In the quarterfinals West Germany had played England, in a repeat of the 1966 final. This time though, the Germans were better prepared against an English team that was arguably better than it had been in 1966, but was apparently not well-adapted to the intense Mexican atmosphere. Also, Coach Alf Ramsey made obvious tactical changes when England could have carried the match away. In the end, West Germany won 3-2 after extra time, on a Gerd Müller goal.
This was only the second time England lost to West Germany, and as has happened so much since, the English swam over in references to the war.
Italy had not had good results for the World Cup for many years, but under coach Feruccio Valccareggi had built up a very strong team playing the reputed “Catenaccio” style, around a highly organised and very strong defense. The midfield led by AC Milan’s Gianni Rivera (who and 1969 had won the “Balon d’or” as best player of the year), and with powerful strikers, notably Gigi Riva from Cagliari (who is still the most scoring player in the history of the Italian national team). In 1968 Italy had won the European championship and was surely one of the best teams of the world at the time.
However, the Italians were not popular for their “catennaccio” style after their first round matches where they tied 0-0 with Uruguay and Israel, and defeated Sweden 1-0. In the quarterfinals they had nevertheless shown their attacking power against the hosts of Mexico, and won 4-1, and were now ready to the semifinal, where the winner would play the winner between Brazil and Uruguay.
The match in from of a full Azteca Stadium started well for the Italians: only eight minutes into the match the Inter striker Roberto Boninsegna got a return ball at the edge of the German area and resolutely shot and scored.
After this, Italy pulled back around its strong defense, and while the Germans had the ball the most, they were unable to open up the defense. It was frustrating for the many spectators as well as for the German players, to see the German team in possession and attacking, but unable to score. In particular Franz Beckenbauer was playing a strong match, and in the second half he dislocated his shoulder in a fearless tackle. However, unwilling to be substituted, the Bayern Munich star continued playing with a bandaged shoulder for the remainder of the match for what must have been a very painful sacrifice.
In the 90th minute of the match, the frantic German attacks finally paid off when the AC Milan defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (”Volkswagen”) suddenly found himself alone in front of the Italian goal on a cross by Jurgen Grabowski, and just had to put the foot on the ball, that went straight into the net. It was one of the few mistakes that the well-organized Italian defense had made.
West Germany had equalized and now seemed to have everything going for them as the match went into extra time.
Only four minutes later, Gerd Müller took advantage of a misunderstanding between the goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and the defender Fabrizio Pelotti; when either decide to grab the ball, Gerd Müller quickly got in between them and squeezed the ball into goal for a German lead.
With the match completely turned on its head, it was now Italy’s turn to start attacking against the partly amputated German defense, and only four minutes later the Inter defender Tarcisio Burgnich scored after receiving a bounced off ball from a German defender. Another defensive mistake had equalized it for the Italians, who nevertheless continued attacking after the goal. At the end of the first half of the extra time, Gigi Riva was given too much space at the edge of the German area, and in spite of it not being a very hard shot, it was well-placed towards the far corner of the goal, and Sepp Maier had no chance.
The match had in fifteen minutes turned around twice!
Again it was West Germany’s time to attack as the teams went into the last fifteen minutes of the match, and after only a few minutes Gerd Müller scored to 3-3 on a header.
But the Italians, immediately when putting the ball into play, scored again, without the Germans even touching the ball: Boninsegna crossed the ball to a Gianni Rivera and the Milan striker made no mistake when carefully placing the ball perfectly behind Sepp Maier!
Anything seemed possible in this crazy semifinal, but it was the last goal of the extraordinary drama which Italy won 4-3 and put them in the World Cup final against Brazil.
An anecdote of this match tells that the guards at a prison near Acapulco, absorbed in the dramatic match on TV, didn’t notice the escape of 23 prisoners…
Surely one of the greatest World Cup dramas!
- 17th June 1970, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
- Attendance: 102,000
- Referee: Arturo Yamasaki Maldonado (Peru)
Goals: 0-1 Boninsegna (8), 1-1 Schnellinger (90), 2-1 G. Muller (94), 2-2 Burgnich (98), 2-3 Riva (104), 3-3 G. Muller (110), 3-4 Rivera (111)
West Germany: Maier; Schnellinger, Beckenbauer, Schulz, Vogts, Seeler, Overath, G. Muller, Patzke (Held), Loehr (Libuda), Grabowski
Italy: Albertosi; Burgnich, Facchetti, Cera, Rosato (Poletti), Bertini, Riva, Domenghini, Mazzola (Rivera), De Sisti, Boninsegna