Save for Brazil, are there any colours more synonymous with a World Cup than those of Holland and Argentina? The feelings invoked are personal to all, of course, but I think not.
Their quarter-final at France ’98 was, for me, one of the last truly iconic World Cup matches. Influencing such sentiment is the opinion that, as opposed to the charmless, identikit bowls of nearly every tournament since, Marseille’s fabulous Stade Velodrome is instantly identifiable.
Qatar’s stadiums may look wonderful from the exterior but, to a TV viewer at least, every game has taken place at the same, central venue.
Holland and Argentina’s quarter-final in 1998 was one of the last truly iconic World Cup games
Dennis Bergkamp’s last-gasp wonder goal decided the tie as the Dutch eventually progressed
The best World Cups have always been as much about the exoticism of the setting – the shadows, patterns of the grass, differentiation in architecture, camera angle and colour of the seats.
Think the Azteca, San Siro, Giants Stadium. Think Stade Velodrome. And that sunny, Saturday afternoon in 1998 was a sensory overload of noise, colour and entertainment.
I digress to 20 years previous and the World Cup final of 1978 between the same nations. This match has always fascinated me. It was before my time, quite literally, but for all of the reasons listed above, it ticks every box.
During a trip through South America a few years back, I took my wife to El Monumental, the home of River Plate and host of that final in which Argentina won 3-1. (Note: my wife isn’t that bothered about football and, during the same holiday, I took her to La Bombonera and the Maracana. We are still married).
As we broke off from the tour group inside this beautifully decrepit old ground that doubled as an artefact – El Monumental has not changed in 40 years – I spoke to her about Mario Kempes, ticker tape, Coca-Cola advertising boards and the running track on which we were stood.
All the while imagining the blue and white and orange jerseys which had done battle just a few yards away. It was wonderful. My wife remembers the café did decent coffee.
So when Holland and Argentina met in 1998, I was already fully invested in the fixture. Just as I will be when they play in Qatar on Friday night. It has also given me reason to indulge in the following: a 90-minute rerun of that quarter-final from 24 years ago. It is there on ITVX, for anyone who is interested.
Another diversion, but re-watching old matches is a pursuit I have become quite fond of in recent years.
Are there any colours more synonymous with a World Cup than Holland and Argentina?
The fixture is steeped in history, with Argentina beating Holland 3-1 in the 1978 World Cup final
In 2014 they faced off in the World Cup semi-final, with Argentina progressing 4-2 on penalties
During a flight back from a Republic of Ireland international a few years back, an Irish colleague sitting next to me watched the full 2008 Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea. How weird, I thought. You know the score, and it was hardly a classic. I take it all back.
We see TV adverts now in which ‘laboratories in Geneva’ recreate classic encounters between stars of yesteryear. Here’s an idea – go back and watch them play against each other in real life.
No animation. No deep fakes. Forget Pepsi commercials, this game in Marseille had Edgar Davids, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Juan Veron and Gabriel Batistuta.
The passage of time, by the way, heightens the fascination. It is the reawakening of memories long forgotten or, with the benefit of hindsight, greater understanding of certain players which makes the viewing so compelling. You will not, I wager, spend the entire game refreshing social media.
Anyway, phones down. Kick off. Within 10 seconds, co-commentator Ron Atkinson is talking about a ‘mouthwatering’ semi-final against Brazil, which lies in wait for the winners. Steady, Ron, you’ll be salivating over this one first.
There is an early reminder this would have been England versus Holland had the Davids – Beckham and Batty – not erred in Saint-Etienne a few days previous. Ah well, what we got instead wasn’t bad.
The colours. The sky is as idyllically blue as Argentina’s stripes and the sun as bright as Holland’s burnt orange. Glorious. And the boots, they’re all black, illuminated only by the red-tongued Adidas Predators – weren’t they fantastic?
The match. Ariel Ortega. Remember him? Remember how badly we wanted him to be just like Diego Maradona? Or was that just me? Wow, you forget how much he really did look like Maradona from an elevated camera angle.
