IN THE distance, mountains stood silhouetted in timeless majesty against a cloudless sky. The high, open stands of the Stade Velodrome were like foothills of humanity, reminiscent of Hillsborough or The Valley in a bygone era. The setting demanded a spectacle to stir football's yearning soul and the Dutch provided it. Even the floodlights craned inwards, as if eager for a better view.
After their attritional draw with Belgium, the Netherlands vented their frustrations on a skilful but shambolic South Korea. The victory was their biggest in the World Cup finals, and included a wondrous goal by Dennis Bergkamp. Yet it was the fluidity and precision of their game which took one back.
The future is Orange, we are told, although, where the Dutch are concerned, the past exerts an unduly powerful presence. The squad are surrounded by reminders of the "Total Football" team which lost successive finals in the 1970s. Johan Cruyff was a highly conspicuous observer on Saturday and Johan Neeskens sat at Guus Hiddink's side as assistant coach.
The class of '88, the last great flowering of Netherlands football, were also heavily represented. Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman are now on Hiddink's coaching staff, while Ruud Gullit watched as an ITV analyst. The pressure to perform with at least a modicum of the mobility and versatility of those teams was considerable, but, against admittedly mediocre opposition, the Dutch managed it in style.
There were, it is true, moments when South Korea hinted at an upset to match the 1-0 win which the unforgettably named Pak Doo-ik secured for their Northern counterparts over Italy in 1966. The Dutch, as their coach admitted afterwards, took time to build up the desired momentum and occasionally flirted with danger.
In particular, the discomfort of Aron Winter in the unfamiliar right- back position will have been noted by their potential second-phase opponents. Seo Jung-won left him trailing with one audacious dummy. But South Korea have never won at the finals in 13 attempts, and the French-based winger lacked the confidence to take the ball on as Marc Overmars would have done.
The reprieve appeared to shake the Dutch out of their torpor. Phillip Cocu became the first of five different scorers. Four minutes later, a Korean attack broke down with too many players stranded upfield and Overmars doubled the lead.
As his shot hit the net, a smoke-bomb was thrown behind the goal. It was the nearest the Dutch fans came to causing problems for the local gendarmerie, who were clearly on edge after their difficulties with the English. The missile carried more symbolic meaning than menace: no smoke without fire-power.
The Netherlands now unleashed their full armoury. Edgar Davids, whose dynamism had kept them ticking over in the awkward early stages, found colleagues pouring into threatening positions. Bergkamp, especially, came to life after previously betraying his rustiness and began a personal vendetta against the Korean goalkeeper.
Typically, when England's footballer of the year finally found the target, it was the goal of the night and from his most difficult chance. Taking a pass with his back to goal, Bergkamp broke through one challenge as he turned. With a deft change of foot, he then danced past another before flicking the ball into the net.
In the action replay, his face had the unflustered look of a Marseillais barman casually opening a bottle of pastis. It was as if Bergkamp was making a point: all the big strikers, from Ronaldo and Shearer to Batistuta and Klinsmann, had scored. He was not about to settle for a tap-in.
The goal was his 34th for his country, taking him past Cruyff and leaving him one behind the record set by Faas Wilkes. Given his temperament, he is unlikely to drag out the process of overtaking that landmark as his Arsenal colleague Ian Wright did with Cliff Bastin's total.
The points assured, Bergkamp withdrew. Pierre van Hooijdonk came on to head his fifth international goal with only his second touch, and Ronald de Boer completed the rout with South Korea in naive disarray. Considering that Hiddink can also call on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and, once he completes his suspension, Patrick Kluivert, his options are enviable.
At both USA 94 and Euro 96, the Netherlands went out at the quarter-final stages. With much the same personnel, they look capable of going further in this tournament as long as they avoid any in-fighting. First they must ensure qualification from Group E, preferably as winners in order to avoid Germany in the next round.
Their programme finishes against Mexico on Thursday afternoon, when Hiddink fears it will be "rather hot". Defeat could let in Belgium, who will hope to take advantage of South Korea's demoralised state. France 98 would certainly be the poorer without the Dutch.
NETHERLANDS (4-4-1-1): Van der Sar (Ajax); Winter (Internazionale), F de Boer (Ajax), Stam (PSV Eindhoven), Numan (PSV Eindhoven); R de Boer (Ajax), Jonk (PSV Eindhoven), Davids (Juventus), Overmars (Arsenal); Cocu (PSV Eindhoven); Bergkamp (Arsenal). Substitutes: Van Hooijdonk (Nottingham Forest) for Bergkamp, 78; Bogarde (Barcelona) for Numan, 80; Zenden (PSV Eindhoven) for R de Boer, 84.
SOUTH KOREA (1-4-3-2): Kim Byung-ji (Ulsan Hyundai); Hong Myung-bo (Bellmare Hiratsuka); Choi Sung-yong (Sangmoo), Lee Min-sung (Pusan Daewoo), Choi Young-il (Pusan Daewoo), Yoo Sang-chul (Ulsan Hyundai); Lee Sang-yoon (Chunan Ilwha), Kim Do-keun (Chunnam Dragons), Seo Jung-won (Strasbourg); Choi Yong-soo (Sangmoo), Kim Do-hoon (Vissel Kobe). Substitutes: Kim Tae- young (Chunnam Dragons) for Choi Sung-yong, 53; Ko Jong-soo (Suwon Samsung) for Kim Do-hoon, 70; Lee Dong-gook (Pohang Steelers) for Seo Jung-won, 77.
Referee: R Wojcik (Pol).Reuse content