The Netherlands were fresh from their 1988 European Championship success, and they would once again lock horns with their neighbours and great rivals West Germany. The ’88 semi-final in Hamburg had brought a remarkable performance where the Dutch had come from behind to snatch a 2-1 win courtesy of ace marksman van Basten’s late decider, and the same man had produced that stunning second goal in the eventual final, which had seen the Netherlands defeat the Soviet Union by 2-0. In the wake of that success, legendary manager Rinus Michels had stepped down, and attempting to fill his shoes was 47 year old Thijs Libregts, assisted by Nol de Ruiter, who had just returned from a managerial spell in Greece, where he had been in charge of three clubs in four seasons. Prior to that, he had managed two of the domestic big three in PSV and Feyenoord. His appointment might have been a slightly controversial one, as he had once been accused of some less flattering characteristics of current team captain Ruud Gullit whilst the pair were with Feyenoord together.
On the players’ front, only one player of great value to the team, veteran midfielder Arnold Mühren, had stepped down from the international stage since the summer’s success. The 37 year old had excelled in West Germany, and he could prove difficult to replace. However, the Netherlands were still littered with talent, and they were not least in possession of a wonderful trio in Frank Rijkaard, said Gullit and van Basten, who were by now united with Italian greats AC Milan. In addition to these were defender Ronald Koeman, widely regarded as an exceptionally gifted player, and further stars from Eindhoven club PSV, who had emerged as winners of the 1988 European Cup after their penalty shoot-out win against Benfica. 1988 had so far been a tremendous year for Dutch football, and they would have been buoyant ahead of the qualification campaign, despite the presence of their old adversaries West Germany.
The Netherlands had not participated in any World Cup since the 1978 tournament in Argentina, where they had succumbed to the hosts in hostile surroundings in the final. After the manner of their summer’s success, they had regained a lot of support from neutrals across the globe, and they were expected to deliever further displays of scintillating attacking football. Surely, blessed with the exceptional talent that their squad was equipped with, they would be almost impossible to deny a berth in the upcoming World Cup. However, they would be well aware of what a great threat West Germany would pose, bent on revenge as their old foe would be since that recent semi-final defeat. Did Libregts have the mettle to see off that threat and take the orange army through to Italia ’90?
Qualifier 1: Netherlands 1-0 Wales
14.09.1988, Olympisch Stadion (Amsterdam)
Line-up (3-4-3): van Breukelen – van Tiggelen, R Koeman, Rijkaard – van Aerle, Wouters, Gullit (c), E Koeman – Vanenburg (Kieft 67), van Basten, Krüzen.
The home side were perhaps not firing on all cylinders throughout, and it took a big effort to break down a resilient Welsh side whose intent was to sit back for a draw and perhaps hope that they could cause an upset on the counter. This was the Netherlands’ first match since the win in the European Championships, and they did at times appear a bit rusty. Important to get off to a winning start with the West Germans so convincing in their opening fixture in Finland.
Qualifier 2: West Germany 0-0 Netherlands
19.10.1988, Olympiastadion (Munich)
Line-up (3-5-2): van Breukelen – Rijkaard, R Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle (Winter 20), Vanenburg, Wouters, E Koeman, Silooy – Bosman, van Basten
In a re-run of the European Championships semi-final only a few months earlier, the Dutch were satisfied with taking a point back home from Munich in a physical encounter. They had been dominated by the energetic hosts for large spells, particularly before the interval, but managed to hold on to a precious point despite Thon’s effort onto the crossbar early in the second half. The Netherlands created little; they were predominantly pleased to keep the home team away from van Breukelen’s goal. Their best effort fell to van Basten ten minutes from time, but he could not hit target when in good position.
Friendly: Italy 1-0 Netherlands
Line-up (3-5-2): van Breukelen – Silooy, R Koeman (c), Koot – Suvrijn (Rutten 69), Vanenburg, Rijkaard, Eijkelkamp (van Loen 61), Reekers – van Basten, Huistra
With a much-changed side including three starting debutants, the Netherlands had dominated the game for spells, and they had looked particularly threatening during the first half, in which rookie winger Huistra had enjoyed so much space down the left hand side. Van Basten had a point blank range header stopped by Tacconi, though they’d conceded late in the first half after a rare Italy chance. Key players were out, but they were still a force as a unit, even if Rijkaard had only seemed partially interested. It was an unfortunate loss.
