Van de Kerkhof and his twin brother Willy were squad members of the Dutch national team that made the World Cup final in 1974 and became key players in the team that made the 1978 final. Overall, Van de Kerkhof appeared 47 times for his country, scoring five goals.
He is well remembered due to the incident before the 1978 World Cup final, when the opponent Argentinians objected to the cast he wore on his injured forearm since it could have injured an Argentinian player. Despite the bandage having been passed by FIFA and worn in previous matches, the referee, Italian Sergio Gonella vacillated, while the Dutch players threatened to walk off the field. Finally an extra layer of padding was applied to the bandage as a solution, and the match could start.
1978 was his most successful year, besides becoming runners-up at the World Cup, he also won the UEFA Cup, the Dutch championship and the KNVB Beker with PSV that year: "we had won everything possible – the title, the Dutch Cup and the UEFA Cup, and we had five or six players who had been runners-up at the FIFA World Cup in Argentina with the Netherlands. It was a beautiful period under coach Kees Rijvers", Van de Kerkhof later would tell to Berend Scholten.