Thursday, January 14, 2010

Greatest World Cup Matches: West Germany-Netherlands (1974)

The two teams to dispute the final of the 1974 world cup in West Germany were undoubtedly the best teams in the world at the time: West Germany were defending European champions, and were led by Franz Beckenbauer, the Bayern Munich captain, and arguably one of the best players of all time. Solid on all places, they furthermore had the striker Gerd Müller, who after this tournament became the most scoring player of all world cups (until Ronaldo in 2002).
The home team had nevertheless not started the tournament well. In the first round they had only finished second in their group, after losing against East Germany in a politically loaded match in Hamburg. However, this match had apparently awakened the Germans, who in the second round had scored three consecutive victories against Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland, to make it to the final.
In spite of playing at home in Munich in front of almost 80,000 fans, the Germans were not favourites: they were facing the Netherlands, a team that had taken the world with storm. Coached by the former Ajax Amsterdam coach Rinus Michels, the Dutch “orange machine” played a style of football that came to be known as “Total football”, putting pressure everywhere on the pitch with its many extraordinary players, notably Barcelona’s Johann Cruyff, the European footballer of the year in 1971, 1973 and in 1974, and one of the best players of all time.
The Dutch had been incredible the entire tournament, winning their first round group ahead of Sweden, Bulgaria and Uruguay, and in the second round cruising through Argentina, East Germany, and finally defeating the defending world champions of Brazil 2-0.
Thousands of Dutch fans had crossed over to West Germany from the Netherlands to see what was in reality an extraordinary feat for the small country against its big neighbour, who many Dutch people had a hateful relationship to. For instance, the Dutch Feyenoord player Wim Van Hanegem, who had lost his father and two brothers during WWII, expressed his disdain for Germans when stating "I don't like Germans. Everytime I played against German players, I had a problem because of the war."
The stage was thus set for an enormous drama in Munich.
And it all started well for the Dutch favourites. As they gave up the ball they passed the ball around, without a single German player getting a touch, when the ball landed with Johann Cruyff. The small Borussia Mönchengladbach player known as “the Terrier”, Bertie Vogts, was appointed as the player who was to neutralize Cruyff, but he was unable to stop the Dutchman in this first minute, as he rushed at full speed directly towards the German goal. As he entered the German area a desperate Uli Hoeness tackled him, and the English referee Jack Taylor correctly awarded a penalty for the Dutch. The Ajax Amsterdam (and that year Barcelona) striker Johann Neeskens took the penalty and scored his fifth goal of the tournament, and the Dutch machine was ahead 1-0 after only one minute.
The Germans had not even touched the ball yet.
But if one thing has characterized German football throughout football history, it is that German teams never give up, and in front of their home crowd, the West German side increasingly managed to fight themselves into the match, and in particular Berti Vogts completely managed to neutralize Johann Cruyff, while the Dutch thought that they had the match under control. Johann Cruyff later recalled: “Being ahead so soon caught us off balance since we never expected that defeating the hosts would be so easy. We had a sense of vertigo. Germany was almost defeated, but we then started to make mistakes. Germany didn’t win the world cup, but we lost it.”
The Dutch were overconfident, and 25 minutes into the first half they were punished when Eintracht Frankfurt’s Bernd Hölzenbein stormed down the left side, and in a rush that reminded of Cruyff’s 24 minutes earlier, stormed into the Dutch area, and right before shooting, was brought down by Feyenoord’s Wim Jansen.
Referee Jack Taylor awarded the Germans the second penalty kick ever in a world cup final, and the outstanding Bayern Munich defensive midfielder (soon to become Real Madrid player) Paul Breitner made no mistake in scoring the equalizer for West Germany.
In spite of the Netherlands still often controlling the ball, the Germans now seemed more solid all over the pitch. Almost at the end of the first half the youngest German player, Rainer Bonhof, passed the ball into Gerd Müller inside the Dutch penalty box. The pass was too close to Müllers feet and the ball bounced backwards, away from Müller and the Dutch defender, but in a split-second Müller turned and shot immediately, not too hard, but past Jan Jongbloed in the Dutch goal.
The home team was up 2-1 at half-time, with the Dutch effectively having thrown away their early advantage.
The Dutch tried to attack feverishly in the second half, but the solid German defense and an excellent Sepp Maier on goal, prevented the Netherlands from scoring. On the opposite side, West Germany had more chances on counter-attack, with a Gerd Müller goal even being disallowed for off-side. In any case, the 2-1 result held for West Germany, who twenty years after their first world title in Switzerland, West Germany had deservedly won the world championship at home against a Dutch team that remains one of the best teams ever never to have won the world cup.

Match Stats:
  • 7th July, 1974, Olympia Stadion, Munich
  • Attendance: 77,833
  • Referee: John Taylor (England)
West Germany-Netherlands 2-1
Goals: 0-1 Neeskens (1) (pen); 1-1 Breitner (25) (pen); 2-1 Muller (43)

West Germany: Maier, Vogts, Schwarzenbeck, Beckenbauer, Breitner, Bonhof, Hoeness, Overath, Grabowski, Muller, Hölzenbein
Netherlands: Jongbloed, Suurbier, Rijsbergen (de Jong), Haan, Krol, Jansen, Van Hanegen, Neeskens, Rep, Cruyff, Rensenbrink (R. Van der Keerkof)

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