As the 2018 FIFA World Cup approaches, DFB.de takes you on a journey back through West Germany’s previous appearances at the tournament, bringing you everything from historic matches to unusual anecdotes. Today, we look back at 1978...
Reigning champions West Germany arrived at the 1978 World Cup seeking to become the first European nation to lift the trophy on South American soil.
Political problems in Argentina had marred the build-up, with Dutch star Johan Cruyff famously boycotting the tournament in protest, while in Germany concerns were raised of the team’s chances of defending their crown. The team lacked an "extraordinary personality that the whole team could be build around" wrote Kicker in their pre-tournament edition.
Several 1974 champions, such as Jürgen Grabowski and Gerd Müller, had retired from international football, while Franz Beckenbauer’s move to New York Cosmos prevented him from joining up with the squad. This meant that just three players from that victorious team travelled to Argentina: goalkeeper Sepp Maier, new captain Berti Vogts and Rainer Bonhof, who assisted Müller’s World Cup winning goal in Munich four years earlier.
The tournament would also be the last for legendary coach Helmut Schön, who, in addition to the 1974 World Cup triumph, delivered a European championship in 1972 and finished second (1966) and third (1970) in his two other World Cup appearances. He too had his doubts about Germany’s chances in 1978, later writing in his memoirs: "Before we set off, I didn’t believe that Germany could win the World Cup again. But I knew that we would fight. And if we were to lose, the other team would have to play better than us."
Just like in 1974, the tournament was made up of 16 teams split into four groups. Unlike in the modern format, there were no quarters or semi-finals, which left little chance of seeing a newly-introduced tie-breaking mechanism that would prove handy to Germany national teams of the future: the penalty shootout. Instead the top two in each group progressed into the last eight, split into two groups of four. The winners of each group progressed to the final and the runners up faced off in a third-place play-off.
Germany’s first game pitted them against neighbours Poland at the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, home to River Plate and venue for the final on 25th June 1978. Poland were a tricky side to open against, having qualified for the tournament unbeaten with much the same squad that finished third in 1974 – still their best ever performance at a World Cup.
The match ended goalless after a nervy performance from both sides, with neither able to find any rhythm and the final pass lacking. Curiously, there were complaints from both teams that the official "Tango" ball had an awkward bounce – a claim that was backed up in FIFA’s post-tournament technical study.
But there no excuses for the sub-standard performance and if it weren’t for some heroic keeping from Sepp "Die Katze" [The Cat] Maier, Poland could well have won. "I’m definitely not happy with that game and can only hope that we do better in the next match," told a frustrated Schön post match.
The next match took place in Córdoba – the first of four in Argentina’s second largest city – against Mexico, who were beaten 3-1 by Tunisia in their opener. The team certainly took their coach’s words to heart, striking early against a shaky Mexican defence through Dieter Müller. The early goal threw the floodgates wide open and Germany ran out 6-0 winners with a textbook display of counter-attacking football – four of the six goals coming on the break.
A 21-year-old Karl-Heinz Rummenigge showed why he was dubbed the team’s "dribbling king" when he picked the ball up in his own half and ran half the length of the pitch, breezing past the Mexican defence and slotting in Germany’s third. The strike had a strong claim for goal of the game, until Heinz Flohe followed up with a 30-yard screamer just minutes later.
The result eliminated Mexico, while Poland’s 1-0 victory over Tunisia meant three teams were level on points going into the final matchday. Following Germany’s highest World Cup win to date, coach Schön saw no reason to make any changes against the underdogs Tunisia, knowing that a point would be enough to see them through to the knockout stages with a superior goal difference.
A point was all that was needed and a point was all they got, as Germany struggled to another 0-0 draw against a resilient Tunisia side coached by Abdelmajid Chetali, who was no stranger to German football having completed his coaching qualifications in Germany. Though the point was enough, improvement would be needed in the second round.
Germany’s first second-round fixture pitted them against two-time champions Italy, who had won all three of their first round fixtures against Argentina, France and Hungary. An exciting 21-year-old named Paolo Rossi, who would go on to fire Italy to glory at the 1982 World Cup with a Golden Boot winning six goals, was the name on everyone’s lips going into the match.
