland were magnificent as a team'
    Absolutely, a team full of quality players with Cruyff as the conductor. How strange it was to see them outplay a Brazilian team virtually shorn of skill which resorted to roughhouse tactics in a desperate attempt to hold onto the title. Having said that the Dutch were not squeamish about the physical side of the game. Neeskens in particular could deliver a crunching tackle.
    The final was slightly anti-climatic. Cruyff, shackled and frustrated, arguing with the officials and failing to stamp his authority on the game. I have heard (and read) interviews with the Dutch players in which they suggest their early goal was actually their downfall since it cemented the idea of Dutch superiority in their minds.(They were clearly a better side but not ultimately on the day it mattered most). From that point on they wanted to humiliate the Germans on their own soil (this may well go back to WW11 and the German occupation on the Netherlands) and really rub their noses in it. But it was not to be.

  • Comment number 15.

    1974: My third World Cup, first with Scotland to watch :)
    Patchy memories now, Scotland's most glorious failure, that Bremner miss, the Cruyff turn was jaw dropping. Poland superb, the Haitian bench going mental after their team scored a goal. A cracker of a goal by a rain drenched Swede called Ed...(something.) Sick 'cause Scotland failed to qualify out of the group, sick when the Dutch lost the final. My favourite World Cup! :)

  • Comment number 16.

    Like others, this is the first World Cup Tournament i watched in its entirety.

    Gregorsz lato is right when he says that today, the game against West Germany would have been postponed. Poland were not able to play their quick pass and move game on the swamp that was Frankfurt. I remember everyone on the TV panel were shocked the game went ahead, even though it had already been delayed for an hour. The only person who believed it should was the Austrian referee Erich Linemayr.
    Could it have been another piece of "back scratching" for the Germans from their neighbours? (Anschluss Osterreichs anyone)?

    Without the heavy rain i believe Poland would have beaten the Germans and also the Dutch in the Final. Imagine Cruyff V Deyna in midfield?
    The front 3 of Gadocha,Lato and Szarmach would have been too quick and had too much movement for the Dutch defence.

    All be it thats just my opinion.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Netherlands are surely the most football nation that is still yet to win a world cup. As the article said they didn't make much of an impact before 74 but in the time since then they have given so much - English Footballers Abroad

  • Comment number 18.

    'A cracker of a goal by a rain drenched Swede called Ed...(something.) '

    Ralf Edstrom and what a shot it was.

    As for Scotland being unlucky, I suppose they were a little but in reality theirs was not a tough group. Brazil were a pale shadow of their former selves and Yugoslavia only beat Zaire in the six games they played. And as for the African team, they were amateurish to the point of farce.

  • Comment number 19.

    The Cruyff turn was amazing, but what about his volley in the Brazil game? Superb balance, vision, ruthlesness, and most importantly to any Dutchman - teamplay!

    The 1974 Dutch team is renowned for their use of 'Total Football', and it will forever define the Dutch. Every team has looked to emulate their achievement, and this has proven to be both a blessing and a curse.

    Dutch players are indoctrinated with the Total Football mindframe of teamplay ahead of personal achievement, curbing individual brilliance in favour of the team. As a result, very few Dutch players stand out as carrying a team. When you look at Dutch national teams since the '70's, there has never been one player significantly better or more important than the others, the team is always paramount. Personally, I think this has hampered their chances in past tournaments, and it will most likely prove their undoing again this year.

    The Dutch are brilliant when the team plays well, but no single player able to pull the team through in times of hardship. This was proven true at the last European Cup.

    The 1974 World Cup will forever haunt the Dutch national team. It still stands out as the major achievement, the players from that tournament are still seen as national heroes, and every achievement by a national team since that final are always 'short of '74'.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think the real legacy of this World Cup is being overlooked a little. It wasn't the total football pioneered by the Dutch. No, it was this tournament that gave Germany their deserved reputation of being a side who may play well, may play badly, but will win regardless. If it wasn't for this tournament I don't think we would have seen mediocre German teams make it to the final in 94 or 2002 - it gave them the belief that they have an almost God-given right to succeed irrespective of how they are playing and changed the way that other nations perceived them.

  • Comment number 21.

