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Davids Serves Up Dutch Treat

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 1998; Page B6

TOULOUSE, France, June 29 — The orange bedecked people started their celebration a bit early. Well before noon, hundreds of Dutch fans wearing orange, painted orange and carrying orange objects gathered in the square in front of the capitol building, warming up for the Netherlands' match tonight against Yugoslavia, unaware of just how long the real party would have to wait.

It wasn't until midfielder Edgar Davids smashed a left-footed shot past three Yugoslavian players and diving goalkeeper Ivica Kralj two minutes into second-half injury time that the Netherlands secured a 2-1 victory in a World Cup second-round game. The Dutch will meet the winner of Tuesday's Argentina-England match in the quarterfinals in Marseille Saturday.

"It was a rather exciting match," Dutch Coach Guus Hiddink said. "We are very happy to be where we are now."

The stirring conclusion sent the Netherlands' fans at Stadium Municipal into a bobbing frenzy, but as dramatic as the finish itself is the story behind the player who wrote it.

Two years ago, Hiddink dismissed Davids from the team during the European Championship for accusing Hiddink of favoring white players over black players. Davids, 25, who is black, apologized and was reinstated, but his situation seemed symbolic of the team's history.

Internal dissension has characterized the underachieving but highly skilled Dutch, who despite their considerable talent have not won a World Cup. They twice made World Cup championship games — losing both, in 1974 and 1978.

Called "pit bull" for his aggressive defensive play, Davids displayed a remarkable calm and patience on his game-winner. A player for Italy's Juventus, Davids neatly fielded a corner kick from Ronald de Boer, dropping it with his right foot into firing position. About 20 yards from the goal, Davids blasted the shot, going airborne with the effort.

After the score, Davids was mobbed by teammates, who hugged, tackled and lifted him off the ground — seemingly all at the same time. Their elation was understandable. The goal ended a nerve-racking night for the favored Dutch, who struggled to score despite dominating play, slicing passes through Yugoslavia's midfield as if no more interference was provided than highway cones.

Yet Yugoslavia's stacked defense held, and Yugoslavia evened the score at 1-1 four minutes into the second half, when Slobodan Komljenovic slid a header past goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. This, Hiddink said after the match, was just what he had feared: that Yugoslavia would take advantage of set plays to stay alive. That score came off of a free kick.

"In the first part of the game, our strategy was probably to keep the goals down," Yugoslavian Coach Slobodan Santrac said. "We were less cautious in the second half of the game."

Two minutes after Komljenovic's header, Yugoslavia nearly took the lead on another set play. After Dutch defender Jaap Stam grabbed Vladimir Jugovic's jersey in the penalty area, Predrag Mijatovic fired a penalty kick that struck the crossbar. It rebounded at such a sharp angle that the ball shot nearly straight into the turf before bouncing away from the goal. Mijatovic, knowing scoring chances were rare on this night, grabbed his head in despair and later called it "the worst moment in my career."

Dennis Bergkamp, this year's player of the year in the English Premier League who missed the latter part of the season with a hamstring energy, looked plenty agile in the 38th minute. With no score, Bergkamp outfought Zoran Mirkovic for a long ball, tapping it with his shin in front of his right foot. The resulting shot from inside the box sailed past Kralj, giving the Netherlands the lead.

Banned from qualifying for the 1994 World Cup because of their country's national political turmoil, Yugoslavia's players hoped to use significant success here for a purpose: to remind of the quality of Yugoslavian soccer. Yugoslavia had been out of the international scene for most of the last eight years.

For most of the night, though, the artistry of the Netherlands contrasted starkly with the futility of Yugoslavia. When Davids's goal went in, the Yugoslavian players didn't bother with extensive theatrics or hand-wringing.

It was as if the players knew: The Dutch — the players and the fans — got what they had waited for and deserved.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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