1998 WC Argentina 1-2 Holland
Dennis Bergkamp’s, winning goal for Holland
It was nearly 6:00 p.m. on July 4, 1998, at the Stade Velodrome, in Marseille, France, and the 55,000 in attendance were being treated to a classic Europe vs. South America World Cup quarterfinals match. The teams, Argentina and Holland, had been reduced to 10-a-side, with Dutch defender Arthur Numan sent off at the 76th for a second yellow, a harsh foul on Argentine midfielder Diego Simeone, and Argentine striker Ariel Ortega at the 87th for faking a penalty and then head-butting Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar. Holland’s coach Guss Hiddink, and Argentina’s Daniel Passarella, had done all they could, tactics were by then long out the door, it was now up to their tired players to decide who would make the semifinals.
The game was tied thanks to Patrick Kluivert’s 12th-minute opener for Holland and Claudio Lopez’s 17th-minute equalizer for Argentina. The rest of the match had been similarly balanced, a prize fighters’ contest of well-matched adversaries who knew both how to play the game at its highest level and how to get under the skin of their opponent. It was, significantly, the first competitive game between the sides since their infamous 1978 World Cup final in Buenos Aires. Neither had forgotten and neither was willing to give an inch. Both teams had shots off the woodwork; no one wanted to go into extra time. Something had to give, but there were under two minutes left in regular time.
In hindsight, perhaps the presage of what was to come in those final seconds had been in exhibit much earlier. The beauty of Dennis Bergkamp’s assist on Kluivert’s goal, a falling, lay-down header that teed-up the ball, between two defenders and just forward of the onrushing Argentine goalkeeper Carlos Roa, for his teammate’s easy score. Recollecting that assist, in his book Stillness and Speed, Bergkamp said:
Ronald de Boer’s pass is flat and hard and waist-high, too high to control with my foot and too low for my chest so I have to fall to my left and squash my body so that I can cushion it with my head. But where do I cushion it? Out of the corner of my eye, I see Kluivert making a run off [Argentine defender Jose] Chamot. If I head it towards him between [Argentine defender Roberto] Sensini and Chamot the control will be too difficult at high speed; besides, there isn’t much space there, the space is between Sensini, who has come towards me, and Ayala who has gone out to meet de Boer. So, I need to play almost a square pass with my head to the other side of Sensini, into the angle of Kluivert’s run. I can’t cushion it as gently with my head as with my foot but that’s fine because the space is fairly big, and if I head it too softly Roa will stay on his line and stay big. So, it’s okay to put a fraction more on it to entice Roa from his line because if he comes out Kluivert has a much easier finish.
Much would transpire between that early play and the 89th minute and most of it was enthralling futbol.
Then came Frank de Boer’s fifty-plus yard pass from well inside Holland’s half to well inside Argentina’s penalty area. The ball was hit hard and high and seemed to fly forever. But its intended target was clear from liftoff. Bergkamp was tracking it the whole way as were three Argentine defenders and their goalkeeper.
Trapping the ball in mid-air, while on the run, with the inside of his right foot, Bergkamp brought the ball down with one touch, eluded his marker by touching the ball left, on the bounce, and, just as his marker flew past, and before the rushing Roa could claim his stance, Bergkamp stuck the ball with the outside of his right foot, almost like a tennis backhand, curling it into the top left corner of the goal. Golazo!
It took just two seconds of the 89th minute of that very tough game between two of the 1998 World Cup favorites for the match to be settled. Bergkamp’s decider was perhaps his finest goal—though others will argue his goal against Newcastle was better. Perhaps this one stands out because of its momentous aftermath—placing Holland into the semifinals of the World Cup at the expense of the team that had beaten them in the finals 20 years earlier. For the Dutch, it was a moment to savor. Reflecting later, Bergkamp himself would say “You’re in that moment, [and]. It’s like your [whole] life has led up to this moment.” He certainly thought that score was his most important goal.
The Dutch Master has never really gotten his due, as much because his brilliance was inconsistent as because he was rarely the best player on the bigger stages, but with this one masterful goal on the biggest of stages, he will be remembered for lifetimes to come.