As the 2018 FIFA World Cup approaches, DFB.de takes you on a journey back through Germany’s previous appearances at the tournament, bringing you everything from historic matches to unusual anecdotes. Part four sees us go back to 1958…
After winning the previous tournament in 1954, West Germany automatically qualified for the 1958 World Cup and looked to defend their title, despite a string of poor results since then. Due to financial reasons, however, only 18 players made the trip to Sweden. Seven World Cup winners from four years prior were part of the squad, but the quartet of Fritz Walter, Horst Eckel, Hans Schäfer and hero of 1954 Helmut Rahn were the only players who had much starting experience. West German hopes rested mostly on the shoulders of a promising 21-year-old striker from Hamburg named Uwe Seeler, who would be making his World Cup debut.
Also making his first appearance on the world’s biggest stage was a certain Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who was aged just 17 years and 235 days when he played his first game for Brazil in Sweden. Better known as Pele, the magical forward would go on to win 92 caps for his country and establish himself as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.
Drawn into group 1, West Germany were set to face Argentina, Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia in the first stage of the competition.
Starting slow was not an option for West Germany, as they were thrown right into the deep end for their opening game of the 1958 tournament on 8th June in Malmo. Argentina, who were competing in their first World Cup since 1934, were a strong outfit with a good chance of going deep into the competition.
Nevertheless, it was ironically the Argentines’ attire that caught the attention of the fans in attendance. Shortly before the game, the officials deemed the two countries’ kits to be too similar to differentiate between and so ordered Argentina, who were the away side that day, to find a second strip. The one problem with that was they had only taken their classic blue and white striped shirts with them To Sweden. Thankfully for them, the staff at Malmo managed to dig up some IFK Malmo kits and provided Argentina with some bright yellow shirts to wear, saving them from having to forfeit the match.
With the match now going ahead, it was the brightly coloured Argentines who took the early lead through Oreste Corbotta. Nevertheless, a quick turnaround led by Fritz Waller saw West Germany battle back to equalise. Then in the 41st minute, a young Uwe Seeler scored his first World Cup goal to give his country the lead. Chants of “Uwe, Uwe” echoed down from the stands in adoration of the 21-year-old. It would be the first of four World Cups that Seeler would score in, a feat only matched by Pele and all time leading World Cup goalscorer, Miroslav Klose. Helmut Rahn would add his second goal of the game to secure a 3-1 win for West Germany and their first two points of the competition. German football magazine Kicker were clearly very pleased with the performance - “We can be world champions again if we keep playing like that!”
After raining all day, West Germany’s second group game was characterised by missed chances in the first 20 minutes. Seeler, Walter and Rahn all had golden opportunities, but couldn’t quite finish them off. And they would rue them shortly after, when a poorly timed back pass led to a penalty and a Czech lead. Then it was doubled. 2-0 going into the break.
“No one said a word in the changing rooms at first,” said Fritz Walter looking back. But head coach Sepp Herberger did manage to say something eventually: “Boys, we can’t let our heads drop! I think you played well... and that’s something that I don’t say that lightly. I think we can muster at least a draw out of this.” And as so often, he was right.
The first West German goal came controversially, as a combination of Hans Schäfer, Czech goalkeeper Bretislav Dolesji, a defender and the ball fell over the line. It wasn’t entirely clear whether the ball had crossed whitewash, but English referee Arthur Ellis deemed that it had.
Once again it was Helmut Rahn to the rescue, who after scoring the winning goal in the World Cup final four years prior, saved his country once again to make sure the game ended in a deserved draw. Herberger claimed after the game that the miraculous turnaround was perhaps the “greatest performance by a Germany team ever.”
Ahead of the final group game, every side had a chance of progressing into the knockout stages. All West Germany required was a point, while that wasn’t enough for their opponents, Northern Ireland. Horst Eckel made a welcome return to the team, which meant that Karl-Heinz Schnellinger retook his place on the bench. He was basically a glorified spectator, with substitutions not allowed until the 1970 World Cup. Assistant coach warned his players to not overlook the Britons, calling the game “perhaps the hardest of our three games.”
That prediction held true in the early stages, with Manchester United’s Harry Gregg - one of the lone survivors of the Munich air disaster in February 1958 - proving to be almost impenetrable in goal. Northern Ireland capitalised, as they went into the lead thanks to Peter McParland, but comeback specialist Helmut Rahn once again pulled his country level before the break.
The second half was much like the first, with McParland again putting his country into the lead. Time was now against West Germany, with a loss meaning they’d have to face Czechoslovakia in a play-off to decide who progressed. But it wouldn’t have to come to that. Finally, after he was denied time and time again by Gregg, Uwe Seeler got the better of him to score his second of the tournament, equalise for West Germany and secure that all important point. A point that meant “the same as a victory!” (Kicker)
The draw against Northern Ireland saw West Germany top Group 1, setting up another quarter-final clash with Yugoslavia - just the same as in 1954. Yugoslavia were unbeaten up to this point in the competition, so it was to be no easy ride for the Germans. As if they needed any extra motivation, the Yugoslavians even offered every player 200 dollars if they were to win.
It was a game decided by a moment of magic. By a goal that only “the boss” could score. 12 minutes in, Helmut Rahn started dribbling in from the right wing and beating two defenders on his way to the byline, before shooting the ball from an impossibly narrow angle. It surprised the goalkeeper as much as it did the whole stadium on its way into the back of the net. “It defied all the laws of what is possible,” wrote Kicker in the game’s aftermath. Fritz Walter added: “It’s a goal that deserves to go down in the history books.”
Despite numerous further chances courtesy of Seeler, Rahn and Schmidt, the score would stay at 1-0 for the remainder of the game and Germany would go on to defeat Yugoslavia at the quarter-final stage for the second World Cup in succession.
Things didn’t exactly go to play from the outset for West Germany against Sweden. In the lead up to the game, the place where it was to be held was changed from Gothenburg to Stockholm last minute, meaning there was a scramble to find somewhere to stay. The bath town of Gottskär was decided upon, although there were no training pitches and sea water came out of the taps. Luckily, the hotel management organised somewhere to train and mowed the grass in a nearby field to allow their esteemed guests to practice ahead of the big game.
When the game did come around, the home crowd proved to be a big advantage. “The stadium was like a cauldron for the German XI,” it said in a book published by Burda on the ’58 World Cup. Sweden dominated the early goings, winning six corners to Germany’s none. It wasn’t to matter though, as a thunderous volley from Schäfer beat Svensson in goal to put West Germany in front.
Not for long. Nine minutes later, Skoglund fired a low shot past the goalkeeper, who’s view was impeded by his own defender. The West Germans claimed there to be a handball in the build-up, but the referee was never going to take that goal away from the crowd that roared in celebration around him.
The turnaround came when Erich Juskowiak became only the second ever German player to see red at a World Cup. After Juskowiak got to a loose ball first, the German fell over his opponent and inadvertently kicked his knee in the process. Captain Hans Schäfer escorted him off, knowing all too well that his 10-man team were now facing eleven on the pitch and 45,000 in the stands.
West Germany held on for a good 20 minutes, but the advantage eventually proved to be too much. Gren and Hamrin added two more for Sweden in the dying stages, and Germany were knocked out of the World Cup. A distraught Erich Juskoviak following the game: “We’ve lost our World Cup title because of me. I can only apologise to Mr. Herberger.” That wasn’t the case of course, but in moments like these, it’s impossible not to wear your emotions on your sleeve.
The mood was bittersweet going into West Germany’s final game of the tournament, which perhaps reflected in their performance.
France went into the game after suffering disappointment themselves, in their case at the hands of the then 17-year-old Pelé’s Brazil. However, they did boast the tournament’s top goalscorer, Just Fontaine, who had nine goals to his name at this point.
He would go on to score another four, bringing his tally up to 13 for the competition - to this day still the most scored by one player in a single World Cup.
It was a bitter way to end the tournament, as the 1954 winners were forced to settle for a fourth place finish in the 1958 World Cup.
West Germany 3-1 Argentina - 8th June 1958, Malmö Stadion, Malmö (31,156 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Garbatta (2’), 1-1 Rahn (32’), 2-1 Seeler (40’), 3:1 Rahn (79’)
West Germany 2-2 Czechoslovakia - 11th June 1958, Olympic Stadium, Helsingborg (23,000 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Dvorak (24’ Pen.), 0-2 Zikan (43’), 1-2 Schäfer (59’), 2-2 Rahn (70’)
West Germany 2-2 Northern Ireland - 15th June 1958, Malmö Stadion, Malmö (35,000 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 McParland (17’), 1-1 Rahn (20’), 1-2 McParland (58’), 2-2 Seeler (79’)
West Germany 1-0 Yugoslavia - 19th June 1958, Malmö Stadion, Malmö (20,053 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Rahn (12’)
West Germany 1-3 Sweden - 24th June 1958, Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg (49,471 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Schäfer (24‘), 1-1 Skoglund (32‘), 1-2 Gren (81‘), 1-3 Hamrin (88‘)
West Germany 3-6 France - 28th June 1958, Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg (32,483 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Fontaine (15‘), 1-1 Cieslarczyk (18‘), 1-2 Kopa (27‘ Pen.), 1‘3 Fontaine (37‘), 1-4 Dois (50‘), 2-4 Rahn (52‘), 2-5 Fontaine (77‘), 3-5 Schäfer (84‘), 3-6 Fontaine (89‘)