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 World Cup ' 98

 On Saturday, the Netherlands defeated Argentina to advance to the semifinals.
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With a Little Luck, Final Could Be a Dutch Treat

William Gildea
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, July 6, 1998; Page D1

ROQUEBRUNE, France — In this 16th World Cup, it is possible the Dutch are enjoying themselves more than any other team here. It's not just that they unexpectedly roared past Argentina on Saturday and claimed a semifinal date Tuesday night in Marseille with defending champion Brazil. It's their way of life in France.

They live high on a cliff overlooking Monaco and the blue-green Mediterranean. There is nothing up here except the azure sky and a panorama no photograph could do justice — because you have to feel the soft breeze and the kiss of warmth from the sun to understand it.

I'm standing on a marble terrace taking in the vista with Ruud Hesp, the Netherlands' substitute goalkeeper, when he turns and says: "It's a fantastic place to be. You can find your rest every morning. After breakfast, we stand here. We look to Monaco. We look out at the work boats. We look down at the beaches. Now we get to stay here one more week because even if we lose to Brazil, we don't go to Paris until Friday to play for third place. But I think we will win the game against Brazil. And this" — he is looking at the blue distance in the direction of Africa — "well, this is luxury."

How can Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch star, be afraid to fly but not be afraid to board the team bus and ride it away from the flat, lush practice field down the treacherously curving road that is barely wider than the bus? Either Bergkamp doesn't look out the windows when the bus makes its fishhook turns, or he's at peace with the views of boats churning foam, the lavender foliage and the elegant stucco homes with red tile roofs stacked on terraces that rise to the cliff tops. "We don't kid with him about flying because he's serious about not doing it," said his substitute, Boudewijn Zenden. "He's happy when he's on the ground."

Even when the ground is this uncertain, Bergkamp apparently is at peace. On Saturday in Marseille, he fed Patrick Kluivert for one goal and scored the other himself in the 89th minute to help the Netherlands beat Argentina, 2-1. Sunday afternoon, he journeyed down the mountain to have lunch with his wife.

"This is a relaxing time for us," said midfielder Ronald de Boer, whose long pass led to the first goal well before his twin brother Frank's even longer pass landed on Bergkamp's foot for the assist on the game-winner. "Tonight, with a meeting, and then [at] practice tomorrow we will be serious. Now we are just turning our thoughts to Brazil.

"It was a great pass by my brother. I was thinking that when it was in the air. We were a little lucky the defender [Roberto] Ayala went back a little too far. Dennis saw the goal. Sometimes things happen. For us, this was the right moment. I've seen Dennis make better goals. But at that stage of the World Cup, that precise time, it was very important.

"We respect Brazil. But we do not fear Brazil. They have so many players who can do beautiful things. In a moment, too. They were a strong team in 1994 [when Brazil beat the Netherlands, 3-2, in a World Cup quarterfinal that included a goal by Brazil that the Netherlands bitterly disputed because of a no-call on an apparent offside play] and they are a strong team in 1998. But we are tougher than we were in 1994. I have a better feeling. We've been lucky. You have to be lucky to go through. For me, it's 50-50, both teams could win."

Several of the players, wearing blue shirts trimmed in orange, sit outside on the patios. In the distance is the rooftop of the casino in Monte Carlo and a luxury cruise ship parked just beyond the shallow water. Cars, looking the size of toys, enter and exit mountain tunnels. An outside glass elevator climbs the side of the team hotel, fittingly named The Palace. An announcement is made: "A gray Mercedes is parked on the helicopter platform."

Ronald Koeman, the former great Dutch and FC Barcelona defender who is now an assistant coach for the national team, mentioned the word "luck" as de Boer did. "The team was very confident of beating Argentina," Koeman said. "But there was luck, too. [Argentina's Gabriel] Batistuta hit the post. That was luck. For Brazil, we need to have a good Bergkamp and we have to have luck. We can see our possibilities."

Bergkamp himself spoke of "luck." He was asked after the game against Argentina for his reaction to the team's last-minute victories that day and in the round of 16 against Yugoslavia. "It's all about luck, as well," the blond striker replied. "I honestly don't think this was my best game. I had two very good moments. You've got to have those moments, of course." He made just two good plays, he insisted; both resulted in goals. "There was tension and as much excitement as you could get" on the last-minute goal, he said. "It was a great pass from the back from Frank de Boer. I just went into the space and hoped for a good touch. And that's what happened. I knew where the defender was; I knew he was about two yards away. I knew I had time to control the ball and do something with it.

"Now I hope I can recover in three days. Every game will make me stronger, I hope. Of course we got down in the second half when we lost [defender Arthur] Numan [with his second yellow card and automatic ejection]. It's difficult to play 10 against 11. It was good for us when they had a penalty and lost a man [star midfielder Ariel Ortega]. That gave us a lift. We would have had problems going to extra time. We were very tired."

A reserve defender, Winston Bogarde, was scheduled to replace Numan, who will be suspended for the semifinal against Brazil. But misfortune struck on the mountaintop Sunday morning when Bogarde suffered a broken leg during the light workout. This means the Netherlands will have to make more adjustments than it wanted, including the shift of midfielder Philip Cocu to bolster the team's left side. The injury interrupted practice, but the players' spirits were high afterward. Why feel any differently than they had? They have been upbeat as they've improved during the tournament, and been completely happy in their inaccessible hideaway.

"We thought we could do great things here," Kluivert said. "But the world didn't know it. Everybody was talking about Germany and Argentina. For us, the important thing has been the team performance. For me, it's been playing alongside Dennis. He is the only guy who can put me in front of the goal with one perfect pass. He knows where I'm coming from and he does the play with one creative move."

On Saturday, Bergkamp headed the ball to Kluivert to open the scoring. The Dutch need the pair to be at their best against Brazil. They need all their players contributing as they have been in this World Cup, as Dutch players have not always done in the past. And perhaps more than anything, to hear them tell it, they need luck most of all if they are to continue enjoying themselves as much as they have so far.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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