Four years ago, in the West German World Cup, Holland thrashed Argentina, 4-1, with a dazzling display of total football.
The Argentinians could do nothing at all with Johan Cruyff, and ended the game completely outplayed. It is scarcely the result one expects in today's World Cup final, when the teams meet again.
Though both managers are playing their cards close to the chest, we can expect that half a dozen members of the 1974 Dutch team will be playing, but Holland without Cruyff is a body without a soul.
By sharp contrast, Argentina's Mario Kempes, a 19-year-old prodigy in the 1974 competition, is now 23 years old, and one of the most superbly gifted strikers in the world. His pace, his control at speed, his enquisite ball control, his explosive left-footed shot, have made him one of the new unquestioned stars of this World Cup. He has even managed successfully to make the transition from center forward, playing beside and off Leopoldo Luque, into an attacking left-sided midfielder, the position it seemed probable he would play before the World Cup began.
Who will mark him today? If he plays in midfield, it is probable that Johan Neeskens will look after him, but here the Dutch are in a quandary. Neeskens is an essential figure in their total football, as was seen in the game against Italy. When he is confined to a marking role, the Dutch miss his forceful bursts down the right flank, his ability to get to the goal line and pull the ball back into the middle, the most dangerous pass in soccer, and one he delivered twice in the second half against the Italians.
Still, marking an opponent in midfield is rather different from marking an out-and-out striker, as he did in the first half last Wednesday, when he dedicated himself solely, and none too successfully, to looking after Italy's Paolo Rossi. "The Dutch change positions as easily as they take a cup of coffee," said Rossi, admiringly, next day.
The Dutch are unquestionably a better balanced, a better all-round team than the Argentinians, but this may not count for very much against the sheer nationalistic frenzy that has been generated in Buenos Aires. The River Plate Stadium will be boiling with it.
Argentina does not mark man to man, with a sweeper, as the Dutch do, which should give the Dutch striker Rob Rensenbrink more scope than he found against Italy. Then, he was very closely marked by the Sardinian defender, Antonello Cuccureddu, who said he thought Rensenbrink would do much better against a zonal defense, where no one would follow his step as Cuccureddu did.
The Dutch can scarcefly except to score two such extraordinary goals out of the blue, with right-footed long shots, as they did against the Italians. On the other hand, the Argentinian defense is by no means as strong as Italy's.The constant permutations of the Dutch may well worry the Argentine back four, in which even the captain, Daniel Passarella, is often reduced to fouls to get himself out of difficulties.
The full backs, Jorgen Olguin and Alberto Tarantini, will have a hard time against the likes of Rensenbrink, Johnny Rep, and, when he comes down the right flank, Neeskens.
After a four-day wrangle, FIFA eventually appointed the Italian Sergio Gonella as the referee. It is a task no one could envy. The game is sure to be hard. Gonella will have to step in firmly and early if the game is not to degenerate into the most sordid kind of kicking match. A yellow card or two in the first five minutes will not come amiss.
Argentina has been trying to get its best midfield player, little Osvaldo Ardiles, fit, after having to omit him against Peru, due to a sprained ankle. Without a fully fit Ardiles, with his splendid initiative, his lively incursions int the heart of the battle, Argentina would be a much poorer team, much less capable of opening the Dutch defense.
The Argentines can scarcely hope to crack it as they did Peru with sheer massive onslaughts, throwing half their team into attack. That would simply invite a Dutch breakaway.
This, by the way, will be the first time in the tournament that the Argentinians will be playing an afternoon game, as opposed to a floodlit game in the evening. A certain adjustment may be necessary.
In addition, the frenzied support of the crowd may be a mixed blessing, goading a team laudably dedicated to attack into dangerous excesses. Counterattack, after all, is the essence of modern soccer, and the Dutch do it well.
The Dutch have their experienced 1974 defenders Wim Suurbier and Wim Rijsbergen fit again. Will they decide to put them in, rather than the inexperienced, but now almost talismanic, Ermy Brandts? Argentina seems almost sure again to use two wide wingers in the dangerous Daniel Bertoni and the enterprising Oscar Ortiz, with Luque in the middle, Kempes coming through from behind. Much may depend on whether the Dutch can weather their early assaults.
No European team has yet won the World Cup in Latin America.