The Netherland's demolition of Austria has put pressure on the other two teams - Italy and West Germany - in the all-European Group One. I watched these two battle to a goalless draw here, while the Dutch were romping to a 5-1 win against the hapless Austrians, in Cordoba.
How did it happen, when the Australians had won their group, and the Netherland had been deservedly beaten by Scotland only three days previously?
Austria was just as bad at it appeared in losing to Brazil at Mar del Plata. That day, their defense was cumbersome, their midfields sluggish, their attack virtually nonexistent.
The Dutch made changes. Above all, they restored Arie Haan to the midfield, where Wim Jansen, busily combative, was also in evidence. Haan is a superbly gifted player who made his name as an attacking midfielder with the Ajax club of Amsterdam. In the last (1974) World Cup, the withdrawal of certain players obliged him to play out of position as a sweeper and he took much of the blame for West Germany's winning goal, when Gred Muller beat him on the outside.
Subsequently, he joined the Belgian club, Anderlecht, where now plays together with Rob Rensenbrink, who knocked in another goals at Cordoba. Ernst Happel, the dour Austrian who coaches the Netherlands, and has been publicly accused by his No. 2 Jan Zwartkruis, of treating his players as soccer players rather than human beings, left him out against Scotland, but the absence of Johan Neeskens, who went off that day after five minutes and should clearly never have played at all, obliged him to recall Haan.
It was Haan's free kick that gave Bray Brandts the chance to score after only five minutes. Thereupon, the Dutch dictated the play.
Before the Buenos Aires game against Italy, Helmut Schoen, the West Germany coach who is under fire, told his team he'd be delighted with a draw. They went out and got it. Only Klus Fischer, the center-for-ard, stayed permanently up the field. Even Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the German right-winger, seemed to spend most of his time containing the advances of the Italian left-back, Antonio Cabrini. Not until late in the second half did he have a run at the defense, and then he shower splended pace, leaving Cabrini behind and delivering a dangerous center.
Although it was a scoreless tie, there could, in fact, have been severals goals, most of them for Italy. How Roberto Bettega did not get at least one remains a puzzle. Twice, he was frustated by superb clearances in the goalmouth by the best German player, the mobile sweeper, Manny Kaltz.
Once, Bettega missed an astonishingly easy chance when Berti Bogts, doing his best to guard him man to man, totally missed his header to a nice cross from the Italian sweeper, Gaetano Scirea, and Bettega somehow contrived to shoot past thr right-handed Vogts.
In the second half, Bettega's majestic header on the far post to a long right-wing cross by Mario Tardelli was admirably saved by Sepp Maier, making amends for the strange lapse that allowed Cabrini's lob to drift over his head and hit the post. Kaltz stopped Bettega's immediate shot, just as he had intervened in the first half when Bettega had elegantly strolled around Maier, leaving him sprawling.
The odd thing was, given their colossal caution, that the West Germans, too had their scoring opportunities. The scoreless draw makes me wonder, not for the first time, whether the former pattern of the World Cup, under which the eight teams that qualified from their groups went straight into the quarterfinals on a knockout basis, was not superior. At least, teams then had to win their game, even if it took extra time to do it.
Still West Germans will surely have to come out to play against Austria next week, even if it can be safely assumed that they won't take too many risks against the Netherlands.
Soccer being the psychological game it is, the Netherlands' win may well release it from the constricting influence Ernest Happel has exerted. But don't forget that no European team has yet wona world cup in Latin America. And Brazil is improving.