    Thanks #18 HiddenFortress. Why wasn't Edstrom's goal in the Top 10 I wonder?

  • Comment number 22.

    That astonishingly talented 1974 Holland team...

    Cruyff, Neeskens, Rep, Rensenbrink, Haan, Krol, Rijsbergen.

    Dutch "Total Football" .... poetry in motion

  • Comment number 23.

    # 13, your comment about UK only, makes me laugh and cry.

    I'm not too sure what the BBC's broadcasting obligations stipulate, but as exiled Mackems in Malaysia, there are many occassions when we would like to enjoy a video of some special event, but then find it's 'not available in your area' or ours, to be more precise !!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Bremner was unlucky with the "miss" as it came at him quickly, I remember Lorimer hammering free kick after free kick at the Brazil goal hoping to power one through but Scotland suffered for being too cautious against Zaire and started their habit of going out on goal difference.

  • Comment number 25.

    One of the biggest compliments to the Dutch side of the 70s was that they could go so close to winning in 1978, on a different continent, and without Cruyff. Rensenbrink, in particular, stepping up to the plate brilliantly when allowed to play further forward.

    Surely the real highlight of 1974 was this though:

  • Comment number 26.

    'It was this tournament that gave Germany their deserved reputation of being a side who may play well, may play badly, but will win regardless.'

    Interesting point but I think this probably goes back a little further in time, possibly to the 1954 WC and the 'Miracle of Bern' and the improbable defeat of that great Hungarian side.

  • Comment number 27.

    The West Germany vs Holland match in 1974 reminds me of the Barcelona vs Man United Champions League final in 2009. The only difference is football won in 2009 and industry won in 1974.

  • Comment number 28.

    I wonder if they had a song for teh Hollnad team.

    Here is a list of ones from Englands Cheeky Chappies to amuse you all

  • Comment number 29.

    Actually here is the list of England songs

  • Comment number 30.

    This is BBC story about the WORLD Cup, it is available throughout the WORLD.
    Then why can we not see the clips and footage?

    Dont publish anything if it not able to be viewed please!

  • Comment number 31.

    PS The Dutch will win it this year......

  • Comment number 32.

    1974 was a really good European World Cup from memory.

    The Dutch were a joy to watch, the world's greatest footballer Johann Cruyff was in full pomp. The West German's were a strong outfit of course. Superbly marshalled from the back by Kaiser Franz, lacking perhaps the flair of missing midfield maestro Gunter Netzer - the destroyer of England at Wembley in the european championship's two year's previously. Poland, Sweden, Yugoslavia were all good sides.

    The real story of World Cup 74 of course, was England's shock failure to qualify. On that fateful night at Wembley and the 1-1 draw against Poland - never in the history of football has a team missed soo many clear-cut goalscoring chances. Alan Clarke missed 6 open goals on his own from memory.

  • Comment number 33.

    One thing I don't miss from those days is the perpetual, whining din from claxons in the crowd. I could never understand what the attraction was.
    Austria and Germany colluding? The very thought.

  • Comment number 34.

    Quality video 2:10 "and now Moreno, Jairzinho.... Rivelinho's next person and that's it"

  • Comment number 35.

    england-poland at wembley in '73 was one of the most one-sided games of football i've ever seen and yet poland got to the semi-finals comfortably and were unlucky to lose to west germany on an unplayable pitch
    another case of what could of been

  • Comment number 36.

    @ 35

    Common perception of England V Poland at Wembley in 73 is a one sided game with only Tomaszewski standing in between England and a cricket score.

    Poland that day came for a draw and learnt their lesson after being beaten by Wales in Cardiff 2-0. Not once did they need to chase the game. The most we see of that game nowadays is a deluge of missed chances,saves and near misses however if England had gone ahead,Poland had the ability to change and score themselves.

    I remember the game in Poland where we lost 0-2, England were outplayed and out-thought. Poland were even more prolific when they beat Wales in the return 3-0.

    Poland had an ability with that team to score quickly and when necessary.
    You only have to look at the speed of Gadocha on the wing,Lato and Szarmach to see why every team in 1974 struggled against them.

    Until they came across the Germans in the swamp that was Frankfurt that is.

  • Comment number 37.

