The Joy of Six: classic Germany v Netherlands encounters

From the 1974 World Cup final to a Nations League hammering, we pick half a dozen great matches between the two giants

1) 1974 World Cup final: Netherlands 1-2 West Germany (Munich)

Historians disagree over the extent to which the five-year occupation of the Netherlands by Germany in the second world war was responsible for the enmity that built up between the nations, but what is certain is that this World Cup final was the first competitive meeting between the teams since 1945. The Netherlands side featuring Johan Cruyff was still an emerging force, they did not really expect to beat their all-powerful opponents, although they did believe the English referee Jack Taylor was conned by Bernd Hölzenbein for the penalty that allowed West Germany to equalise, before Gerd Müller scored the winning goal.

West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer gets to the ball ahead of Johan Cruyff
West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer gets to the ball ahead of Johan Cruyff. Photograph: STAFF/EPA

2) 1978 World Cup second round: West Germany 2-2 Netherlands (Cordoba)

The teams met again in the second round group stage at the next World Cup, so a draw was a satisfactory result for both sides. Holland’s Dick Nanninga was sent off late in the game for shoving Hölzenbein, who claimed he had been punched in the stomach. Without Cruyff, who stayed at home for personal reasons, the Netherlands would go on to a second World Cup final, only to lose once again to the hosts, this time Argentina. West Germany were knocked out after 3-2 defeat to Austria; most people thought the Dutch were the best team at the tournament.

3) Euro 1980 Group One game: West Germany 3-2 Netherlands (Naples)

Klaus Allofs scored a hat-trick in the victory that effectively meant the Netherlands went home after the group stage in Italy, though the game was also notable for the arrival of Lothar Matthäus as a substitute to earn the first of his record 150 German caps. Less wholesome was Rene van der Kerkhof punching Bernd Schuster in the face and a fight between the German goalkeeper, Toni Schumacher, and the Dutch defender Huub Stevens, all witnessed by a ludicrously lenient French referee. Nine years layer, a Dutch banner at a World Cup qualifying game would cause outrage by likening Matthäus to Adolf Hitler.

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4) Euro 1988 semi-final: West Germany 1-2 Netherlands (Hamburg)

This was as good as it got for the Dutch and their supporters, beating the Germans in a semi-final in their own country, gaining revenge for 1974 and going on to win the trophy. The team of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten was as exciting as anything from Cruyff’s era and deserved to make some mark on posterity, though by now the animosity between the nations was at its height. Ronald Koeman swapped shirts with Olaf Thon and offended Germany by using the garment to mockingly suggest wiping his backside, then after beating the Soviet Union in the final, the head coach, Rinus Michels, spoke for the fans when he put the achievement into perspective: “We won the tournament, but we all know the semi was the real final.”

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5) 1990 World Cup second round: West Germany 2-1 Netherlands (Milan)

In terms of television and photographic coverage this is the one everyone remembers, not least because the sight of Rijkaard gobbing into Rudi Völler’s frizzy perm is not one easily forgotten. The pained expression of the relatively innocent German as both players were dismissed after a scuffle has also become an iconic image of implacable dislike, an emblematic snapshot of Italia 90 as vividly, if not lovingly recalled, as Gazza’s tears in this country. West Germany, the eventual winners, won the game with goals by Andreas Brehme and Jürgen Klinsmann to Koeman’s late penalty, but little of the football has lasted as long in the memory as the spitting or the German anthem being heartily booed by the Dutch before kick-off.

6) 2018 Uefa Nations League: Netherlands 3-0 Germany (Amsterdam)

Koeman’s team became the first in orange shirts to inflict a three-goal defeat on their bitter rivals, a match that continued Germany’s post World Cup woes and effectively set up a semi-final between England and the Dutch this summer. The Netherlands failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, whereas Joachim Löw’s team went to Russia as holders, but it now seems Koeman’s players are on the up, with players such as Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum, who both scored in Amsterdam, and the Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong. Maybe the Nations League is not the sort of competition to bring out the old antipathy anyway, but anti-German feeling in the Netherlands was usually at its strongest when Germany were considered invincible.