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Author: Joe Ritchie
• Thursday, July 08th, 2010

Photograph by Rachel Gadson

There you have it. A World Cup of historical firsts, flashbacks, some superlatives and its fair share of miscues — officiating! — is drawing to an end.

Hardly anyone would argue that it hasn’t been an overwhelming success, this first African World Cup. Sparkling stadiums and busy fan parks have been filled with enthusiastic locals and satisfied foreign visitors, who often have been overwhelmed by the genuine hospitality of South Africans of all hues of the celebrated national rainbow.

A reality check may be in order on this front, as ominous headlines are appearing in South African headlines of late warning of an imminent resurgence of nasty attacks on immigrants, especially, but not exclusively on those from neighboring Zimbabwe.

But though it is essential not to ignore or lose sight of that prospect, attention has not yet drifted from the World Cup, and for now, that will remain the focus here.

One of the firsts of the 2010 World Cup is that for the first time ever, it is guaranteed that a European team will win the cup outside Europe.

For a while, it appeared the matchup could pit the Netherlands against Germany, which would have afforded the Dutch an opportunity to avenge the defeat of the magnificent 1974 bunch led by Johan Cruyff who lost to their West German hosts in Munich. Many Dutch wanted that pairing, or at least one with Argentina, which beat an only slightly less gifted Dutch team in 1978, again as a host nation.

This year the Dutch can shake their always-a-bridesmaid image on neutral turf against a very appropriate foe: Spain.

For it’s one thing to take a rivalry back 32 or even 36 years. But how about going back to the 17th century?

When they are not drowned out by the blare of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas echoing through the arena, the Dutch are notably some of the best singers in soccer fandom. In the heyday of the “Clockwork Orange” Dutch total football machine of the 1970s, one of the more popular victory songs was this little schoolkids’ ditty:

Piet Heyn, Piet Heyn, zijn naam was klein, maar zijn daden waren groot. Hij heeft gewonnen, gewonnen de Zilvervloot.

(Piet Heyn, his name was small, but his deeds were great. He has defeated the Silver Fleet.)

The Silver Fleet. A song about a naval battle off the coast of Cuba in 1628. Usually in sonorous, umpteen-part harmony like only the Dutch can muster. And the word “gewonnen” (won) was sung with special relish.

Oh, by the way, that Silver Fleet Admiral Heyn captured was a Spanish one, of course. The Dutch seem to have a knack for tweaking Spanish sensibilities in ways that aren’t always so obvious. Take Johan Cruyff, for instance. The superstar took his magic act to Barcelona and virtually adopted the persona of a Catalonian — a denizen of that fiercely independent region that feels as much at home inside Spain as, say, Biloxi might feel inside Connecticut. He even named his son Jordi — as Catalan as it gets — as if to slap Generalissimo Franco (he was still Spain’s dictator at the time) smack in the face.

What does it all mean? Will the Spanish get their booty back? Or will the Dutch get to sing “Zilvervloot” again and down out those vuvuzelas with a victory song? On paper, it’s a pretty even match, but there seems to be a tinge of orange destiny in the air. Don’t bet against Piet Heyn.

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