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13th Jun 2018

World Cup Moments: Dennis Bergkamp’s perfect first touch helps sink Argentina

It was a touch which set up one of the all-time great World Cup goals

Simon Lloyd

Dennis Bergkamp was a master of the first touch

There’s no need to reel off the countless examples here – we’ve all seen the compilation videos doing the rounds on social media at some point. Instead, let’s focus on just one: the day he plucked the ball from the Marseille sky and went on to score one of the great World Cup goals.

Brilliant goals have a knack of making you forget almost everything else that happened in the particular game in which they were scored. In the case of what Bergkamp did in the 90th minute of the 1998 quarter-final between Netherlands and Argentina, this is mostly true.

From his point of view, it’s probably just as well, too. For much of that afternoon, Bergkamp was lousy – a point that (rightly) nobody seems to remember nor care about now.

Bergkamp’s other notable contribution to the day had come early – a perfectly cushioned header into the path of Patrick Kluivert which allowed the Dutch to take an early lead. Sandwiched between this and his last-gasp brilliance, he’d cut an isolated figure, struggling to have any impact.

Minutes after Kluivert’s opener he lost possession on halfway. Two passes later Claudio López slotted the ball between the legs of Edwin van der Sar for Argentina’s equaliser.

As the second half ticked away towards extra-time, Argentina briefly seemed to have an advantage when Arthur Numan was shown a second yellow card with 15 minutes remaining. It barely lasted. Ten minutes later, Ariel Ortega went down theatrically in the penalty area, anticipating contact from Jaap Stam’s outstretched leg. No penalty awarded, Ortega headbutted Van der Sar as he climbed back to his feet, enough for him to be shown a straight red.

And so back to Bergkamp, and the moment most of us do remember from that day with almost crystal clarity.

This had been a sweltering early July afternoon in Provence, but as Frank De Boer lofted the ball deep into the Argentine half, the sun was starting to dip. There was Bergkamp, following the line of shadow cast onto the Stade Velodrome pitch by its only covered stand. Not quite in the penalty area, he leapt off his left foot, watching the ball intently onto his right and bringing it under his spell just inside the box.

The touch was flawless: not just because of the distance the ball had travelled to reach him or the technical difficulty usually associated with attempting to control a ball dropping over one’s shoulder, but because it made what followed possible.

It had shown just enough to entice Roberto Ayala – the one man between Bergkamp and a shot on Carlos Roa’s goal – into a challenge. This was precisely what Bergkamp wanted; all part of his plan.

As the defender lunged, he slipped the ball behind him with a second touch. The hard work done, all that remained was the finish. With the outside of his right boot, he steered the ball high into Roa’s goal, sending the orange bank of Dutch supporters behind the goal into wild celebration.

Oddly, it can be argued that this, as brilliant as it was, wasn’t Bergkamp’s best ever goal. Context though, is important. That this was done in the dying embers of a hot, energy-sapping World Cup quarter-final just adds to its brilliance. Undoubtedly, it’s a goal nobody forgets.