By Ian GriffithsFollow @@iangriffiths67
By Ian Griffiths Senior Editor
As soon as Holland's Ajax had defeated a resilient Inter Milan 2-0 in the 1972 European Cup final to rack up a second successive continental triumph - they would win a third in 1973 - the phrase Total Football became a byword for all that was good about the beautiful game.
Two goals from the legendary Johan Cruyff may well have dotted the I's and crossed the T's at Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium, but there can be little doubt that, amid media attention and global admiration galore, Ajax's splendid victory was - and probably always will be - far more than just a trophy winning display.
After all, on that emotional May night and in front of 61,000 spellbound spectators, the rampaging red and white shirts of Ajax had produced an exhilarating display, their brilliance an object lesson in how the sport should be played - a moment when Total Football proved there was more to life than the dour, defence-oriented brand peddled incessantly by the likes of Inter.
First conceived by former Ajax manager Jack Reynolds and then refined by the late great Rinus Michels, Totaalvoetbal (as the Dutch called it) was a wonderfully fluid system of play, a dynamic style that relied both on the creating of space and players being comfortable no matter where they happened to find themselves on the pitch.
With the bustling Cruyff at its very heart, Ajax's innovative approach saw the men from Amsterdam constantly searching for gaps, constantly probing the opposition whilst ensuring that each and every tactical role was filled, although not necessarily always by the same person.
"It (Total Football) was about making space, coming into space and organising space - like architecture on the football pitch," Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff once said.
"We discussed space the whole time. Cruyff always talked about where people should run, where they should stand and where they should not move," the defender added.
Buoyed by this flexible approach, not to mention a noteworthy campaign in which they had already beaten both Arsenal and Benfica, Ajax went into the final against Inter as marginal favourites, with many observers predicting that their movement and attacking verve would prove a bridge too far for the double European Cup winners who - as was their custom - were out to contain Stefan Kovacs's charges before seeking a winner in the game's final stages.
As the first half wore on, it seemed as if Inter's stifling tactics - known as catenaccio, the Italian for door-bolt - were on the brink of paying dividends.
Defending in numbers, Inter repelled everything Ajax could throw at them. If rearguard knowhow went walkabout, Lady Luck came to the southern Europeans' rescue. First the usually immaculate Giacinto Facchetti headed clumsily against his own post and then Ruud Kroll's vicious drive from distance also struck the woodwork with goalkeeper Ivano Bordon helpless.
Within three minutes of the restart however, Inter's resolute defence cracked. Flying full-back Wim Suurbier delivered a deep cross which Bordon could only divert into the path of an unmarked Cruyff who turned in an instant and finished with aplomb. 1-0.
Inter, winners in 1964 and 1965, rallied as they attempted to stay in a game Ajax were still controlling, but Heinz Stuy produced a fine save to deny Roberto Boninsegna grabbing an equaliser the balance of play would not have justified.
The contest was settled on 77 minutes. Crude defending earned Ajax a free-kick only yards from the Italians' penalty area. Cruyff leapt highest to meet Piet Keizer's set piece and power a thumping header past Bordon.
As the world continues to celebrate the day creativity triumphed over a blanket defence, the final word should perhaps go to sculptor and football fan Jeroen Henneman who perfectly summed up what the Total Football revolution meant to those smitten by the antics of Ajax's dream team.
"In the time of Cruyff, football suddenly was not about kicking each other's legs any more. There was something spiritual going on, which was perhaps to do with the sense of beauty that goes with football in Holland."
It's difficult not to agree.
Final, Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam, May 31, 1972, att 61,000
Ajax 2-0 Inter Milan
Ajax: Stuy, Suurbier, Blankenburg, Hulshoff, Krol; Neeskens, Haan, G.Mühren, Swart, Cruyff, Keizer
Inter Milan: Bordon, Burgnich, Facchetti, Bellugi, Oriali; Giubertoni (Bertini), Bedin, Frustalupi, Jair (Pellizarro), Mazzola, Boninsegna
Referee: Helles (France)