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1974 World Cup: A Tactical Revolution Pioneered By The Dutch

Brazil did not in any way resemble the magical 1970 team, England did not even manage to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, and Argentina had yet to rise as a footballing power. Nonetheless, the World Cup in West Germany became a benchmark for the sport. All because of Dutch total football.

Commandeered by football legend Johan Cruyff, after 36 years, the Dutch were in the World Cup again. And they returned in grand style: Nicknamed Clockwork Orange, the Dutch national side put in practice the concept of total football as it had never been seen before.


The tactic is considered bold even today, as players did not have fixed positions. Instead, all players could defend, attack, set up plays, and trade positions quickly and fluidly.

Of course, one needs above-average hardworking players to meet the highly technical and physical demands for the system to work. In addition to Cruyff, the team’s maestro, the Dutch had other big names such as Neeskens, Jansen, and Resembrink.

michel rinus holding a football

The Brains Behind Total Football

The mentor behind this was manager Rinus Michels, who had put together the almost unbeatable Ajax team of the early 70s. The results soon began to show the system’s efficiency in the 1974 World Cup.

They beat Uruguay 2-0 and Argentina 4-0 in the first round and the second, 2-0 victory over three-time winners Brazil. First, however, they would find a barrier (actually, a wall) in their way called Franz Beckenbauer.

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Playing at home, the West Germans were booed by the home fans in the first round and took a while to get going. However, a victory over top scorer Lato’s impressive Poland, showing their strength, sealed their way into the final.

Nevertheless, Beckenbauer and his teammates were not favorites against the Netherlands.

In the six previous matches, the Netherlands had scored 14 goals and conceded only one, and as soon as the match started, they went into the attack with the Germans not getting so much as a whiff of the ball.

1974 world cup champions

1974 World Cup Draw

During the ceremony in the main hall of Radio Hessen in Frankfurt, the German organizers chose an innocent hand to draw the teams. In spite of the political overtones, one of the Schöneberger Sängerknaben boys’ choir members from Berlin caused an uproar by putting the hosts, Germany FR (one of the seeded teams along with Brazil, Italy, and Uruguay), in the same group as the neighbouring German DR, perhaps the biggest shock of all such occasions.

The game went forward despite the political overtones and the GDR won 1-0 in Hamburg, although Germany won the cup in the end.

1974 World Cup Final

Cruyff broke from midfield and was fouled by Uli Hoeness in the area: penalty in the first minute. Neeskens took it and scored the first goal from the penalty spot in a World Cup final.

The Germans, however, did not give up. They had beaten a magical team in a World Cup soccer final before, even after their opponents took the lead. Twenty years earlier, Puskas’s Hungary had been the victim. In 1974, it was Holland and Cruyff’s turn.

In the 25th minute, Wim Jansen brought Bern Hölzenbein down in the box, and Paul Breitner converted the game’s second penalty. Then, Gerd Müller had the honor of scoring the World Cup-winning goal.

Therefore, Captain Franz Beckenbauer lifted the new 1974 World Cup trophy, as the Jules Rimet trophy had been given to Brazil for good in 1970.

1974 Netherlands team at the world cup

Victim Of The Clockwork Orange

Without Pelé, Gerson, Carlos Alberto Torres, Tostão, and Clodoaldo, Brazil looked nothing like the magical 1970 team, although Zagallo was still their manager.

In the first round, they qualified in second place after a goalless draw with Yugoslavia – who qualified first in the group -and Scotland, only beating Zaire 3-0 in the last match.

Zaire 1974 World Cup team is worthy of mention. The first country from Sub-Saharan Africa to qualify for a World Cup, the nation today called the Democratic Republic of Congo, went into World Cup history due to one of the most bizarre football moments of all time.


Strange Events At The 1974 World Cup

In the match against Brazil, the referee gave a free kick in favor of the Brazilians right outside the African team’s box.

Zaire players positioned themselves in the wall, but as soon as the referee blew the whistle, defender Ilunga Mwepu ran from the wall and kicked the ball out far before the Brazilians had taken the free-kick.

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This resulted in a yellow card for a surprised Mwepu and a place in 1974 World Cup history. In the second round, Brazil beat East Germany and Argentina but fell to the Clockwork Orange and had to contend with the third place play-off against Poland.

After being steamrolled by the Dutch, Brazil was also no match for Poland and finished the 1974 World Cup tournament in fourth.

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