The Netherlands were not a team to be perturbed by torrential rain – two years before at the FIFA World Cup they had beaten Argentina 4-0 in a downpour – but Czechoslovakia undid all their best-laid plans with a 3-1 win after extra time in an inclement Zagreb.
For all their reputation as a team of many talents, the Dutch, orchestrated by the marvellous Johan Cruyff, were never slow to fight for their right to play. Against holders Brazil in the World Cup, for example, they had shown a gritty edge. Here, however, reduced to nine men following the dismissals of Johan Neeskens and Wim van Hanegem, they eventually ran out of steam.
Though Jaroslav Pollák's red card had meant the Czechs were themselves down to ten by the time of Neeskens' sending-off, they were also a goal to the good at the time.
Matching the Dutch tactically and keeping Cruyff and Van Hanegem at arm's length, they had deservedly taken the lead midway through the first half. Antonín Panenka swept in a free-kick from the left which was missed by three Dutchmen and headed in by Anton Ondruš, a big dark-haired sweeper who often stepped out of defence as effectively if not as stylishly as Franz Beckenbauer.
Two minutes later Piet Schrijvers came sloshing off his line to block Marián Masný when Karol Dobiaš put him clean through a square defence. With time running out Ondruš made his next contribution by volleying a Ruud Geels cross into his own net – but the Oranje's troubles were just beginning. Neeskens saw red three minutes later while Cruyff, shown his second yellow card of the competition, knew he would be out of the final if the Dutch reached it. Some of their spirit may have drained away with his.
They were all but down and out nine minutes into the second half of extra time, František Veselý's long cross headed in at the far post by an unmarked Zdeněk Nehoda. With Van Hanegem subsequently sent off, Veselý ran through and went round the keeper to add a third and send the Czechs into the final.