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It’s Payback Time for Davids in Netherlands’ 2-1 Victory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Debt incurred, debt repaid.

“It’s simply a matter of quality,” Guus Hiddink said last month when he surprised almost everyone by including midfielder Edgar Davids on the Netherlands’ World Cup squad.

Davids, whose international career was considered over when he was sent home in disgrace from the 1996 European Championship in England, repaid his coach’s faith in full Monday night.

With the Dutch team’s second-round game against Yugoslavia poised to go into sudden-death overtime and the score tied, 1-1, Davids suddenly found himself with the ball at his feet 20 yards from goal and no defender nearby.

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His 90th-minute shot, low and accurate, deflected slightly off a Yugoslav player, but not enough to prevent the ball from crashing into the back of the net.

The goal set off a massive celebration among the Dutch fans at Le Municipal stadium in Toulouse.

Their relief was immeasurable. They knew just how close their team had come to being eliminated from the World Cup.

In fact, had Yugoslav striker Predrag Mijatovic not made a complete mess of his second-half penalty kick when the Dutch were reeling and in disarray, Yugoslavia would be looking forward to a quarterfinal match in Marseille on Saturday against the winner of today’s England-Argentina game.

Instead, Holland goes through and can now contemplate playing either Argentina, 3-1 overtime winner over the Dutch in the 1978 World Cup final in Buenos Aires, or England, which thrashed the Netherlands, 4-1, at Euro ’96--the same tournament from which Davids was banished for accusing Hiddink of favoritism in his team selection.

The 25-year-old Juventus midfielder, known as “Pit Bull” by his teammates, was modest about his game-winning goal.

“I was just doing my job,” he said. “I was cramping up, so it was all or nothing. I knew I would have had to come off if it had gone to extra time.”

A much-relieved Hiddink agreed.

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“I was thinking ahead to extra time and was going to take Davids off,” he said. “Thank God I didn’t.”

The Dutch dominated the first half, maintaining possession and controlling the pace of the game. Yugoslav Coach Slobodan Santrac’s tactic was to absorb all the pressure and hit the Netherlands on the counterattack.

“Our strategy in the first half was to calm the game down,” Santrac said. “In the second half we opened up more.”

The ploy worked well until Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp finally broke the deadlock in the 38th minute.

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Taking a 30-yard pass from Frank De Boer, Bergkamp bundled aside defender Zoran Mirkovic, who was tugging at his shirt, and fired a shot just inside the left post. Goalkeeper Ivica Kralj, who had made some fine saves to that point, could not stop the shot and the Dutch led, 1-0.

It was Bergkamp’s 35th goal for his country, tying the Dutch record.

The second half began spectacularly, with Yugoslavia tying the score after only three minutes.

After a foul by Dutch defender Michael Reiziger to the left of the net, Dragan Stojkovic sent a deep free kick to the far post, where Slobodan Komljenovic leaped unchallenged and powered a downward header into the Dutch net.

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Suddenly, Yugoslavia was in control and could have taken the lead three minutes later when Spanish referee Jose-Manuel Garcia Aranda spotted the world’s most expensive--and overrated--defender, Jaap Stam, holding Vladimir Jugovic back by his jersey.

But Mijatovic somehow crashed his 12-yard shot against the crossbar and a golden opportunity was wasted.

It was the first missed penalty shot at a World Cup in eight years, the last being Gianluca Vialli’s miss for Italy against the United States in 1990.

“I knew Mijatovic only reacts to what the goalkeeper does,” Hiddink said. “So I told [goalkeeper Edwin] Van Der Sar to wait as long as possible to confuse him. We were very lucky.”

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Mijatovic didn’t blame his white shoes. He blamed fate.

“Fate was against me,” he said. “It was the worst moment in my career. Van Der Sar has a big reach, so I decided to blast it.”

Fired up, the Yugoslavs gave as good as they got from then on, at least until the closing minutes, when they reverted to their defensive posture, hoping perhaps for overtime and a “golden goal” opportunity.

It was a mistake, and Davids made them pay for it dearly.

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At the same time repaying his debt to Hiddink.


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