Euro 2024: Dutch show glimpses of Total Football in charge to quarterfinal (2024)

It was gorgeously simple football — the hardest thing there is, to reproduce Johan Cruyff. From the Dutch side of the centre circle, Jerdy Schouten rolled a pass to Xavi Simons. A pass with neither power nor pace, but it immaculately split two Romanian shirts, the referee and found Xavi Simons in the space.

The playmaker cushioned the ball on his left instep, spun to his right, took a couple touches, and released Cody Gakpo, ferreting on the left flank. He cut away, then cut in, leaving his marker in the wake, took a touch to gather himself and slammed the ball net-wards, a low and ferocious shot inside goalkeeper Florin Nita’s near post.

It was a throwback goal from a throwback display, bursting with a blend of flair and finesse (except in front of the goal), pace and precision, transporting for a moment or two to the heady 90s of Dutch football, with those highly-skilled artistes of self-destruction. At first, the goal was a three-man orchestra. But the replays would insist that more men were involved. While the men on the left made the goal happen, the ones on the right helped make the goal happen with delightful movement off the ball and scattering the defenders’ attention.

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The moment Schouten passed the ball to Simons, right-back Denzel Dumfries hared down his flank, forcing Romanian left-back Vasile Mogos to attend him. This, in turn furnished left winger Steven Bergwijn the space to veer towards the centre of the box, like a No.10. There was already the heavily marked Memphis Depay sniffing near the goalkeeper. The Dutch seemed to possess numerical advantage, though it was an illusion caused by their positional superiority.

Freeze frame the moment Gakpo was to pull the trigger, you could see Bergwijn in a chasm of space. The goal, thus, was more total football than it first came across, involving Cruyffian principles of positional rotation, creating an extra man and winning one-on-ones. Not every move though was from the manual of Total Football, but there were shades that would have delighted its inventors.

At least, this was a lively, at times breathtaking, performance unlike the group games. So much so that a scribe told manager Ronald Koeman that Cruyff would have cried had he watched them surrender to Austria. He gave a pragmatic answer. “I know he liked attacking football very much, but I was a part of his team for a long time and we had worse matches than we did against Austria. Of course, we are a proud nation; we like to win, we like to play nice football, but it’s not always (going to) happen.”

This was not an outpour a lone defeat brought, but a reaction to the dreary football of Dutch for the best part of a decade. Before the Euros, a newspaper ran the headline “Total Non-football”. He was accused of favouritism and “lack of ideas.”

Attacking football, though, finally happened. Just at the right time, when the business-end is winking.

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From the start, they rediscovered the verve. The movements were sharp, the transitions smoother, passing pinpoint, communication improved and pressing more relentless. A few tweaks to the forward line helped. For the first time in the tournament Bergwijn started on the right wing and the return of Dumfries enhanced their threat on this side. The right-sided combo wreaked havoc on the Romanian defence. Dumfries, all verve, presses high, makes quick overlapping runs.

Consequently, Bergwijn slides in and effectively becomes a No.10. He has twinkling feet to wriggle out of tight spaces and maximise half spaces, which makes the perfect bill to unlock low blocks. All the goals came through the left-side, but the industry on the right-side contributed too.

But the masterstroke was slotting the forward Simons into a deeper role. Just 21, he is prone to stray lapses, but he’s the most inventive creator at Koeman’s disposal. A versatile forward, capable of playing on the wings as well as false 9 or No 10, he conducted the orchestra with the maturity of a seasoned maestro.

Vision and quick thinking

Both goals originated from his vision and quick thinking. His link-up play with Gakpo was reminiscent of Arjen Robben-Wesley Sneijder tangos, albeit on the opposite wing. But for over-enthusiasm in front of the goal, he could have made his presence in the scoring sheet too. “I thought he was absolutely the best. Tremendous in his positioning, his drive, how aggressively he wins the ball,” Koeman said.