    This article ties in nicely with this blog. And it's a great, insightful read:

  • Comment number 38.

    didn't alan ball get sent off out in poland,so poland did have the extra man,to be honest though,i can't recall how early or late it was

  • Comment number 39.


    Interesting read.

    Ive wondered for a while now whether difference between the Dutch winning in Munich and losing as they did was Barry Hulshoff.

    Seen as their Beckenbauer he was injured throughout 1974,this cost him his world cup place, did it cost Holland the World Cup?

  • Comment number 40.


    Yes Alan Ball did get sent off in Poland with 20 minutes to go and with England losing 2-0 at that stage.

  • Comment number 41.

    The link provided in 37 is taken from 'Brilliant Orange' by David Winner. (Well most of it).Read it, its excellent.

  • Comment number 42.

    Interesting stuff. This was the first world cup I remember clearly, 1970 was just a few hazy images. I didn’t realize the Dutch hadn’t been to the world cup for so long. The Dutch were awesome, I seem to remember the kick off for the final being delayed because one of the Dutch players had a plaster cast on his arm and they weren't sure if he could play...? Or was that 1978? Gutted in 1978 when Cruyff pulled out of the finals, I couldn't believe any player would choose not to play at the World Cup, still can't. Muller was good to watch too. It's funny how the English went for Scotland in 1974 and 1978, I doubt many Scots ever go for England!

    It was a memorable World Cup for Australia, it was the last one they’d qualified for, up until 2006 that is. That’s why it was such a huge relief to finally break that duck in a penalty shoot-out against Uruguay in Sydney.

  • Comment number 43.

    I'm too young to have seen this great Dutch team but having seen videos and clips of them in action, they were a truly great team. Johan Cruyff was amazing!
    But you've got to give it up to the Germans. They may have not been the best team that year, but again managed to get to the final and win.

  • Comment number 44.

    Cruyff did not appeared in 78 WC
    One probable reason could be he promised his wife not to go away from her for so long .. that promise was because of that scandal mentioned in the blog here...

  • Comment number 45.

    "The real story of World Cup 74 of course, was England's shock failure to qualify."

    Yes, of course it was.

  • Comment number 46.

    i wasn`t alive to see this WC but from the clips i have seen it was far better than the recent greman world cup. Cryuff for me is one of the top 3 in the history of football. To have a turn named after you is pretty special. I don`t think many people have that in their locker. However a great hero of mine, Dennis Bergkamp did something im sure i have never seen or heard of when scoring a goal agianst Newcastle a few years ago at ST james park by spinning himself and the ball around a defender and meeting it the othe other side in one movemnet. Class. I hope the dutch perform well at this WC and with Robben RVP and Sjneider in form why not?

  • Comment number 47.

    This is BBC story about the WORLD Cup, it is available throughout the WORLD.
    Then why can we not see the clips and footage?

    Dont publish anything if it not able to be viewed please!

    They don't have worldwide rights to show this stuff. Would you prefer the entire article was available UK only?

  • Comment number 48.

    Again am surprised that Scotland's campaign didn't get more of a mention here.

    Other than that, watching the Zaire game - flipping hell African football has come a long way since 1974!

  • Comment number 49.

    1974andallthat - I'd say that the failure of the last but one world champions to qualify was a pretty big deal but I guess you're probably coming from a typically bitter Scottish perspective.

  • Comment number 50.

    • Carlos Caszely of Chile became the first player to be shown a red card in a World Cup match
    • Poland's Leslaw Cmikiewicz set a record when he made six appearances as substitute
    • The start of the final was delayed when the referee noticed the corner and centre-line flag-posts were missing as the teams lined up

    • FIFA commissioned a new trophy after Brazil were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy

  • Comment number 51.

    Well Jonathan pointed to us to very interesting story of football conaining full of memories and starter point of World Cup. My Father also love football like me, and i ask them about world cup 1974 because he saw 1974 WORLD CUP Live. Wow, It seems amazing. I watched some videos of World Cup 1974 and Specially final match of world cup when they got Gold made world cup, Wow, It is very amazing moment for football lovers. Sometimes, 1970s crowd make me laugh, They looks odd in those dresses.


  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.



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