Dutch dynasty: The small nation with the big footballing pedigree

Ten straight wins, 25 games unbeaten, that Marco van Basten volley to help win the European Championship final in 1988, and three World Cup final appearances... whatever happens tomorrow at Soccer City in Johannesburg, Holland are currently, and have been for the last four decades, a football phenomenon.

Just as Spain – a nation of 46 million people– has underachieved by never reaching a World Cup semi-final before this tournament, the Dutch (a country of only 16.5m) have been overachieving ever since Rinus Michels led Ajax to the first of three straight European Cups in 1971. Michels went on to coach a Barcelona side that had Johan Cruyff as its heartbeat. And, with Cruyff wearing the Orange of the national side, Michels also led the Dutch to the World Cup final in 1974, which they lost 2-1 to hosts West Germany.

Without Cruyff and Michels they returned four years later and reached the final again, beaten in extra-time 3-1 by hosts Argentina. But Michels was back in 1988 and he led a team boasting the talents of Ruud Gullit and Van Basten to become European Champions - the first and last time Holland have won a major tournament.

Despite only ever finishing second in the World Cup and missing the 1982 and 1986 finals, their reputation for being the guardians of good football, have made them a tournament institution. Holland have always been the philosophers of football. Britain invented the game and in the 1970s the Dutch reinvented it. No one sums up their way better than the chief sage, Cruyff. "Some players hear the clock ticking but they have no idea what time it is," was his way of describing the difference between a player who really understood football, and one who did not.

"It's a simple game but it is sometimes hard to play simple" he added about what the Dutch call "Total Football", which Michels employed at national and club level with Holland and Barcelona, and Cruyff then continued.

Therein perhaps lies the key to 40 years of almost consistent excellence: continuity. Michels passed the baton to Cruyff, and later to Van Basten; Cruyff handed it to Frank Rijkaard.

Rijkaard, who led Barcelona to a European Cup win in 2006, played in the Euro '88 team managed by Michels. Michels coached the Barcelona team that Cruyff played in; Cruyff coached the so-called "Dream Team" that won Barcelona's first European Cup in 1992. Pep Guardiola played in that team, and was then recommended by Cruyff to coach Barcelona – which he did, winning the treble in 2009.

There is a criss-cross of lines marking the influence of the Dutch dynasty as it has spread from Ajax to Holland then onto Barcelona. The irony of this third World Cup final appearance is that to some extent that lineage has been broken. It was Van Basten who took charge of their last World Cup campaign, when they went out to Portugal in the second round. But the current coach, Bert van Marwijk, only played once for Holland. He never turned out for Ajax, and, in the build-up to tomorrow's final, Cruyff has praised the Spanish because their style is closer to the one he first experienced playing for Michels at Ajax.

Midfielder Wesley Sneijder has hinted that the Dutch will try to suffocate Spain. "We cannot allow them any time and space once they reach high up the pitch," he said.

Their football tomorrow might not be as attractive as it has been in the past and they are not being led by one of their footballing greats. But maybe that change will alter Dutch luck, and for once the philosophers of football will be the kings.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform