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Netherlands leads tribute to icon Cruyff

Netherlands to hold Cruyff tribute during France friendly.

Netherlands to hold Cruyff tribute during France friendly.

AMSTERDAM, March 25 – The Netherlands led global tributes to football legend Johan Cruyff and was to halt their international against France on Friday in the 14th minute in a powerful silent hommage to the Dutch master.

Pictures of Cruyff in his familiar 14 shirt playing for Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona covered front pages around the world following his death on Thursday from lung cancer.

Fans have flocked to the Cruyff statue in his home city of Amsterdam to leave flowers, portraits and footballs honouring the Total Football innovator who died in Barcelona at the age of 68.

The ArenaA stadium and his family’s home in the city also became a draw for football pilgrims.

The Netherlands v France friendly international will be halted in the 14th minute for one minute of silence — the first time such a gesture has been made during an international.

At a number of international games on Thursday, a minute’s silence was held in Cruyff’s honour. A friendly between Feyenoord and Sparta in Rotterdam was halted in the 14th minute for a minute’s applause.

“We have lost our best soccer player ever, our number 14 and our football friend. We are devastated by Johan’s death, he brought Dutch football to greater heights,” said Dutch Football Association president Michael van Praag.

“Dutch Master” said the popular Dutch tabloid Algemeen Dagblad with a picture of a young Cruyff in full flight in the Ajax Amsterdam colours.

“Immortal” said De Telegraaf daily which carried a picture of Cruyff, taken from behind featuring his famous Number 14 jersey.

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“Heaven has a new playmaker,” headlined the British tabloid, The Sun.

In Spain, the El Pais daily said “football has lost its great revolutionary”.

A one-time heavy smoker who gave up after double heart by-pass surgery in 1991, Cruyff revealed in October last year that he had lung cancer.

Cruyff “died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard-fought battle with cancer”, said a family statement.

Cruyff won three European Cups as a player with Ajax Amsterdam and Ballon d’Or titles in 1971 with Ajax and 1973 and 1974 with Barcelona, where he starred from 1973 to 1978.

As a coach, Cruyff led Barcelona to their first European Cup title in 1992.

Football greats around the world paid individual tributes to Cruyff and his dazzling football artistry.

“We have lost a great man. May we carry on his example of excellence,” said Brazil’s Pele.

“Johan Cruyff was a great player and coach. He leaves a very important legacy for our family of football.”

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“He was the best player of all time,” French legend Michel Platini told AFP. “I have lost a friend, the world has lost a great man. I admired him.”

“Between two drags on his cigarettes, he always spoke of the young, coaching, and education through football,” Platini, the UEFA president now suspended from football, added.

– Fans campaign for name change –

“We will never forget you skinny,” said Maradona in his tribute.

Franz Beckenbauer, who captained Germany when they beat the Netherlands in Cruyff’s only World Cup final in 1974, said: “He was not only a very good friend, but also a brother to me.”

With his precision passes, speed, technique and goalscoring ability, Cruyff set new standards as a player.

Cruyff helped end an era of dour defensive football, inspiring the Dutch team in their Total Football offensive that took them to the 1974 World Cup final. Every player had to be ready to take on every position.

Cruyff moved from Ajax Amsterdam to Barcelona in 1973 and stayed there until 1978. He returned 10 years later to coach the Spanish side.

He started as a coach with Ajax but on moving again to Barcelona they won four consecutive league titles and their first ever European Cup in 1992 at Wembley.

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Barcelona said fans would pay tribute to Cruyff on Saturday at the Camp Nou Stadium where a special condolence area would be set aside.

Some fans launched a Twitter campaign for the stadium to be renamed after Cruyff, who was named Europe’s player of the century in 1999.

“The ’14’ will never be the same. RIP Johan Cruyff,” said modern-day Spanish hero Xabi Alonso, now with Bayern Munich.

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