Kluivert was dismissed for elbowing Lorenzo Staelens 10 minutes from the end, an apt comment on a frustrating display by the Milan striker and on Holland's inability to turn possession into clear chances. Dennis Bergkamp, coming on 20 minutes from the end, might have settled it and a ferocious long shot by Jaap Stam, Manchester United's impressive new purchase, was beaten away by Filip de Wilde. Otherwise, Holland lacked the commitment to win, Belgium the will, although both will fancy their chances of reaching the second stage.
There was going to be none of the joyous open football which marked Nigeria's victory over Spain earlier in the day or Mexico's nimble unpicking of the South Koreans. These two have 120 years worth of scores to settle, not least a 1-0 victory by Belgium in Orlando in the last World Cup. Revenge of a sort was gained in the qualifying round, Holland winning both games and condemning the Belgians to a nasty play-off against the Republic of Ireland.
Familiarity bred suspicion. Holland's notoriously brittle spirit was tested by a robust Belgian side marshalled by 37-year-old Franky van der Elst, playing in his fourth World Cup. He and Enzo Scifo are the only survivors of the 1986 team which reached the semi-finals in Mexico.
The Dutch have been their own worst enemies in international tournaments. The team of all the talents - Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten - were riven by internal dissent and returned home from Italia 90 without winning a match. Euro 96 was equally inglorious. While the world waited for the Dutch to click, they were busy forming cliques, often divided down racial lines.
In the initial absence of Bergkamp, still struggling to regain full match fitness after his hamstring injury, Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach, turned to another Premiership forward, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who made his international debut less than a month ago.
The Leeds striker was still finding his feet when a cross shot by Ronald de Boer dropped conveniently to him off De Wilde's fingertips. The angle was acute, but Hasselbaink's sense of geometry deserted him and his shot squirted back across goal. Had Overmars' accuracy with the cross matched his pace Holland would have capped their dominance with a goal. Twice the Arsenal winger broke clear of the ponderous Belgian defence; twice a phalanx of white shirts blocked his low cross.
So concerned was Georges Leekens, the Belgian coach, he took off Bertrand Crasson midway through the first half and put on Eric Deflandre, who should have been booked by the Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina, for a crude introductory tackle on Overmars. Moments later, another trip did earn Deflandre his yellow card. Physicality bordering on the brutish was about all the Belgians had to offer.
If the aim was to expose the mental fragility of more skilled opponents, the ploy worked. Overmars was starved of the ball for long periods and Clarence Seedorf could make little headway against Vital Borkelmans. Slowly, the Belgians began to work their way back into the game and Holland should have gone behind just before half-time as Marc Wilmots, arriving late on to Danny Boffin's left-wing cross, fractionally miscued his close-range header.
With a cordon of white shirts strung across the penalty box, Holland had to revert to the back door. Overmars was crowded out by three defenders and De Wilde had to save twice, first from a fierce drive by Hasselbaink, then the follow-up from Aron Winter. Moments later, he was saved from severe embarrassment by Deflandre, who cleared a missed punch off the line.
A double substitution by Hiddink brought on Bergkamp and Boudewijn Zenden. Overmars switched wings, but still found the final pass elusive. A left- foot volley by Bergkamp flew just wide from eight yards. Belgian joy as the Dutch dejectedly trooped off the Stade de France pitch aptly summarised their diverse ambitions.
Holland (4-1-3-2): Van der Sar (Ajax); Winter (Internazionale), Stam (PSV Eindhoven), F de Boer (Ajax), Numan (PSV Eindhoven); Cocu (PSV Eindhoven); Seedorf (Real Madrid), R de Boer (Ajax), Overmars (Arsenal); Hasselbaink (Leeds Utd), Kluivert (Milan). Substitutes: Zenden (PSV Eindhoven) for Seedorf, 67; Bergkamp (Arsenal) for Hasselbaink, 67; Jonk (PSV Eindhoven) for R de Boer, 80.
Belgium (3-4-1-2): De Wilde (Anderlecht); Verstraeten (Germinal Ekeren), Staelens (Club Bruges), Clement (Genk); Crasson (Napoli), Boffin (Metz), Van der Elst (Club Bruges), Borkelmans (Club Bruges); Wilmots (Schalke 04); Nilis (PSV Eindhoven), Oliveira (Fiorentina). Substitutes: Deflandre (Club Bruges) for Crasson, 23; L Mpenza (Standard Liege) for Oliveira, 60.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).Reuse content