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. Our story begins in 1934…
Having not entered the inaugural FIFA World Cup in Uruguay four years earlier, 1934 saw Germany make their debut on the global stage. Despite it being their maiden World Cup, expectations were high after a seven-game unbeaten run in the build-up to the tournament.
With interest to participate in the second World Cup much greater, qualification was required for the first time. Italy were chosen as hosts, but unlike every other edition of the competition, they still had to qualify. 1934 was also the only time that the defending world champions didn’t feature, with Uruguay refusing to participate in retaliation to just four European teams accepting their invitation to compete in South America in 1930. 36 countries applied to enter the tournament and only 16 would make the finals. Germany secured their place in Italy thanks to a comfortable 9-1 win over Luxembourg.
The team was led by Otto Nerz, the first ever Germany national team coach, who had been in the role since 1926. Originally considered one of the weakest teams in Europe, Nerz had developed Germany into a much stronger side by the early ‘30s. He implemented a new tactical approach for the tournament, opting to play with a 3-2-2-3 formation that relied on young, energetic players. As a result, Germany’s 18-man World Cup squad had an average age of just 24.07 years – still the youngest to this day – and also featured several uncapped players. In fact, Union Hamborn’s Paul Zielinski was such an unknown quantity that Fußball Woche magazine spelt his name with a C, while the press had never even heard of 21-year-old Hans Schwartz.
Both of those uncapped youngsters actually started Germany’s opening World Cup game. The group-stage format from the inaugural competition was dropped in favour of a straight knockout tournament, so first up was a last-16 clash against a Belgium side Nerz’s men had beaten 8-1 just seven months earlier. Germany played the first half against the wind and the majority of the mere 8,000 spectators in attendance, but they were still able to strike first. Stanislaus Kobierski of Fortuna Düsseldorf was Germany’s first goalscorer at a World Cup, firing home from a tight angle after 27 minutes. The delight was short-lived, however, as Belgium bounced back to lead 2-1 at the break. Unhappy with how the game was developing, the players asked the coach during the interval if they could drop their tactical approach and simply play instinctively. “Do what you want, as long as we win the game,” was Nerz’s response.
The added freedom made a difference and Otto Siffling levelled the scores just three minutes after the restart, before 19-year-old Edmund Conen netted a second-half hat-trick to secure a 5-2 victory. He is still the youngest German to score three goals in one World Cup game, with only a certain 17-year-old called Pele having achieved the feat at a younger age in 1954. No one back home in Germany was able to follow their team’s maiden match at world football’s greatest competition, instead learning of the triumph via radio in a 35-minute round-up shortly after full time. “Our new system hadn’t started working yet, but we managed to battle our way to victory,” said defender Paul Janes during an interview in 1978. “From then on our motto was, ‘All for one and one for all!’”
Sweden awaited in the quarterfinals and were handed the favourites tag after knocking out 1930 runners-up Argentina. Kick-off was delayed by half an hour because of the Italian heat, although it seemed to still have an effect on both sets of players in the first half. There were chances, but the quality of football and finishing on display led the watching fans to chant ‘We want our money back!’ Conen was unable to repeat his last-16 heroics, missing several chances, but Kahl Hohmann stepped up around the hour-mark with two goals in the space of three minutes to put Germany in the driving seat. Sweden went down to ten men shortly after when Andersson limped off, with substitutions not permitted at the World Cup until as late as 1970, but they still managed to pull a goal back. However, Germany held on to their 2-1 lead to book a place in the final four.
Germany’s run to the semi-finals set up a first ever meeting with Czechoslovakia, but personnel problems were starting to hit the team. Rudi Grämlich was told by his boss in Germany to come back to work, meaning Jakob Bender had to come into the defence. New hero Hohmann had also picked up an injury while scoring his second goal against Sweden. It proved serious enough to rule him out for the remainder of the tournament, so Rudolf Noack took his place up front. The biggest problem, however, was with the man between the sticks. Captain Fritz Szepan asked the coach to replace the increasingly shaky Willibald Kreß in goal – a request from Kreß himself – and while Nerz agreed to the switch, the head of the association Felix Linnemann vetoed the move. “Haven’t you heard the phrase, ‘Never change a winning team’?” Linnemann was quoted as saying.
