This was an eagerly anticipated second-round contest between two European sides with fine footballing traditions, but Slobodan Santrac's decision to play Predrag Mijatovic as a lone striker and pack his midfield and defence, either in the hope of stealing a decisive goal on the break or winning on penalties, left Yugoslavia playing a dangerous and disappointingly negative game.
By contrast the Dutch, whose fans remained in the Stade Municipal long after the final whistle to savour the ultimate drama of their victory, know only one way to play and although they have struggled to recapture their halcyon days of the 1970s they have rarely failed to entertain. One exception to that rule was of course Euro 96, when the political in- fighting and back-biting that has frequently undermined their cause reached an all-time low and Davids walked out, not to return until now. After Euro 96 an unhappy spell with Milan, where he broke a leg, was followed by a move to Juventus in January of this year. The form he showed there transformed the Turin club's season and, after settling his differences with Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, his recall to the national side became a formality.
But it was Dennis Bergkamp, undoubtedly one of the players of the tournament so far, who made the first inroads with a shot that Ivica Kralj scrambled away for a corner and a minute later Marc Overmars, tightly marked by Zoran Mirkovic, managed to reach the byline and crossed low, but Phillip Cocu could not quite make the right contact. Cocu and Ronald de Boer then combined skillfully to set up the increasingly influential Clarence Seedorf for a shot that again had Kralj in trouble.
Seedorf's subsequent cross for Cocu's header over the bar proved to be the prelude to the Dutch breakthrough seven minutes before half-time. Frank de Boer hit a hopeful long ball out of defence for Bergkamp to chase but Mirkovic was the favourite to reach it first. Bergkamp, though, muscled the defender aside with a shoulder charge and his near-post shot went through Kralj's hands.
Within three minutes of the restart though, the Yugoslavs were back on level terms as the unmarked Slobodan Komljenovic headed home at the far post from Dragan Stojkovic's free-kick, and two minutes later the match was almost completely turned on its head with a penalty awarded by the referee, Snr Garcia Aranda, against Jaap Stam after Vladimir Jugovic had attempted to go past Manchester United's new recruit. As Stam was holding Jugovic's jersey the decision was technically correct, but it surprised even the Yugoslavs. Mijatovic, however, crashed the spot-kick against the bar. That was the first penalty to be missed at a World Cup finals, other than in shoot-outs, since Enzo Scifo for Belgium against Spain at Italia 90.
The game briefly turned sour in the immediate aftermath of the penalty and Bergkamp was fortunate that the Spanish referee was not quite so vigilant when the Arsenal striker stepped on Sinisa Mihajlovic in a way that had earned France's Zinedine Zidane a two-match ban earlier in the competition.
The Netherlands, finishing strongly, saw Overmars twice go close. Cocu, too, had a header that flashed wide and a volley that found the back of the net only to be disallowed for dangerous play by Bergkamp.
Thereafter both sides seemed happy to settle for extra time but Davids, seizing on a loose ball 20 yards out, put paid to that. Hiddink later revealed that he had been on the point of withdrawing Davids as he was struggling with a leg injury but, as Hiddink himself said, "it was a happy non-decision to let him go to the end."