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Long-awaited revenge

The Netherlands pay back controversial loss to Argentina

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Posted: Saturday July 04, 1998 03:33 PM


PARIS (CNN/SI) -- Call it divine retribution. Call it long-awaited revenge. Call it fate. Call it whatever you will. Holland's victory over Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals was all this and more.

The last time they met in the World Cup was in the 1978 final when Argentina won 3-1 on home soil after extra time. Rob Rensenbrink hit the woodwork in the last minute of regulation time, denying the Dutch their first first world title.

Holland refused to attend the post-match ceremonies after Argentina's alleged stalling tactics before the match, when they came out late and questioned the legality of a plaster cast on a Dutch player's wrist -- allowing tension to build for the visitors in front of a hostile Buenos Aires crowd.

An eight-year-old Dennis Bergkamp remembers watching the match. He cried after the defeat. He also longed to be part of such an occasion one day.

How fitting then that Bergkamp, now one of the world's most accomplished strikers, scored the winning goal in the last minute as Holland beat Argentina 2-1 in Marseille. The tears now belonged to the Argentines and their followers.

How apt also that the winning goal came so soon after Argentina's Ariel Ortega had been sent off -- a kind of final rebuke for Ortega's despicable misdemeanors.

First Ortega dived in the penalty area when Jaap Stam stuck out a leg to challenge him. That earned the Argentine playmaker a yellow card.

When Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar went over to confront Ortega about his play-acting, Ortega appeared to head-butt van der Saar. He was immediately sent off.

Earlier, Holland had been reduced to 10 men for a clumsy, and certainly not malicious, tackle on Captain Diego Simeone. Remember him? He's the one who fell like a ton of bricks when England's David Beckham retaliated to a heavy-handed challenge from the Argentine in the last round.

Once again Simeone was so "badly hurt" here he had to be carried from the pitch for treatment.

Argentina has some fine players, but it also has some of the finest theater performers this side of Broadway. The histrionics are reprehensible.

Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the great World Cup legends, told me just this week how unhappy he was with all the elaborate falling and diving in the modern game -- and especially at France '98.

"One little touch," he said, "and the hands come up, the mouth opens wide and they fall like they've been hacked down. It's getting out of hand."

And it's not just Argentina. Many teams are guilty of this. That's why it was so refreshing to see a referee penalize a top star for trying to win his team a penalty and the game.

World Cup quarterfinals should not be won by cheats.

Holland is through to face Brazil in the semifinals -- and that's gotta be good for the World Cup and football as a whole.


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