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Updated Monday June 26, 2000
Legend Cruyff made to eat humble pie
By Ian Chadband in Rotterdam

Johan Cruyff has rendered inestimable service to his country's footballing art down the years but nobody could have credited that it is in a role as a pantomime figure of fun that the old master is helping inspire the latest beautiful creations of the Dutch school.

At the back of the stand in Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium after Holland's 6-1 marmalising of Yugoslavia had suggested that all the doubters are in danger of being swept away by a great orange tidal wave, you could see banks of TV screens showing Holland's most famous talking head mouthing silently. Either that or else he was eating large helpings of invisible humble pie.

For throughout these Championships, the greatest to wear the orange had been muttering about the class of 2000 as if he were Fred Trueman's long-lost Dutch uncle.

The basis of his gripes seemed to be this; Edgar Davids was an ordinary player who never kept his mouth shut; Dennis Bergkamp had lost his creativity; and Phillip Cocu and Patrick Kluivert were simply not living up to their billing. All in all, then, a team which was being hyped out of all proportion, not a patch on the great outfits of 1974 and 1988.

Well, the squad had had enough. 'I'm not going to take him seriously any more. Must we always bow to the great Cruyff,' muttered Frank De Boer before the quarter-final, wondering if three straight wins could not silence their most illustrious critic, what could? At the end of 90 divine minutes though, their revenge, according to substitute goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, was sweet.

'Yeah, in the dressing room, we were making jokes about it,' reckoned the Liverpool 'keeper. 'A lot of people were making funny noises and pretending to be Johan Cruyff, saying 'oh, hey, we should have scored 12 goals not six!' All that criticism. Perhaps it works. It did today.'

Coach Frank Rijkaard, who has had Cruyff as a long-time admirer, was certainly not complaining about the intervention which has spurned the JC impersonation society. One might almost have suspected that he had been priming the legend to deliver his scathing criticisms to foster a team spirit which has been so famously absent in recent years.

Fair play to Cruyff, though. Of course, he was big enough to recognise that, this time, Rijkaard and his men had got it right. So spectacularly right, indeed, that he cannot have failed to be reminded of the days when, under Rinus Michels, he helped put into practice the concept of 'total' football.

Michels, amazed to see a team of Yugoslavia's technical competence utterly overrun, could only purr in his role of UEFA technical delegate last night. 'It was wonderful to see the game performed at such a high level,' he said.

Indeed, and it was those who had felt the sharpest barbs from Cruyff who were now receiving the bouquets. Kluivert, with his rush into history with four goals - a unique achievement in the history of these Championships - in the space of 30 minutes either side of half-time; Davids, at his pitbull finest, creating as much as he controlled; Cocu, exploding from his unfussy holding role with two blistering shots which struck the woodwork.

Then there was Bergkamp. It may have been Kluivert's night but the Arsenal man was the best player on the pitch, reckoned Cruyff. 'He did almost everything right. Always there on the ball, involved in the goals, so creative.'

The Dutch media too reckoned they had not seen Bergkamp come alive like this since another quarter-final two years ago in the World Cup when he netted that breathtaking winner against Argentina.

No longer predator but facilitator, his vision and touch was magnificent, from the moment he picked out Kluivert with a perfectly flighted pass for the first goal, to the minute he tormented the Yugoslav defence and whipped across the ball for Marc Overmars to volley home Holland's fifth.

Overmars, though asked to take on an unfamiliar role on the right flank, seemed to be lifted by his Arsenal pal's brilliance and completed the rout with his second goal in the dying seconds.

Holland seem irresistible. Only one worry. 'I don't know if we can play any better than that,' shrugged Kluivert. In Amsterdam in Thursday's semi, Italy may have to pray that they can't.

Bergkamp turns into Dutch master

Dennis Bergkamp, the subject of barbs from the Dutch media during Euro 2000, was again collecting the bouquets today after Holland's recordbreaking Euro 2000 triumph against Yugoslavia.

Though Patrick Kluivert was voted man-of-the-match for his unprecedented four goals in the 6-1 quarter-final annihilation of Yugoslavia in Rotterdam, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff hailed the Arsenal man as the 'best player on the pitch'.

Cruyff had been among the critics who had questioned whether Bergkamp had lost his way in what seems certain to be his farewell tournament for Holland but he was left raving about a 'marvellous' performance from Bergkamp.

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