World Cup I Netherlands – Argentina I 1998: Dennis Bergkamp against Argentina, the story of an absolute god

A moment was enough. Just enough time to realize. Argentina had just beaten Australia by gritting their teeth (2-1). And to join the Netherlands, winners a little earlier from the United States (3-1), in the quarter-finals. The mere mention of a duel between the Albiceleste and the Oranje in the World Cup has this fabulous power. That of rocking football fans in unforgettable images. The oldest, or the madmen of nostalgia, could first evoke the masterclass of Johann Cruyff in 1974, or that of Mario Kempes in the “papelitos” of the Monumental in 1978. For those who are less so, and so many Others is a name eternally associated with a moment of pure grace that invariably comes first. Argentina – Netherlands is Dennis Bergkamp.

It is difficult to resist the temptation to pronounce it eight times. Like Jack van Gelder, on the verge of suffocation before the divine feat of the “Non-Flying Dutchman”, the one who didn’t fly because he couldn’t stand air travel. Of this goal, there also remains a sound. That of the commentator of NOS, the Dutch national television which broadcast this quarter-final of the 1998 World Cup. He had however already had the opportunity to shout before this 90th minute. An Argentina – Netherlands poster has the potential to unleash the most passionate from its kick-off. This one was no exception to the rule.

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The ideal setting

There was everything. A historic date, the 4th of July. A frenetic setting, Marseille. A sun-drenched, slightly windswept Velodrome, full as an egg. The noise and colors of a stadium crowded with the hottest colonies of supporters in the world, be they orange or sky-and-white. The ideal enclosure for a ball of suitors. Argentina and the Netherlands had the potential to claim the trophy. Talent at all levels, an offensive potential of fire, an ability to get out of the traps strewn on the road to the most coveted trophy. What the Dutch had proven in the previous round against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (2-1). Like the Argentinians against England by David Beckham and Michael Owen (2-2, 4-3 tab.).

It was a hell of a game. Actions in all directions for an ultra-spectacular first period, from the post of Wim Jonk (5th) to that of Ariel Ortega (38th). And genius, already. The delicious delivery of Dennis Bergkamp’s application for the subtle dive of Partick Kluivert on the opening of the Dutch score (12th). The trickster face-to-face won by Claudio Lopez against Edwin van der Sar on a luminous opening by Juan Sebastian Veron for the Argentine equalizer (17th). Then a second different period. There was indeed the post, again him, which still trembles on a missile from Gabriele Batistuta (63rd). But above all the tension, embodied by the expulsions of Arthur Numan for an attack on Diego Simeone (75th), and of little Ariel Ortega for a headbutt struck at the giant van der Sar (88th).

It’s all in the control

A multi-flavored cake. It was already delicious. But what about the cherry. An angel passed and time stopped at the last minute of regulation time. We can never emphasize enough the 60-meter crossbar perfectly executed by Frank de Boer. The sequel is steeped too deeply in memories in indelible ink. A weightless control from Bergkamp on the right of the Argentine surface, a small bridge passed to the great Roberto Ayala on the rebound of the ball, and this bewitching recovery from the outside of the right foot in the opposite corner. Then this iconic celebration of the oranje genius, hands on his face, back on the lawn, in disbelief at his feat before being overwhelmed by his teammates.

There were several gestures, each one achieved absolute perfection. We might have forgotten the control if the shot had not gone to the bottom. Then this control passed to posterity. Because it allows everything else, from the dribble on Ayala to that classic half-volley. “There are two optionstold Bergkamp for So Foot. The first, I let him bounce and I control him on the ground. It’s the easiest, but I risk ending up at the corner post. The second is to jump and try to pick it up in the air. You must remain as calm and still as possible, as if you were standing still… but in the air, and controlling the ball.”

The dream of a whole people

Bergkamp was a genius. With him, the impossible became easy. He had this unique ability proven time and time again, from his early days at Ajax to the height of his career at Arsenal. He signed other divine gestures which will continue to pass through the ages. But this one, in particular, has not finished inspiring past, present and future generations. “We grew up with it, even though I didn’t see this match liveexplained defender Nathan Aké, aged three at the time. This is also due to the fantastic commentary of the Dutch journalist (Jack van Gelder, editor’s note). This makes such a goal even more memorable. We also want to create such beautiful memories here.”

This is indeed the ultimate proof of this absolute divinity. That 24 years later, each actor present on Friday in the magical setting of Lusail dreams of making an impression as Bergkamp did on July 4, 1998. There are suitors. In the Dutch camp, with Memphis Depay, the man who is gaining momentum in the Netherlands’ attack line, or Cody Gakpo, the one who sublimated it in the group stage. Or in the Argentinian camp of Leo Messi. Engineering is his domain. But this dream is first of all that of a people, the football lovers of this planet. That of seeing a man transport them to another world, for a moment of pure grace. Like this Dutchman who did not fly, on this day marked with a white stone when he was familiar with the angels.

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