The World Cup final defeat of 1974 still provides a searing pain in the heart of Dutch football. It was the day that Rinus Michels' 'total football' philosophy, spearheaded by the talismanic Johann Cruyff, was defeated by a ruthless Germany team and the poaching instinct of the prolific Gerd Muller.
"The best team never to win the World Cup" is a label often handed to that Netherlands side, but rather than inspiring future success, the defeat seemed to strike a blow to the Dutch psyche - the reverberations of which can still be seen today.
Four years after the 1974 heartache, they lost in the final again, this time to Argentina, and aside from a Marco van Basten-inspired victory at the 1988 European Championships, the Netherlands have undoubtedly been a nation characterised by underachievement.
Teams packed full of talent - the De Boer brothers, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert et al - have come and gone, with defeat to Brazil in the 1998 World Cup semi-finals the closest they have come to eradicating the nightmares of '74 and '78.
Now, 36 years after Muller shattered Dutch dreams and 22 years since they lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy, the Oranje enter the World Cup finals in their customary position - as one of the contenders to lift the holy grail that has thus far eluded them.
At Euro 2008, impressive 3-0 and 4-1 victories over reigning world champions Italy and France respectively led many to believe the duck would finally be broken, but the Netherlands then went crashing out at the hands of Guus Hiddink's Russia.
Dutch legend Ruud Gullit, who scored the opener in the 1988 European Championship final triumph against the USSR and also coined the phrase "sexy football", believes that to make an impact in South Africa, the Netherlands may have to sacrifice style for substance and abandon their traditional 'total football' approach.
"I have my doubts about whether Holland can win it, simply because we need to play well in all the games," he said. "The opposition seem to have sussed us out at the last few tournaments, which makes it difficult to play our game, but I hope we will do well. There is a great possibility to get through our group but it's going to be hard. I always hope that, when we get through our group, we can win games ugly - that would be a turning point."
Bert van Marwijk is the man charged with leading the Netherlands to their first World Cup triumph this summer after taking over from Van Basten following another Dutch anti-climax at Euro 2008. Having masterminded a perfect qualifying campaign - the Dutch won all eight games, scoring 17 goals and conceding just three - expectation in the Netherlands has again reached fever pitch.
But after watching former AC Milan and Netherlands' team-mates Frank Rijkaard and Van Basten fall on their swords after failing to lead the Oranje to glory, Gullit believes the national team job is one of the toughest in football - though he admitted it is still one that would tempt him back into management after unsuccessful spells at Feyenoord and LA Galaxy.
"The Netherlands national team job is one of the hardest in football - everybody thinks they are a coach and everybody knows better than you. There is a lot of pressure to play football in a certain way and sometimes it's difficult to play that sort of football all the time and win.
"But, still, that it is the highest goal you can have and of course I would take the job in the future. I've had offers in club management but I'm happy with things at the moment. [It depends] if I get the right offer - and that doesn't have to mean a big team. It has to synchronise with family circumstances, too."
Another man keen to be involved in national team proceedings again is 33-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy, who moved from Real Madrid to Bundesliga side to Hamburg in a bid to prove his form and fitness ahead of the World Cup.
Van Nistelrooy currently sits in fourth place on the Netherlands' all-time scoring list, seven goals behind Kluivert at the top. But having played 15 matches fewer and with a goals-to-game ratio of one in every two appearances, he certainly has a chance to break that record.
Gullit, who netted 16 times in 66 appearances for the Netherlands, admitted that an in-form Van Nistelrooy would be a valuable addition to the squad, but insisted he must prove his worth at Hamburg.
"At the moment, I am sceptical - not because I don't think he is a good player, he's a great player, but when he came back for Real Madrid, he picked up another injury and I think he's very vulnerable at the moment. But he will play [at Hamburg] and I hope he can show us that he still has it because having him at the World Cup would certainly make us a stronger team."
Another Dutch player plying his trade at Hamburg is tricky winger Eljero Elia, who has set the Bundesliga alight with some fine performances, building on the outstanding 2008-09 season that earned his move from FC Twente, which saw Elia win the Johan Cruyff Prijs for Dutch Young Player of the Year.
And with Arjen Robben - who won the same award in 2003 - struggling for fitness this season, Gullit believes 22-year-old Elia is a ready-made replacement for the Bayern Munich winger and that he could also help Van Nistelrooy's World Cup ambitions.
"We have Robben, who is extremely fragile, so to also have someone like Elia who can come in is a huge bonus. He's been playing very well of late. First and foremost, I want to see Van Nistelrooy playing regularly, as I think that will give us a better view of what he can bring to the national team.
"But if he and Elia get a feel for each other at club level, it will only benefit the national team. Huntelaar is the same - he and Van Nistelrooy are two strikers with a proven goalscoring pedigree who aren't playing regularly."
It is Inter Milan midfielder Wesley Sneijder who Gullit picks out as the key to the pursuit of World Cup glory, but he is more interested in how some of the world's supposed 'superstars' will cope with the pressure of playing on the biggest stage of them all.
"I am looking forward to seeing how the great players - the Ronaldos, Rooneys and Messis - come out of a tough league season with their clubs and perform to the best of their ability at the World Cup. I am curious to see how they cope - and don't be surprised if someone like Messi, who will play 60 games with Barcelona, can't reproduce his form at the finals."
Having worked in Zambia and South Africa on the Barclays Spaces for Sports initiative, Gullit believes the excitement on the continent ahead of the finals is clear, and reckons that the fanatical support could help inspire an African success story this summer.
"It is a possibility for Africa to show itself in a different way apart from HIV, civil wars, refugee camps and things like that. For South Africa, it's important, it's enormous to show itself in a way that nobody knows. I believe the people are ready for the World Cup. Whether the infrastructure is ready to function or not, I have no clue, but I think everything will go okay.
"The motivation for the African teams is clear for all to see. It feels like home soil for those teams and I believe that they could spring some surprises. This is a World Cup not just for South Africa, but for the continent. They know how special it will be."
Ruud Gullit was speaking following a survey into great moments of sportsmanship by Barclays Spaces for Sports, a community sports programme which revitalises disadvantaged communities and tackles key social issues around the world - www.barclays.com/community/spacesforsports