But their 1998 meeting remains a true classic. Holland’s Patrick Kluivert opened the scoring
Ariel Ortega (right) was sent off for head-butting Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar (left)
Holland vs Argentina, World Cup semi-final in France 1998
Holland (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar; Reiziger, Stam, F de Boer, Numan; Jonk, Davids; R de Boer (Overmars 64), Bergkamp, Cocu; Kluivert.
Goals: Kluivert 12, Bergkamp 90.
Red cards: Numan 76.
Manager: Guus Hiddink.
Argentina (4-3-1-2): Roa; Zanetti, Ayala, Sensini, Chamot (Balbo 89); Simeone, Almeyda (Pineda 68), Veron; Ortega; Lopez, Batistuta.
Goals: Lopez 17.
Red cards: Ortega 87.
Manager: Daniel Passarella.
He does not play like him. For Atkinson, who is brilliant, Ortega is only ever referred to as ‘The Little Fella’. Wim Jonk is also ‘Wim Vonk’ and Edwin van der Sar is ‘Edwin ver Sar’. It works.
On 12 minutes, Holland take the lead. Ronald de Boer is brilliant in the build-up, Bergkamp guides a header into Kluivert as if he has a cushion strapped to his brow and the striker lifts delicately and deliciously over Carlos Roa. But forget about the glorious aesthetics, Atkinson isn’t happy with the goalkeeper.
Within five minutes Argentina are level when Dutch defender Michael Reiziger tries to execute an offside trap and succeeds only in snaring himself and his team. Claudio Lopez skips clear and slips through the legs of Van der Sar.
Lopez, now there was an enigma. He always looked great for Valencia in European matches on ITV – and he was very good on Championship Manager – but watching him here, this goal apart, he is a bit frustrating. Atkinson agrees.
But I have to say, this game would not look out of place in the modern era. Half an hour in and the standard is sky high.
Ronald de Boer is running the show and The Little Fella, even allowing for the futility of the Maradona comparison, is technically superb and strikes the post from 25 yards. He is actually growing on me. I like him.
Argentina then attempt a free-kick routine very similar to the one which saw Javier Zanetti score against England in the last 16. If only we’d had Jonk in our midfield that night, because he was alert to their cunning this time.
Half-time and Atkinson declares the contest, ‘Even Steven’. You don’t hear that now, do you? Not many parents are naming their boys Steven. ‘Even Elijah’, maybe.
Into the second half and they’re still going at each other, end to end, chance after chance. Batistuta cracks a post, while Davids – who has borrowed Mr T’s jewellery collection to wear here – continues to drag Holland forward. What a player he was – has a holding midfielder ever been more fun to watch?
Before Bergkamp decided the match with a moment of outstanding individual genius
Argentina then bring on a sub to repel the Dutch and, honestly, he is the only player of whom I have zero recollection. Mauricio Pineda? No, me neither.
And here is another thing I forgot – Arthur Numan was sent off for Holland, for a foul on Diego Simeone… sound familiar? The Argentine needed no encouragement to go down, even if the decision was entirely fair.
The South Americans could not capitalise on the man advantage against England (they eventually needed penalties) and they’re struggling here, too. Holland’s task is made all the easier when The Little Fella gets himself a second yellow card for a dive in the area under the challenge of Jaap Stam.
Ooh, I’m not sure. To me, it looks like Stam has mistimed the challenge and, yes, Ortega has taken the stray leg as an invitation, but was it also a foul? Let’s send this one to VAR. Hold on, Ortega has jumped to his feet and head-butted Van der Sar. Scrap that VAR review. Off he goes.
Atkinson is still talking about the decision when, in the 91st minute, Frank de Boer sends a 60-yard pass into the penalty area and Bergkamp, removing the cushion from his forehead and tying to his boot, kills the ball in his stride, chops inside a defender and clips beyond Roa. It is genius.
Maybe I should eulogise more about this goal, but we all remember it, how can we forget it? This is more about a journey back in time and stirring the emotions of my 15-year-old self, sitting with my dad in the front room of my childhood home, cheering the goals of both teams, would you believe.
That is the sort of game this was. Hopefully, on Friday, we are treated to something similar.
Gorolive.com – The latest soccer highlights and football news