My first intense soccer experience was watching the 1974 World Cup, when I fell in love with the Dutch team and then rooted for them after Yugoslavia was eliminated. Rensenbrink, the left wing, was my hero. My mother sewed two parallel lines on the back of an orange shirt, so that I could pretend to be Rob Rensenbrink. (Rensenbrink missed only two penalties in his entire career.) The other side of that process of loyalty acquisition was hating the West German team. I remember rooting for East Germany (DDR) against West Germany (BDR) in the game DDR won with a goal by the great Jürgen Sparwasser. I remember throwing myself on the floor when the dubious penalty for the West Germans was called against the Dutch and Paul Breitner—who was a socialist, mind you, and had posters of Mao and Che in his room in the hotel—scored.
And then there was the Dutch team of the eighties—Gullit, Koeman, Rijkaard, Van Basten. The elegance and intelligence of the Dutch was in sharp contrast with the Germans (Matthäus, Völler, Brehme, Klinsman) who were ugly, played ugly, and were considered to be mere machines—one of their regular players in the eighties was Hans-Peter Briegel, who had competed in decathlon. So when the Germans lost to the Dutch in the semifinals in ’88 I was very happy some justice was restored. The fact that Gullit had dreadlocks and that the Dutch team was multiracial, as oppossed to the Aryan purity of the German team, played a considerable role in perpetuation of my love for the Dutch. But then injustice was back in its place in 1990 when the Germans beat the Dutch in the quarter finals (2-1 again) in a game in which Rijkaard spat into the dreadful perm of Rudi Völler.
And then there was Bergkamp's sublime goal against Argentina in 1998 after a brilliant pass by Frank de Boer.
It had nothing to do with Germany but it did exhibit the spirit of the Dutch free-thinking brilliance, which was, always, the very opposite of what I used to perceive as German factory football.
All this is to explain my amazement that I find myself today rooting for the Germans. After the ignominy of the Dutch display in South Africa, which was very unlike the intelligent, creative way in which the Germans played (best exhibited by the demolition of the hapless English side), after the karate kick in the chest by de Jong, after the fact that the reigning leader of the squad is Van Bommel—who could not be more removed from the gracefulness of Rensenbrink, Van Basten, or Bergkamp—after all that, I will want Germany to win and, ideally, humiliate the Dutch, who will probaly be eliminated if they lose today. I will feel a bit sorry for Sneijder, who is a genius, but I will get over that. If the Dutch lose, Marwijk (who is Van Bommel's father-in-law) will resign, Van Bommel will retire from international football, and the hope that the Dutch will return to their traditional way of playing football will be restored.