Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Group 2 was seen as the weaker semi-final group and West Germany the favourite. The little gamble worked: Argentina and Brazil were avoided, both teams – but especially Brazil – traditionally difficult opponents for West Germany. Poland, Sweden, and Yugoslavia were traditionally the opposite of Brazil – beatable teams, no matter form. Which was important, for West Germany was still struggling.
They opened against Yugoslavia, and although the Plavi tried hard, the Germans won 2-0.
Schwarzenbeck and Acimovic fighting on the ground for no ball. An interesting photo in retrospect: the players look in opposite directions – one for the World Cup, the other – for going home.
Poland – Sweden was a disappointment… the Polish bubble was predicted to burst and contrary to learned opinions, it did not. Sweden played strongly, but lost 0-1. Well… Poland was surely to expire in the next match.
Yugoslavia played good once again and once again their opposition played a notch better. Poland won 2-1. It was probably this match finally opening eyes and Poland suddenly was taken seriously.
West Germany – Sweden was one the most entertaining matches of the tournament – open and attacking. The Swedes did not betray their habits to play well at every match, but their style was convenient for the Germans. It was goal for goal for awhile, then the hosts got the upper hand and the match ended 4-2, not without some weird moments to thrill the watching public.
Bjorn Nordqvist and Ralf Edstrom unable to prevent Gerd Muller from shooting at their net.
Rainer Bonhof, one of the fresh revelations in 1974, takes a shot at the Swedish net – Hellstrom, Bo Larsson (#7), and Jorgem Augustsson are too late… but what a headacke they were anyway.
Perhaps the moment changing the whole match: Jurgen Grabowski’s lucky goal. The ball hit both posts before ending in the net. Hellstrom cannot believe it, but West Germany leads 3-2.
Sweden and Yugoslavia were out before the third round, yet they made entertaining match, much to everybody surprise. Sweden nobody doubted – this is a team always playing honorably – but Yugoslavia was expected to give up. For a change, the Balkan boys did not write the meaningless match off. Sweden won 2-1.
Dzajic shooting and Jan Olsson hiding from the ball – looks like Yugoslavia was stronger?
Well, more of a equal match really – Dzajic attacks followed by determined Andersson. At the end it was Sweden, not Yugoslavia.
Poland – West Germany, the match to decide who will play at the final. Nature played a joke before the match: torrential rain started and ended, clear skies came back, but the pitch was a lake. The mighty German technology was helpless.
Workers tried their best to dry the pitch, to no success.
The natural disaster changed the game immediately: in the swamps, where one may kick the ball with full strength and the ball would not move at all, there was more a battle of wills than plain football.
Gerd Muller trying to move the ball in the mud, tackled by Polish defence of course.
On occasional dry patch Uli Hoeness looks superior, but it is an illusion – predatory Deyna and Domarski surround him.
It is deadly 0-0 and Hoeness misses a penalty. A tie was enough for the Germans, because of better goal difference, but… who can vouch for a tie in the swamps?
Yet, West Germany managed to score and won the match 1-0. This was the match when West Germany was seen as most likely World Champion: it was the German spirit, unbreakable, unshakeable, and never giving up, which was revealed in full. Under terrible conditions, they still tried to play, their physicality aided them and made them slightly better than Poland, and finally won the match. It was also the match when finally the German winning team was forged: defense was no problem, but midfield and especially attack were shaky from the very first match. Helmut Schon tried and tried – Grabowski was in and out; Heynckes was out; Wimmer was in and out; until Bonhof firmly replaced Wimmer in midfield, providing energy in both defense and attack; and Holzenbein was placed at the left wing, with Muller in the centre and Grabowski at the right wing. The changes confirmed a basic truth – competitive long line of players gives much better chances than basic eleven players and the rest of the squad clearly making the numbers from inferior players. A great coach is also innovative one – Schon used Bonhof in unusual role – more like defensive midfielder, which was not his typical position. The attack was even more improvised: neither Grabowski, nor his club teammate Holzenbein were wingers – Grabowski was centreforward and Holzenbein was normally an attacking midfielder. But they played well at their new positions, particularly Holzenbein, who became enormous problem for the opposition with his habit of flying like a butterfly as soon as he was inside the penalty area. Crying with pain, he was dropping dead on the grass… asking for a penalty. Whether given or not, Holzenbein got up healthy and unruffled the next second – he was the first player to do this trick regularly. Today it is a bookable offense, but in 1974 it was not and Holzenbein elevated such fakes to real art. Unfair? May be, but one has to think of those old days: short of actual murder, the refferrees were indifferent to illegal tackles inside the penalty area. To defensive brutality, never punished, Holzenbein responded with pretense hard to distinguish from real foul on one hand, and was very visible to be ignored at the same time. True to habit, the referees rarely blew their whistles for his antics, but defense was confused: what if the referee suddenly gives a penalty? They tried to stay away from Holzenbein, which was no help either, for when left alone the German… scored. He was a deadly weapon and Schon was quick to see the advantage of playing him after discarding Heynckes and unsuccessfully experimenting with Herzog. It was a long and painful road, and a lot of criticism had to be endured, but finally, against Poland, the German team was shaped, additionally boosted by the win in tough swampy conditions. It was after this match when I was almost certain that West Germany will win the tittle. And I was not alone in thinking so – a bittersweet feeling, for Holland were the most exciting team. May be the mud is the true test for champions.
1. West Germany 3 0 0 7-2 6
2. Poland 2 0 1 3-2 4
3. Sweden 1 0 2 4-6 2
4. Yugoslavia 0 0 3 2-6 0