This World Cup Last 16 game between the Netherlands and Yugoslavia promised to be an entertaining fixture, and it certainly lived up to expectation. The Netherlands team boasted a mouth-watering array of talent, with stars such as Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and the de Boer brothers lining up for Guus Hiddink’s side. They had finished top of their group, drawing two games and winning the other 5-0. Yugoslavia went into the match as underdogs. Despite this label, they were still a tricky opponent for any opposition and possessed an immense team ethic. They were bitterly unlucky to blow a two goal lead to Germany in the groups, and put in clinical winning displays against USA and Iran to see them take second spot. What played out was an exciting, talent laden game of football, with the odd bit of controversy thrown in, just the way a World Cup knockout game should be.
The game was filled with drama, although admittedly, the majority of it came in the second half. The first half was primarily two teams trying to suss each other out, prying for weaknesses in the other. The Dutch were, as expected, playing the better of the two sides.
Dennis Bergkamp gave the Netherlands the lead late into the first half. Dutch captain Ronald de Boer carried the ball out of the defence before launching a long ball deep into Yugoslavian territory. Bergkamp cleverly peeled away from his marker, finding acres of spaces between the centre back and right back. He controlled the pass, despite its large bounce, turning inside and shooting towards goal. It was a poor shot that went straight to the goalkeeper, however Yugoslavia’s ‘keeper, Ivica Kralj, was so intent on guarding the exposed part of his goal that he was caught off guard by the shot. The shot hit off Kralj’s boot and bounced into the net to send the Netherlands into half time lead.
There was a large amount of controversy surrounding Dennis Bergkamp’s goal, with Yugoslavia’s manager Slobodan Santrac adamant that the referee should have chopped off the goal. This is because Dennis Bergkamp pushed Yugoslavia’s right back Goran Dorovic in the chest with force when challenging for the bouncing ball in the box. The
defence protested vigorously, but to no avail. It was a certain foul by today’s standards, but referees were a more lenient bunch in the 90s.
The Yugoslavians may have gone into half time a goal down, but they were all square again just three minutes after half time. Yugoslavia’s captain, right winger Dragan Stoijkovic, whipped in a cross from a free kick towards the back post. Centre back Slobodan Komijenovic rose highest to outjump his marker and power his header low beyond young Ajax goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Van der Sar should have done better, as he was beaten at his near post, however the real fault fell on his defence for allowing Komijenovic so much time to place his header.
Yugoslavia were in pole position to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty just two minutes after equalising. Jaap Stam was adjudged to have pulled down Yugoslavia’s Vladimir Jugovic inside the penalty area. It was a controversial decision. After Jugovic turned the cumbersome Jaap Stam with ease, Stam grabbed the wingers jersey. Stam did nothing to impede the shot, with the Dutch defender falling himself, yet a penalty was given.
Up stepped centre forward Prerag Mijatovic, tasked with putting his side ahead in the tie. Edwin van der Sar dived the right way, but couldn’t get his hand on the shot. Fortunately for van der Sar and the rest of the Netherlands faithful, it did not matter. Mijatovic cannoned his shot off the cross bar so hard that it bounced well away from danger, eventually being cleared by the defence.
Yugoslavia felt aggrieved not to play the last half hour with a man advantage. Dennis Bergkamp was reeling off the back of being awarded Footballer of the Year, and having put his side a goal up, he was having a good go of things. On 52 minutes he found himself entwined with Yugoslavian centre back Sinisa Mihajlovic after a nasty tackle. Rather than walk away from the incident, Bergkamp left a foot in on Mihajlovic, visibly stamping on the centre back right in front of the linesman. Shockingly, the official didn’t see the incident, meaning that nothing came of the assault. This had a big impact on the game as it allowed the Netherlands to play with the freedom that comes from playing an 11 v 11 game.
Not only was Mihajlovic on the end of a stamp from Bergkamp, but he also found himself showered with missiles from the crowd. This included a half empty/half full bottle of soda (you can decide what to describe this bottle based on your philosophical outlook on life…).
Despite feeling furious at having to play against a full Dutch XI, Yugoslavia kept chipping away, trying desperately to nick a winning goal. They were seconds away from securing extra time, when Edgar Davids scored a brilliant long range goal to win it for the Netherlands.
The Dutch brought all their big players forward from the back, with Yugoslavia man marking everyone. Their strong defence proved to be their downfall. The corner was taken short to Davids, who was totally unmarked on the edge of the box. The Yugoslavians rushed out to close down Juventus midfielder, but it was fruitless. Davids teed the ball up before hammering the ball through a packed box into the back of the net.
Davids strike sealed the game late on, ensuring that the Dutch progressed at the expense of their Slavic opposition. Questions were asked of Yugoslavian coach Slobodan Santrac and his decision not to start, or even sub on young playmaker Dejan Stankovic. Santrac had done well to guide Yugoslavia through the groups with ease, however. The Dutch were just warming up in this tournament. Hiddink’s men beat Argentina in the Quarter Finals before losing out to eventual finalists Brazil in the Semi Finals. This Round of 16 match had plenty of talking points: a foul on the defender in the build up to Bergkamps goal; a controversial penalty given to Yugoslavia and a clear stamp from Bergkamp not penalised. There was a bright side to Bergkamp not getting penalised. If he had, he would have surely been red carded. If Dennis Bergkamp had been red carded then he would have been unavailable for their next match against Argentina, and the world would not have witnessed one of the greatest World Cup goals ever scored.
Tomorrow’s game: June 30th. Germany v Brazil. 2002.