Now they will take on Argentina – the nation that denied them the World Cup in 1978.
Argentina were in that final thanks to an earlier 6-0 victory over Peru in a game in which Peru – a good team at the time – played inexplicably badly.
One of the Peru players told Channel 4 News in 2012 that his government had ordered the team to lose. During the match one of Peru’s best players was taken off. The suspicion was that the regime of Argentine dictator General Jorge Videla had fixed the result to achieve a home victory.
So a 2014 victory in their semi-final clash in Sao Paulo could help erase those memories too.
The Dutch king and queen have been in Brazil, supporting their national team.
Never mind that Queen Maxima is an Argentine by birth – she has made strenous efforts to integrate into her adopted land, learning Dutch and even apologising publicly for her father’s career as a minister under the dictatorship of General Videla.
Picture caption: “Meanwhile in Wassenaar… ” – the Dutch royal residence
Mild jokes about divided loyalties in the royal household have made it onto the internet, but currently among the Dutch, Queen Maxima is the most popular of all the royal family. Dutch journalist Wierd Duk told Channel 4 News the Dutch think of the former investment banker as an “international person”, rather than an Argentinian.
And so to the greatest Dutch rivalry of all.
If the Netherlands beat Argentina and make it to their fourth World Cup final they will be up against their neighbours Germany – who beat them in the 1974 World Cup final.
In the 1990s clashes between the national teams led to violence between rival fans in cross-border towns. Relations between the two countries was so bad that their governments set up a political commission to address the issue.
While the programme to change the image of Germany in the mind of the Dutch youth has been widely effective, according to Dutch journalist Wierd Duk, old traumas and wounds are bound to come up again. And he warns: “if they get through and then lose to Germany, this will be a national disaster”.