Euro 2024 comment: Sublime and the ridiculous - the story of England versus Netherlands

“WINNER takes all. Two great footballing nations battling for one place in the United States.”

Those prophetic words were delivered by the late, great Brian Moore as a seismic summit meeting got underway in the autumn of 1993 between England and the Netherlands – for the right to play in the 1994 World Cup finals.

Back then, the venue was Rotterdam’s iconic De Kuip Stadium where English club sides Aston Villa, Everton and Manchester United previously enjoyed continental success.

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On Wednesday night, the stage will be similarly venerated – three hours to the south east at the Westfalenstadion, home of Borussia Dortmund.

DO WE NOT LIKE THAT: England's David Platt is hauled down by Ronald Koeman in Rotterdam in October 1993, the Dutch captain avoided being sent off and then later scored to help deny England qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.DO WE NOT LIKE THAT: England's David Platt is hauled down by Ronald Koeman in Rotterdam in October 1993, the Dutch captain avoided being sent off and then later scored to help deny England qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.
DO WE NOT LIKE THAT: England's David Platt is hauled down by Ronald Koeman in Rotterdam in October 1993, the Dutch captain avoided being sent off and then later scored to help deny England qualifying for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Picture: Chris Cole/Getty Images.

This time, the Three Lions and Oranje jousting for a final spot in Berlin on Sunday. Winner takes all.

The history of meetings between these two, who have had pretensions to be European super-powers over the years without ever quite delivering – looking on enviously at others – has displayed elements of the sublime and ridiculous for both.

That aforementioned episode in Rotterdam definitely proved the latter for the English on a bitter night. At the centre of it was Dutch defender Ronald Koeman, who escaped a sending-off after cynically hauling down David Platt and then promptly sending England packing with a trademark free-kick.

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‘He’s going to flip it’ warned Moore in advance. And he did as then manager Graham Taylor was left to utter the expletives as opposed to ‘flipping heck’ as his reign ended painfully.

Threat: Netherlands striker Wout Weghorst celebrates scoring his team's second goal with teammates during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match against Poland in Hamburg.  Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.Threat: Netherlands striker Wout Weghorst celebrates scoring his team's second goal with teammates during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match against Poland in Hamburg.  Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.
Threat: Netherlands striker Wout Weghorst celebrates scoring his team's second goal with teammates during the UEFA EURO 2024 group stage match against Poland in Hamburg. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

Koeman just so happens to be in the manager’s seat this evening. He remains front and centre as does a German referee once again. In Rotterdam, it was Karl-Josef Assenmacher and tonight it is Felix Zwayer.

Herr Zwayer has upset an Englishman before, namely Jude Bellingham, who was fined for referencing the official’s previous ban for match-fixing after his then club Borussia Dortmund lost to Bayern Munich.

For England, the sublime against the Dutch has been unforgettable. A glorious SAS – Shearer and Sheringham – inspired 4-1 victory in Euro 96 was the high point of that football jamboree and arguably their best performance since ‘66 and all that.

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Unfortunately, they have been on the receiving end of Dutch magnificence as well.

BEST DAY: Alan Shearer scores from a penalty to open the scoring for England in their Euro 96 clash against Holland at Wembley - the hosts winning 4-1. Picture: Neil Munns/PABEST DAY: Alan Shearer scores from a penalty to open the scoring for England in their Euro 96 clash against Holland at Wembley - the hosts winning 4-1. Picture: Neil Munns/PA
BEST DAY: Alan Shearer scores from a penalty to open the scoring for England in their Euro 96 clash against Holland at Wembley - the hosts winning 4-1. Picture: Neil Munns/PA

Jan Peters struck twice as that legendary Total Football side of Johan Cruyff, Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink and co taught England a lesson on the hallowed turf in May 1977.

Oranje strolled to a 3-1 victory in the pair’s last competitive encounter in the Nations League semi-final in Guimaraes. The likes of Virgil Van Dijk, Memphis Depay and Denzel Dumfries remain from that side, with Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones and Declan Rice among the English starters that day.

And then there was the day in Dusseldorf in June 1988 that belonged to Marco van Basten.

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The top centre-forward of his generation before injuries intervened, the AC Milan forward had simply everything. He tortured Tony Adams and co en route to a magnificent hat-trick on Peter Shilton’s 100th appearance.

Holland’s recognised No 9 these days does not even start. Wout Weghorst, the closest thing to an international Plan B as it gets, remains a weapon.

England don’t possess anything similar and that could tip the scales slightly in the Dutch’s favour ahead of kick-off.

While England’s Harry Kane has struggled alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku, Weghorst and Germany’s Niclas Fullkrug have shown the effectiveness of throwing on ‘the big man from the bench.’

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In a tight looking game which assumes semi-derby status – with six Dutch players plying their trade in the Premier League and being well known to several in England jerseys – it could well boil down to one moment from a substitute. Or one refereeing decision or mistake.

The statistics suggest it will be tight. In 22 previous meetings between England and the Netherlands, the latter narrowly prevail with seven wins to six.

For the English, there is unfinished business after the heartbreaking finale of Euro 2020. The Dutch, meanwhile, are chasing a delicious encore. After success in Germany in 1988, history might repeat itself on the terrain of their fiercest rival.

To Dortmund then. And as two great football nations reconvene, just keep your fingers crossed that football is the winner.

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Back in December 1989, a scheduled Wembley meeting between the pair was postponed on Government advice due to the threat of hooliganism – the scourge of football on both sides of the North Sea in the Eighties and Nineties. Then in August 2011, another proposed ‘friendly’ game at the home of football was called off – this time due to the London riots.

Hopefully, the only riot this evening will be one of colour. Orange versus white. Side by side.