It was the wrong decision in hindsight. While Czechoslovakian goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka saved three “unsaveable” efforts – as Fußball Woche described them – Kreß spilled a shot from Oldrich Nejedly, allowing him to easily open the scoring from the rebound. Czechoslovakia looked closer to the next goal, even hitting the bar, but Germany grabbed a surprise equaliser after 58 minutes courtesy of World Cup debutant Noack. The momentum was now swinging the other way, that was until Kreß made another mistake. Believing a deflected free kick was going out, he switched off, only realising that it was still goal-bound too late on to parry the ball far enough away, and Nejedly headed home a second. Both players completed their respective hat-tricks in the closing minutes, as Kreß made a third error, allowing Nejedly’s tame shot to squirm past him. “Kreß lost us this game. There is no sugarcoating it,” reported Kicker magazine. Edmund Conen later revealed that the goalkeeper was “lovesick for a local Italian lass” and didn’t have his head in the right place.
With Czechoslovakia progressing to the final against hosts Italy, Germany’s last game would see them take on one of the pre-tournament favourites Austria in the third-place play-off. Willibald Kreß was replaced in goal this time, but there was a much stranger issue to address, one that led to kick-off being delayed by half an hour; both Germany and their neighbours were unwavering in their desire to play in their clashing kits of white shirts and black shorts. In the end, the referee had to draw lots and Austria were made to don the blue strips of local side Napoli. Perhaps they were still getting used to their new outfit in the early stages too, as Germany found the net inside one minute. Ernst Lehner’s goal came after just 25 or 30 seconds, depending on whether you read Kicker or Fußball Woche, and remains Germany’s fastest at the World Cup. Nerz’s side continued to have the upper hand after the opener, hitting the crossbar twice before Conen doubled their lead in the 27th minute, only for Austria to pull one back almost immediately.
While Germany looked determined in their quest to claim third place, one opponent in particular didn’t seem to be taking the game quite as seriously. With Conen applying pressure up front, defender Karl Sesta chose to drop and sit on the ball to deceive the German attacker. Sesta’s casual and cheeky play soon came back to bite him though. In his second attempt to sit on the ball, Conen managed to win possession. “I was so annoyed from the first time he did it, that I didn’t hesitate one second to kick the thing right from under his backside.” Conen laid off to Lehner, who tapped in for his second and Germany’s third. Austria did pull another goal back in the second half, but even despite some questionable refereeing from the Italian official, which even the local fans booed, the game ended in a 3-2 win for Germany. However, the team didn’t have the chance to collect their third-place medals until three days later at the final in Rome, and many of the players had to return home before then – impressive World Cup debut or not, they had jobs to get back to.
Germany 5-2 Belgium - 27th May 1934, Stadio Giovanni Berta, Florence (8,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Kobierski (25‘), 1-1 Voorhoof (29‘), 1-2 Voorhoof (43‘), 2-2 Siffling (49‘), 3-2 Conen (66’), 4-2 Conen (70’), 5-2 Conen (87’)
Germany 2-1 Sweden - 31st May 1934, Stadio San Siro, Milan (3,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Hohmann (60’), 2-0 Hohmann (63’), 2-1 Dunker (82‘)
Germany 1-3 Czechoslovakia - 3rd June 1934, Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome (15,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Nejedly (21’), 1-1 Noack (62’), 2-1 Nejedly (69’), 3-1 Nejedly (80’)
Germany 3-2 Austria - 7th June 1934, Stadio Giorgio Ascarelli, Naples (7,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Lehner (1’), 2-0 Conen (27’), 2-1 Horvath (28‘), 3-1 Lehner (42‘), 3-2 Sesta (54‘)