Despite beating the Italians 2-1 in a friendly the previous autumn, Germany went into the match in Buenos Aires slight underdogs – a role favoured by Schön. "We prefer to play against teams that are the favourites, because then we can rise to the challenge," he told reporters. But the challenge of a tougher opponent failed to yield a better result, with the two great rivals playing out yet another 0-0 draw – Germany’s third in four matches in Argentina.
While still a positive result, Die Mannschaft suffered a demoralising blow when Heinz Flohe limped off with a hamstring injury that ruled him out for the rest of the tournament.
The Netherlands were up next in a highly-anticipated rematch of the 1974 final, with the Dutch hell bent on revenge. Only five players remained for the Oranje, with Johan Cruyff a notable absentee.
Having beaten Austria 5-1 in their opener, the Netherlands were in the stronger position going into the match, but it was the Germans who struck first through Abramczik in Córdoba. Haan levelled midway through the first half, ending a run of 476 World Cup minutes without conceding for Meier (then a World Cup record), before Dieter Müller re-established Germany’s lead in the 70th minute.
A win would have put Schön’s men in pole position to top Group A and reach consecutive finals, but hopes were dashed in the 84th minute when René van de Kerkhof equalised for the Dutch to seal a 2-2 draw.
In order to reach the final, Germany needed to rely on a favour from Italy or win by five or more goals against Austria in their final match to overturn the Netherlands’ superior goal difference. "Who says we can’t score five against Austria?" asked an optimistic DFB president Hermann Neuberger in the build-up – a statement laughed off by Austria’s Hans Krankl who told reporters, "over my dead body!"
Austria, meanwhile, had no chance of qualifying for the third-place play-off or final, but were no easy opponents having topped Group 3 ahead of Brazil, Spain and Sweden. Germany took the lead early on through Rummenigge, before a second-half Vogts own goal levelled the scores at 1-1 with 31 minutes left to play.
Krankl followed up shortly afterwards to fire Austria in front (66’), but the lead was cut short by Hölzenbein just six minutes later. With the final virtually out of sight, the match was now about pride and securing a second-place finish in the group.
With the Netherlands beating Italy 2-1, news reached the players that 2-2 would be enough to secure a place in the third-place play-off. But Krankl, staying true to his words, was determined to spoil the German party and struck in the 88th minute to secure a famous 3-2 victory for Austria. The ‘Disgrace of Córdoba’ (known as the Miracle of Córdoba across the border) was complete and Germany were out of the World Cup.
"Knowing that Holland were 2-1 up, we never should have lost that match," criticised DFB president Neuberger, while Schön expressed disappointment in Germany’s "unstable defence, which unsettled the entire team." Bernd Hölzenbein later claimed that "with Beckenbauer, Grabowski and Gerd Müller, Germany would have been World Cup winners again. There has never been an easier World Cup to win than this one in Argentina."
With just one win in six games, the 1978 World Cup was a difficult tournament for Die Mannschaft and one that will be forever be remembered for what could have been.
Germany 0-0 Poland - 1st June 1978, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires (76,609 spectators)
Germany 6-0 Mexico - 6th June 1978, Estadio Chateau Carreras, Cordoba (35,258 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Dieter Müller (15'), 2-0 Hansi Müller (30'), 3-0 Rummenigge (38'), 4-0 Flohe (44'), 5-0 Rummenigge (73'), 6-0 Flohe (89')
Germany 0-0 Tunisia - 10th June 1978, Estadio Chateau Carreras, Cordoba (30,667 spectators)
Germany 0-0 Italy - 14th June 1978, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires (67,457 spectators)
Germany 2-2 Netherlands - 18th June 1978, Estadio Chateau Carreras, Cordoba (40,750 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Abramczik (3'), 1-1 Haan (27'), 2-1 Dieter Müller (70'), 2-2 René van de Kerkhof (84')
Germany 2-3 Austria - 21st June 1978, Estadio Chateau Carreras, Cordoba (38,318 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Rummenigge (19'), 1-1 Vogts (59', own goal), 1-2 Krankl (66'), 2-2 Hölzenbein (72'), 2-3 Krankl (88')