Friendly: Israel 0-2 Netherlands
Goals: Wouters, van Loen
Line-up: van Breukelen – Silooy (Reekers 82), R Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Vanenburg (Ellerman h-t), Wouters, E Koeman, Huistra (Witschge 57) – van Loen, Bosman (Eijkelkamp 68)
Reserve Friendly: France B 1-0 Netherlands B
15.02.1989, Stade de Costières (Nîmes)
Line-up: Hesp – Sturing, Boerebach, Verkuijl (Lankhaar h-t), De Wolf – Suvrijn (Lammers h-t), Van Duren (Meijer h-t), Krüzen, Bergkamp – Van Loen (Viscaal 70), Cooke
Unused sub: Van der Gouw.
Rare outing for Nol de Ruiter’s men, in what was the inauguration of the new stadium in Nîmes (att.: 23,000!). Goalkeepers Snelers and Menzo were part of the original squad, but withdrew (due to club commitments and injury).
Friendly: Netherlands 2-0 Soviet Union
Goals: van Basten, R Koeman (pen.)
Line-up (4-5-1) Snelders – van Tiggelen, R Koeman, Rutjes, Hofkens – Winter, Vanenburg, Rijkaard, Gullit (c), Huistra (Bosman 72) – van Basten
Excellent win in a replay of the 1988 European Championship final. The Netherlands had to weather a second half storm from the visitors, and capped win with late penalty goal.
Qualifier 3: Netherlands 1-1 West Germany
26.04.1989, De Kuip (Rotterdam)
Goal: van Basten.
Line-up (3-4-3): Hiele – Rijkaard, R. Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Winter, Hofkens (Rutjes 85), E. Koeman – Vanenburg, van Basten, Huistra (Eijkelkamp 75)
Res.: Roy, van Loen, Snelders.
Holland leave it late again, salvaging a point in the dying minutes. It was their time to take initiative now, but they couldn’t produce the same amount of chances as their opponents had done in Munich. Too little happening in the wide areas, too much wasted in the congested central areas, where Winter looked a bit lost as Gullit’s replacement.
Qualifier 4: Finland 0-1 Netherlands
31.05.1989, Olympiastadion (Helsinki)
Line-up (3-3-4): van Breukelen – Rutjes, R Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Rijkaard, E Koeman – Vanenburg (Huistra 83), Kieft, van Basten, Ellerman (Gullit 56)
Friendly: Netherlands 2-2 Denmark
Goals: R Koeman, Wouters
Line-up: Hiele (Menzo h-t) – Rutjes, R Koeman (c), Fräser – Winter, Wouters (Reekers 65), Bosman, Krüzen – van’t Schip, Kieft (van Loen 78), Roy
Qualifier 5: Wales 1-2 Netherlands
11.10.1989, Racecourse Ground (Wrexham)
Goals: Rutjes, Bosman
Line-up (3-4-3): van Breukelen – Koot, R Koeman (c), Rutjes – van Aerle, Wouters, Rijkaard (Bosman h-t), Hofkens – van’t Schip, Kieft, Witschge (van Basten 70)
Qualifier 6: Netherlands 3-0 Finland
15.11.1989, De Kuip (Rotterdam)
Goals: Bosman, E Koeman, R Koeman (pen.)
Line-up (3-4-3): van Breukelen – Rijkaard, R Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Wouters, Bosman, E Koeman (Hofkens 71) – van’t Schip (Witschge 79), van Basten, Ellerman
The Dutch made it through to the World Cup with a solid win against a relatively modest Finnish select. They had a few opportunities to open the scoring in the first half, with Rijkaard striking the bar from 30 yards, and the Finland ‘keeper saved his team from Bosman’s close range attempt, and van’t Schip scuffed a near effort hopelessly wide. After the break it was a different matter, as the Netherlands scored three times in quick succession. Van Basten was having his best game in the qualification, but would leave the pitch without a goal to his name, despite almost scoring a, for him, uncharacteristical goal as he went past three opponents before testing Laukkanen with a left foot strike.
The Netherlands qualify for Italia’90 as winners of UEFA group 4, one point ahead of West Germany. Thus, they maintained the upper hand over their arch rivals, which they had got after winning that famous semi final in the 1988 European Championships. But the group win didn’t come easily, and the Netherlands were largely performing somewhat below the standard they had set in summer 1988. The Netherlands were notorious late goal scorers in this qualification, several times being saved by a goal in the dying minutes of the game.
