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. Today, we look back at 1938…
The build-up to the third staging of the tournament in France was troubled by the turbulence washing over Europe. Spain were forced to pull out due to the ongoing Spanish Civil War. England boycotted the event. Even the decision to give France the hosting duty was greeted by outrage in South America, who believed that FIFA would alternate the hosting duties between the two leading footballing-continents. After the 1934 World Cup was held in Italy, Argentina had applied in full expectation of getting the nod. However, given the political unrest across Latin America and the unwillingness of many European countries to make the journey, Argentina received only 4 votes to France’s 19. The Argentines subsequently boycotted the event in protest, along with Uruguay, leaving Brazil the sole South American competitor.
After the ‘Anschluss’ of Austria and Germany on 12th March 1938, newly appointed national coach Sepp Herberger was charged with integrating nine new exclusively Viennese players into his squad of 21. The famous ‘Breslau eleven’, who had defeated Denmark 8-0 in May 1937, was therefore broken up to incorporate the 6:5 ratio requested by the sporting leadership.
Herberger set about coaching his “WM-System”, but ran into several difficulties. The chief debate was around the role of the centre halves; the Viennese viewed them as more attacking and aggressive players, while the Germans regarded the position as more of a sweeping back-stop, with the wingers and attacking midfielders being the creative engine. Former coach Otto Nerz and Herberger alike both preferred this mentality. Thus, when it came to the three weeks of training in Duisburg, the newly cobbled-together squad did not gel. The Viennese defender Willi Schmaus famously said, “Mr. Herberger, I will never understand the WM-System”. What’s more, the Austrians were all professionals, while it was illegal to class oneself as such in Germany. Therefore, their integration into the German team not only deprived them of playing for their nation, but their wages too.
The 16-team knockout format of the previous competitions was retained. However, Sweden automatically progressed to the quarter finals given the lack of a 16th nation (originally Austria). The German side looked dangerous on paper, but were yet to play competitively as a team.
Switzerland, meanwhile, were full of confidence following a 2-1 victory against England in May and impressive draws against world champions Italy and then Germany in February. Zuricher Sport said before the World Cup, “Today, the mood is not like last time. We are not just hoping to score a goal against Germany... rather hoping to win.” The German Reichssportblatt didn’t show the same confidence in their own team, stating: “Football experts now have Switzerland as favourites.”
When the affair kicked off, Switzerland went on the defensive, employing the so-called ‘Verrou’ (Door-bolt) system, created by their Austrian coach Karl Rappan. It essentially implied playing a defensive sweeper (‘verlouillieur’) in front of the goalkeeper and four fixed defenders with a strict man-marking setup. The tactic was a great success. Although Germany found a way through with Josef Gauchel’s strike after 29 minutes, Switzerland pulled one back just before half time through Andre Abegglen’s header. Germany were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after the break. Hahnemann was brought down inside the box, yet the referee thought otherwise and gave a free-kick right on the edge. No more goals followed in the match, however, the game began to get heated in extra time. Having been fouled cynically and repetitively by Minelli, Viennese forward Johann Pesser lashed out with a nasty shin-kick, which landed him the label as the first ever Germany player to be sent off in a World Cup. The reaction to the previously unseen Germany team did not make comfortable reading for Herberger. Newspaper France Soir were particularly blunt in their appraisal: “The Germans are a poorly welded eleven.”
The replay on 9th June told a totally different story. Sepp Herberger selected a fresh XI, which included a solely German defence to dispel any conflict over the role of the centre-backs.
The reshaped German team got out of the blocks rapidly, with Hahnemann converting a Szepan cross after eight minutes, before Swiss defender Lörtscher deflected a ball into his own net. 2-0 inside 21 minutes. Germany looked revived and set for a resounding victory. However, “Did the goals come too soon?” as Fußball Woche speculated in hindsight. Once again, Switzerland clawed themselves back into the game and found a goal just before the break.
The second half did not stick to the script and saw the Swedish referee deny Neumer a “two hundred percent certain penalty” before everything fell apart for Germany. The Swiss miraculously ran away with the match 4-2 after a flurry of two goals in three minutes from Abegglen, the hero of the first tie. Germany were out. The first and last time they have ever been eliminated in the first round of a World Cup. Die Mannschaft coach Sepp Herberger took the brunt of the blame for his failure to put a real team together. As Kicker proclaimed, “That was not a game we should have lost. Those eleven players were far from being a team.” However, he retained his job, and would go on to be quite a success.
Switzerland 1-1 Germany (a.e.t.) – 4th June 1938, Parc des Princes, Paris (27,152 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Gauchel (29’), 1-1 Abegglen (43’)
Germany 2-4 Switzerland (Replay) – 9th June 1938, Parc des Princes, Paris (20,025 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Hahnemann (8‘), 2-0 Lörtscher (22‘ o.g.), 2-1 Walaschek (42‘), 2-2 Bickel (64‘), 2-3 Abegglen (75‘), 2-4 Abegglen (78‘)