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Johan Cruyff: The day he was nutmegged by George Best - tributes pour in after Dutch giant dies, aged 68

By Adrian Rutherford

The world of football has paid tribute to Johan Cruyff, star of the brilliant Dutch team of the 1970s, after his death at the age of 68.

Cruyff, who represented Holland 48 times, passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer.

A three-time European Footballer of the Year, he played for Ajax and Barcelona in a glittering career.

Northern Ireland fans will recall how he was famously nutmegged by George Best during an international in 1976.

Ahead of the game at Rotterdam's De Kuip stadium, Best had been chatting with journalist Bill Elliot when Cruyff's name cropped up.

Asked if he believed Cruyff was a better player, Best laughed and replied: "You're kidding, aren't you? I'll tell you what I'll do tonight… I'll nutmeg Cruyff, the first chance I get."

Best's prophecy came true. Five minutes into the game, he dipped a shoulder twice and slipped it between Cruyff's feet.

As Best ran around to collect the ball and run on, he raised his right fist into the air.

The match finished in a 2-2 draw, with Chris McGrath and Derek Spence scoring Northern Ireland's goals.

Jimmy Nicholl, who played in the game, later recalled: "I remember standing back and watching him, nutmegging Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, it gave you a lift.

"You felt: 'Right, here's one of the best players in the world, if not the best, playing for us [and] nutmegging their two best players ... Go on then; we deserve to be here."

One of the greatest footballers of the modern era, Cruyff was a leading star of the Dutch team that introduced 'Total Football' to the world.

He captained Holland at the 1974 World Cup, leading the Dutch to the final where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.

In a brilliant club career, he won successive European Cups with Ajax, and led the Amsterdam giants to seven league titles.

A world record transfer to Barcelona followed, where he lifted a league title before retiring in 1984.

Cruyff went on to manage Barcelona, Ajax and Holland.

A heavy smoker, he had major heart surgery in 1991, after which he gave up the habit.

He was sacked by Barcelona in 1995 but remained an influential figure at the club.

Cruyff was diagnosed with cancer in October, but last month said he felt he was "2-0 up in a match" against the disease.

His death was announced yesterday via a statement on his official website.

It said: "On March 24, 2016 Johan Cruyff (68) died peacefully in Barcelona, surrounded by his family after a hard fought battle with cancer."

"It's with great sadness that we ask you to respect the family's privacy during their time of grief."

Cruyff's son Jordi, who played with Manchester United for four years from 1996, paid tribute to his father last Saturday - Father's Day in Spain - via Twitter.

"Thanks for being who you are & teaching me life's values, my role model @JohanCruyff."

Former Ajax and Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal did not always see eye to eye with Cruyff, but the Manchester United boss was clearly touched by Thursday's news.

"It is a very sad day for the footballing world, to lose one of the true legends of the game," he said.

Maradona posted an image of himself with Cruyff on his Facebook page. "We will never forget you, 'Flaco'..." he wrote.

'Flaco' - Skinny - was the Argentinian striker's nickname for the man who managed him briefly at Barcelona in the 1980s.

The Dutch FA said: "Words can hardly be found for this huge loss."

It described Cruyff as "the greatest Dutch footballer of all time and one of the world's best ever".

Ajax described him as their greatest ever player.Barcelona tweeted: "We will always love you, Johan. Rest in peace."

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