When defender Frank De Boer of the Netherlands unspooled a long,
arcing pass toward teammate Dennis Bergkamp last Saturday in
sun-baked Marseilles, the resulting goal was less an example of
sublime art than an affirmation of their country's return to the
soccer elite. Two years ago no one could have foreseen the
90th-minute goal that defeated Argentina 2-1, least of all
Bergkamp, the rejuvenated forward who resembles the rock star
The win put the Oranje into the World Cup semifinals for the
first time since 1978, and it also immortalized Bergkamp, who
had been known mainly for his steadfast refusal to travel by
airplane and his lackluster performance with the Italian club
Inter Milan from 1993 to '95. While his fear of flying
persiststhe Dutch players arrived in Marseilles by train,
thank youhis stock has skyrocketed since he was transferred to
Arsenal in 1995. Last season he was the player of the year in
England's Premier League.
A charged-up Davids (right) outdueled Argentina's
Holland coach Guus Hiddink credits Bergkamp's revival to
discovering a joy in soccer that runs counter to the Dutch
temperament. "In our country it's dangerous to tell players to
enjoy the game, because a lot of people will say, 'Oh, they're
getting nonchalant,'" Hiddink said last Saturday. "But if they
are enjoying the game, they play like they should. Right now
Dennis is enjoying the game."
So, too, is Edgar Davids, the Juventus midfielder whose future
with the national team once appeared hazier than an Amsterdam
hash bar. During the '96 European championships, Hiddink sent
Davids home after he alleged that the coach favored the team's
white players. Davids rejoined the team for Cup qualifying after
apologizing to Hiddink, and his nascent maturity showed when he
kept quiet after riding the bench in Holland's Cup opener
against Belgium. Last week Davids was the player of the
tournament, scoring the game-winner late in a second-round, 2-1
win over Yugoslavia and owning the midfield against Argentina.
According to midfielder Ronald De Boer, Frank's twin, the team's
newfound harmony can be traced to two speeches by Hiddinkone
before the start of qualifying and the other on the eve of the
tournamentin which he outlined what Ronald calls the rules.
"The most important rule is that we must play with 22 players,
not 11," Ronald says. "If you're not in the starting 11, then
you can be disappointed, but don't react to the other players.
Be positive. Everyone knows there's only one goal, and that's to
have the gold thing in our hands."
In the postgame interview room last Saturday, Davids
accidentally bumped into Hiddink, who turned and threw his arm
around the midfielder's thick shoulders. The two men smiled,
revealing a joy in soccer that seemed perfectly natural, if
Issue date: July 13, 1998