One important reason was no doubt the lengthy injury absence of Ruud Gullit, who hardly featured in these qualifiers at all. Libregts tried a number players in his position as an attacking midfielder, but never quite found an adept replacement, and the team suffered whenever he couldn’t make it in the match day squad. Holland with and without Gullit are unquestionably two very different teams. Libregts moreover tried out players who can’t be described as attacking midfielders in this position, and more often than not hard-working, tigerish players like Winter and Rijkaard. Bosman is perhaps the player most similar to Gullit (attacking midfielder), but saw only some playing time in this position toward the end of the campaign.
Libregts maintained his 3-4-3 formation during all the six qualifiers, with minor variations. It’s a formation with much width, and with Ronald Koeman as a deep playmaker and expert crosser, they were always looking to stretch the opposition. The right hand side was arguably the more interestig one, with van Aerle and Vanenburg (replaced by van ‘t Schip in the two last games). On the left hand side, Libregts never managed to settle who would be his preferred left winger, and competition looked quite open between Ellerman, Huistra and perhaps Rob Witschge. Even at the end of the qualification, Libregts admitted that he probably hadn’t found the left winger he was looking for.
The key to the group win was of course the double encounter with West Germany. As expected, these were two tense affairs providing little if any goalmouth action, but a flurry of fouls.
Libregts largely kept with the players of his predecessor, but some new talent was also unearthed. Graeme Rutjes and Wim Hofkens were hardly youngsters anymore, but the two KV Mechelen men did a solid impression when called upon. Yet, this was still very much the same squad that had become European Champions in 1988, and only the inevitable injuries, which they still did experience quite a bit of, led Libregts to introduce new players.
Final position: 1 (out of 4 – qualified)
Total record: 6 4 2 0 8-2 10
Home record: 3 2 1 0 5-1 5
Away record: 3 2 1 0 3-1 5
Number of players used: 24
Number of players including unused substitutes: 29
Ever-presents (540 mins): 1 (Ronald Koeman)
Leading goalscorer: John Bosman (2)
Yellow/red cards: 6/0
|Koeman, Ronald||6||6||540||1 (1)|
|van Aerle, Berry||6||6||470|
|van Basten, Marco||6||5||1||470||1|
|van Breukelen, Hans||5||5||450|
|van Tiggelen, Adri||5||5||450||2/0|
|van't Schip, John||2||2||169|
|van Loen, John||1|
– game by game
|Player||Wal (h)||Frg (b)||Frg (h)||Fin (h)||Wal (b)||Fin (b)||Apps||Mins|
|van 't Schip||90||79||2||169|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
Friendly: Netherlands 0-1 Brazil
Line-up (3-4-3): van Breukelen – van Tiggelen, R Koeman (c) (Laamers h-t), van Aerle – Sturing, Wouters (Blind 69), Ellerman (Winter 21), Reekers – Latuheru, Kieft (van Loen 78), Berghuis (van’t Schip 58)
Libregts had to field a much weakened side due to some major absentees, and they were second best for much of the game against the Copa América winners. Three players saw libero action and three players carried the captain’s armband. The manager might have found out that a few of these were scarcely candidates for a World Cup squad.
21.02.1990 Netherlands 0-0 Italy
Line-up: van Breukelen – Rijkaard (Sturing h-t), R Koeman (c), van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Wouters, Bosman, E Koeman – Vanenburg, van Basten (Kieft 68), Witschge
28.03.1990 Soviet Union 2-1 Netherlands
Goal: R Koeman (pen.)
Line-up: van Breukelen – Sturing, R Koeman (c), Rutjes – Fräser, Wouters, Bosman (van Loen 55), Peeper (Eijkelkamp 24) – van’t Schip (Laamers 81), Kieft, Witschge
30.05.1990 Austria 3-2 Netherlands
Goals: R Koeman, van Basten
Line-up: van Breukelen – Rijkaard, R Koeman, van Tiggelen – van Aerle, Wouters, Gullit (c) (Kieft 73), E Koeman (Roy 65) – Vanenburg, van Basten, Witschge
03.06.1990 Yugoslavia 0-2 Netherlands
Goals: Rijkaard, van Basten
Line-up: van Breukelen – van Tiggelen, R Koeman, Rutjes – van Aerle (Blind 68), Rijkaard, Wouters, Gullit (c), E Koeman (Witschge 78) – Kieft, van Basten