So the Netherlands will be making its second consecutive appearance in the World Cup final. For that reason alone I hope the Dutch win, even though they are not the team they were in 1974 when they had Johan Cruyff.
Millions of Argentines will be rooting for the home team and yet . . .
What memories one still has of the dazzling combinations between Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, whose efforts carried Holland to the last World Cup final, where it lost to West Germany.
Before the present tournament began it appeared that the Dutch had enough excellent players, such as Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink, Jonny Rep and Arie Haan, to do well. There was no hope, however, of anybody emerging as a second Cruyff.
Watching Holland beat Italy, 2-1, here yesterday, I thought that two things decided the game: Italy's weariness, and the tremendous right-footed shooting of Erny Brandts and Arie Haan.
The Italians, although they were clearly becoming weary toward the end of the first half, would probably have kept themselves afloat had Brandts not produced that killing shot five minutes after halftime, always a delicate psychological moment. In so doing, Brandts established one of the strangest records in the Word Cup, that of scoring for both teams. It happens surprisingly often - like a hole in one - at club level, but it is hard to think of a previous occurrence in so important a game.
Holland won, too, because it made a vital tactical change immediately after halftime, taking Neeskens out of defense, where he had been wasted playing as stopper on Paolo Rossi, and bringing him into attack. There, this powerful, essentially adventurous player was able to express himself on the right flank, as in his best days with Cruyff.Twice he got away to deliver very dangerous crosses into the penalty box.
That he should have been condemned to play a defensive role at all, let alone one which obliged him to sacrifice himself completely to a marking game, suggests the dead hand of Ernst Happel, the Netherlands' coach.
For the final, there can surely be no doubt that Neeskens will stay in attack. In the back line, Holland has a choice between little Wim Jansen, not very strong in the air but a good quick marker on the ground, and the larger Adrian van Kraay, who came on as substitute to play midfield, but is in fact a defender.
They must also hope and believe that Rensenbrink cannot play so poorly again. There were those who thought he would be the new Cruyff, but Rensenbrink is essentially a winger and therefore, by definition, a dependent player, where Cruyff is a creator and a generator. Against Italy, Renenbrink had one good, flying header over the bar in the first half, and thereafter contributed scarcely anything of true consequence.
Italy was a victim of the cruelty of the World Cup draw, which put it in an exceedingly hard qualifying group with Argentina, Hungary and France, then into much the harder of the two final pools.
Not that we should shed too many tears for the Italians. If their officials had not tried to exert their influence to make Italy one of the seeded countries, they would not have found their efforts rebounding in January when the draw was made and they were outflanked by West Germany's Soccer Federation President Hermann Neuburger. In consequence, Italy found itself in the Buenos Aires group and paid the penalty.
The soccer Italy played in the first half hour against Holland was often excellent and the losers amply deserved their goal, even though it was Brandts' strange mistake which gave it to them. Italy played some of the best football in the competition.
We must now wonder whether the Dutch can defy tradition. Remember that no European team has won the World Cup on Latin American soil. But there will never be a better chance than this.