If he is the pulse, Gakpo is the punch. A German newspaper called his goal Turbo-To, translated as turbo hit. The shot clocked 125 kph; a low-flung bullet. His swift cutbacks, like the swipe of a sharp knife, leaves the defender clasping his boot in air. Amplifying his complexity to the full backs, he is a right-footed player operating on the left.

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In his classical move, he picks up the ball on his right flank, feigns to go down towards the byline, then cuts inside and scores. Sometimes he would score at the near post and sometimes he would take a few more steps inside the penalty area, or just outside it, and score at the far post. Sometimes he would shoot low and sometimes he would shoot high. The left-flank Robben. “His starting position is on the left side because he is really dangerous if he comes one against one with the right full-back,” Koeman would say.

The manager would elaborate his qualities. “He can go inside, outside, he has his qualities, he’s strong. He’s playing at a great level this tournament, maybe the most important player until now. I hope that the rest can come to that level,” he said about the joint top-scorer of the tournament with three goals.

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His accuracy has improved. Of his 11 shots, seven were on target, three resulted in goals too. He creates goals too, like when he tiptoed on the byline and threaded a pass in tight space for Donyell Malen to score. The latter coming off the bench showed his goals-scoring knack with a brace, the second the end product of a frenetic run, wherein he chopped inside two defenders to unleash his thunderbolt.

That they managed 23 attempts in the game reflects their attacking mindset, though just seven shots were on target and three that found the net’s back exposes their sloppy finishing (seven off 64 in the whole tournament). If their forwards could tick that box, the Dutch could whirr into serious title contenders, and a chip off the old Total Football block.

Euro 2024: Dutch show glimpses of Total Football in charge to quarterfinal (2024)

FAQs

What is total football in Dutch? ›

Total Football (Dutch: totaalvoetbal) is a tactical system in association football in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. A player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team's intended organisational structure.

How good are the Dutch at football? ›

The Netherlands has competed in eleven FIFA World Cups, appearing in the final three times (in 1974, 1978 and 2010). They finished runners-up on all three occasions. They have also appeared in eleven UEFA European Championships, winning the 1988 tournament in West Germany.

What are the requirements for Total Football? ›

The Total Football APK for Android takes up 855 MB. That said, to play the game, you'll need more than 1 GB of free storage on your device in order to download possible patches and additional data.

What is the Total Football method? ›

Instead of players rigidly adhering to specific roles, Total Football encouraged players to seamlessly interchange positions, ensuring that each player could perform effectively in multiple positions. This vision was built on a foundation of relentless pressing, possession-based football, and constant movement.

Who is the biggest rivalry in Dutch football? ›

De Klassieker (The Classic) is the main football rivalry of the Netherlands, between Ajax (of Amsterdam) and Feyenoord (of Rotterdam). The record attendance was on 9 January 1966, when 65,562 watched in Rotterdam. Duration: 1 minute and 16 seconds. 1:16 1937 Klassieker.

Is tiki taka Total Football? ›

Tiki-taka diverged from its Total Football roots by subordinating everything to the pass: Guardiola played a centre-forward as a false nine to keep the ball moving fluidly from different angles; he played the full-backs higher; he selected midfielders in defence to exploit their passing ability; and he forced the ...

What is football called in Netherlands? ›

Name by Nation
CountryWhat It Is CalledNotes
Netherlands / Hollandvoetbal
Netherlands Antillesvoetbal
New Caledoniafootball
New Zealandsoccer and footballthere has been a recent shift in usage from soccer to football
208 more rows

What are the 4 components of Total Football? ›

Ted Lasso's 4 things to make Total Fútbol work: 1) Conditioning; 2) Versatility; 3) Awareness; 4) #believe Love this show so much.

Does anyone still use Total Football? ›

Today, total football is history. It passed away, perhaps, when Holland lost the 1974 World Cup final to West Germany. Or when zonal defense became the norm, when defenders started worrying more about pitch physics than marking a single man.

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