Epic rivals reunite in Sao Paulo
Having settled it like no one else could, Dennis Bergkamp summed it up like no one else could.
"You're in that moment," the former Netherlands No. 10 told UK magazine The Blizzard.
"That moment," of course, was the goal; his historic and hysterically excellent strike in the Netherlands' 2-1 victory over Argentina in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals.
"That's the feeling," Bergkamp enthused. "After the first two touches, that moment! You give absolutely everything. It's like your life has led up this moment.
"You never play the perfect game. But the moment itself was, I think, perfect."
It's certainly difficult to dispute.
Consider the dimensions, and not just of Frank de Boer's supremely flighted long-range diagonal pass to find Bergkamp in the first place. That came in the last minute of a match in which both sides were dramatically reduced to 10 men but all had given 100 percent.
Somehow, Bergkamp still had more to offer.
He provided a finesse that transcended such figures, that went beyond normal descriptions. It went beyond normal talent.
Sprinting at almost full pace, the forward still had the awareness and precision to kill the ball with one touch, take Roberto Ayala completely out of the picture with the next, and then deliver the deftest of finishes.
The economy of touch and space were the inverse of the outlandish excellence.
Rarely has one moment seen such a maximisation of talent in such minimalist circumstances. Rarely has one action so defined and reflected a single player's entire career. Rarely has such a high-profile and brilliant match seen such an appropriate crescendo.
Speaking on the eve of the latest rematch between the Netherlands and Argentina, on the even more elevated World Cup stage of the semifinals, Javier Mascherano recalled his emotions.
The midfielder, who was 14 at the time, can remember exactly where he was, but then few could forget it.
"I was at home watching it on television and I was just as disappointed as everyone else."
Well, everyone else who was Argentinean, that is.
The rest of the football-watching world couldn't help being uplifted, even elated. It has also been something of a theme of this fixture. If Bergkamp is right and there is no "perfect game," these two countries possibly provide the perfect knockout pairing.
Showdown in Sao Paulo
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- McIntyre: Argentina's defense rising to occasion
- Delaney: Old foes reunite in Argentina vs. Netherlands
- McIntyre: Superstars collide in Messi vs. Robben
- FC TV: What tactics will Van Gaal employ?
- Marcotti: Previewing the World Cup semifinals
- FC TV: Van Persie's fitness in questions
- Ames: Gamesmanship alive and well
Although the rivalries of Argentina-England and Italy-Germany can stand alongside it, very few other fixtures have fostered such a concentration of quality and combination of so many different dramatic elements over the span of so many years.
Even their first match, a 4-0 Dutch win in the 1974 second group stage, heralded the full rise of Rinus Michels' Total Football team.
Since then, two knockout matches -- the 1978 final (a 3-1 win for Argentina) and the 1998 quarterfinal -- have raised the pulse.
Those games saw relentless action, attacking football, star players making defining statements, so many individual moments of brilliance, historic teams coming together, an awful lot of controversy and barely believable climaxes. It says so much that both of those games came down to the final minutes and the tightest of margins.
The 1978 final, in Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires, was played under the most oppressive of circumstances.
Given the political situation in Argentina at the time, it almost seems trivial to discuss a football match in that context, but the influence of the military regime undeniably conditioned some of this match.
The Argentine squad were themselves under huge pressure, but also subjected Italian referee Sergio Gonella to some.
The home squad complained about an arm cast worn by Rene van der Kerkhof, which led to immediate reactions from the Dutch and threats to walk off. The situation was eventually resolved, but the game kicked off late and led to an atmosphere that the Netherlands camp later described as "boiling."
That could be seen all too quickly, as brutal tackles began to fly in.
The tournament's outstanding player, Mario Kempes, still kept his cool as he hit his fifth goal of the World Cup to give Argentina a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute before Dirk Nanninga hit an equaliser at the 82nd minute. Kempes would then hit the effective winner 15 minutes into extra time before Daniel Bertoni rounded things off.
The ticker tape fell at the Estadio Monumental and the World Cup had one of its most evocative sights, but it could have all gone so differently.
After Nanninga's leveler, at the 90th minute, his teammate Rob Rensenbrink was presented with the chance for the winner. It rolled against the post.
"If the trajectory of my shot had been five centimetres different, we would have been world champions," Rensenbrink told David Winner for the book "Brilliant Orange" years later.
"On top of that, I would have been crowned top scorer and perhaps chosen as the best player of the tournament -- all in the same match. That's why I keep things in perspective."
Bergkamp certainly displayed perspective 20 years later, as that quarterfinal worked out so differently. It could also have gone in a rather different direction, as the Netherlands' 2-1 victory remains one of the great World Cup games of the modern era.
It was not just its unpredictable and immensely entertaining pattern. It was the high tempo and quality at which it was all played out.
Wim Jonk set a certain standard with a brilliant snap shot early on. It may have hit the post, but the bar was raised.
Bergkamp himself then foreshadowed what was to come with a gorgeous cushioned header to set up Patrick Kluivert's sharp opening goal, then Claudio Lopez played poker with Edwin van der Sar before finishing just as excellently.
From there, the game flowed, multiple chances were created, two players were sent off. Arthur Numan received a second booking, Ariel Ortega was red-carded for head-butting van der Sar. The game still hadn't reached its true boiling point.
Bergkamp would raise the temperature. This is what the match in Sao Paulo has to live up to. At least the fixture has perfect form.
Miguel Delaney covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MiguelDelaney.