KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Rob Rensenbrink, the winger who came within one inch and one minute of winning the World Cup against Argentina in 1978, has died at 72 in his native Netherlands.
Rensenbrink was a goal-scoring left winger for Holland and Belgian club Anderlecht in the 1970s, and a fixture in the Dutch ‘total football’ team who finished World Cup runners-up to the hosts both in West Germany in 1974 and again four years later in Buenos Aires.
He is the second member of the 1974 team, beaten 2-1 in Munich by West Germany, to die after captain Johan Cruff three years ago.
Rensenbrink, born in Jordaan in central Amsterdam, turned professional with then-successful DWS. He transferred to Belgian football with Brugge in 1969 and then, after two years and one cup win, to Anderlecht.
In Brussels he joined a ‘Dutch colony’ with goalkeeper Jan Ruiter, midfielder Arie Haan, winger Peter Ressel and centre-forward Jan Mulder who became a lifetime friend.
Soon Rensenbrink had established himself as the major star of the team who twice won both the European Cup-winners Cup and Supercup as well as two Belgian league titles and four domestic cups.
In 1976 he became only the second Dutch player, after Johan Boskamp 12 months earlier, to be voted Belgium’s footballer of the year.
Later he played in the United States with Portland Timbers in the original North American Soccer League before winding down his career in the French second division with Toulouse.
With the national team Rensenbrink maintained a tradition of outstanding left wingers set by Feyenoord’s Coen Moulijn and then Ajax’s Piet Keizer. The fact that coach Rinus Michels preferred Rensenbrink to Keizer, one of Ajax’s triple European club champions, says everything about his talent and eye for goal.
Rensenbrink scored 14 goals in 46 appearance for the Dutch between 1968 and 1979. One of those goals, against Scotland in 1978, was the 1,000th in the history of the World Cup. But both his World Cups ended unluckily.
In 1974 Rensenbrink was a doubt for the final because of a muscle strain. He started the game but was ineffective and had to be substituted at halftime. Four years later, with Argentina and Netherlands level at 1-1 in the River Plate stadium, he hit the post in the last minute . . . and Argentina went on to win 3-1 in extra time.
Years later Rensenbrink said: “In the Netherlands now people only know me from that shot against the post. That made me a national celebrity.
“I went back 25 years later, with Johan Neeskens, for a television programme and we stood by that post. But do you know what? Despite that moment I had much better feelings about 1978 than 1974.
“Then everything revolved around Cruyff. He often moved to the left so then I had to switch into the centre. In 1978 I played much better, I was allowed to take the penalties and scored five goals.
“Of course, how the final finished was a shame. That post, always that post. It will stay with me to my dying day.”
That day, for Rob Rensenbrink, surrounded by his family, was Friday.
** Pieter Robert Rensenbrink: born July 3, 1947, died January 24, 2020.