No.17: Bergkamp Magic Downs Argentina (France, 1998)
There are certain moments when watching soccer that become etched into your memory. For me, Dennis Bergkamp’s marvelous goal in the 1998 World Cup is one of them.
Already in this feature we’ve spoken of the marvelous Dutch teams of the past, and how their “Total Football” approach captured the imagination of the watching world. But this goal wasn’t quite from that particular blue print—of short passing, slow build up—quite the opposite, in fact.
The Dutch side in 1998 was bristling with vibrancy. Not only was Bergkamp at his majestic best, but players such as Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, Ronald De Boer and Frank De Boer were also at their peak.
They’d blown hot and cold at the 1998 World Cup. They player out a 0-0 and a 2-2 against Belgium and Mexico in their first and last group games respectively, but those results sandwiched a 5-0 trouncing of South Korea. Nonetheless, despite their inconsistencies, there was a genuine belief amongst the Oranje faithful that this team could turn over anybody when it all came together.
That belief was fueled further after the Dutch beat Yugoslavia 2-1 in the last-16, setting up a mouthwatering clash with Argentina in the quarter-final.
A barnstorming start saw goals from Patrick Kluivert and Claudio Lopez make the score 1-1, but neither team were able to establish a foothold in the game, as a tight contest ensued. The Dutch were staring down the barrel when Arthur Numan was red carded late on, but Argentina’s Ariel Ortega soon made it 10-a-side, as he inexplicably lost his cool and butted Edwin van der Sar.
Naturally, there was a volatile atmosphere in amongst the crowd and between the player. But one man kept his cool: the iceman Bergkamp. With the game destined for extra-time, Frank De Boer smashed a swirling diagonal ball forward into the Argentina area.
What happened next?
As is the case with Fabio Grosso’s goal for Italy, the outpouring of emotion from the Dutch commentator just makes this one all the more special. The Dutch would eventually crash out of the competition in the semi-finals, losing on penalties to Brazil.
Bergkamp’s goal is an emphatic indication of the technical wizardry he had in his boots. He described the strike as “my top goal” with an interview with FourFourTwo—some accolade when you consider the calibre of goals he has scored in his career—and explained how he constructed the goal against the Albiceleste, per Mark Lomas of ESPNfc.com:
How did I do it? First, there’s eye contact with Frank de Boer — he’s going to give the ball. Then: sprint away, get six yards away from the defender. The ball is coming over my shoulder. I run in a straight line, jump up to meet the ball, kill it dead.
The second touch turns inside, to make sure [Roberto] Ayala is gone, and get a better angle on goal. I aim for the far post and let it curve in. After the second touch I know this can’t go wrong. No chance! You give absolutely everything, like your life is leading up to this moment.
Well Dennis, when you put it in such simple terms, it all sounds rather easy!
Find out the top 25 most exciting World Cup moments.
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