World Cup Part 4: East Germany v West Germany, 1974

We against Us: DR. CHRISTOPH WAGNER looks at the historic clash between East and West Germany at the 1974 World Cup

Every time a World Cup is about to kick-off, the Germans are somehow said to be among the favourites. While some teams were great, many German or West German teams were simply lucky: the team of in 1982 that beat France on penalties in a semi-final which was overshadowed by Toni Schumacher’s criminal assault on Battiston. The team in South Korea and Japan 20 years later were at best plucky but bloody minded enough to reach another final, the seventh in total.

Ever since being re-admitted onto world football’s grandest stage in 1950, West Germany have managed to secure a semi-final place in all tournaments but four: 1962, 1978, 1994 and 1998. This is an impressive record. Add to that three victories, several runners-up and third place finishes and one has to consider Germany as the most consistent team in World Cup history since 1950. The “other” Germany, the GDR, meanwhile often played well in friendlies but bottled it when matters became serious. Except once: 1974.

The game in Hamburg during the 1974 World Cup was the only competitive match between the two German states. From kick-off the West took the initiative and looked more decisive in their actions. The Eastern team, defending and attempting to create their own chances, remained calm. The longer the game lasted, the more open the contest became. After half an hour the GDR had a clear-cut chance. After a throw-in from the right, Lauck tanked himself through towards the goal line. His cross found Kreische, who only needed to poke the ball into an empty net, but he missed. Had he scored, there would today be no talk of a Sparwasser goal. Shortly after West German Müller hit the post. During the second half, it appeared as though the team of Beckenbauer had lost their nerves as Lauck increasingly commanded the midfield, thus eliminating Overath and later Netzer.

The crucial moment came after 77 minutes. A West German attack was stopped by the East German keeper Jürgen Croy whose throw found Erich Hamann around 30 metres from goal on the right. Hamann saw plenty of space ahead of him with no one attacking him. So he marched forward. Just 10 metres into the West German half he saw Jürgen Sparwasser sprinting towards the box and crossed. A perfect cross which bounced inside the D, it hit Sparwasser’s nose which helped to wrong-foot Vogts and Höttges. He was through on goal, Maier came off his line, lunged towards the ball but Sparwasser lobed the ball into the net and turned away to celebrate. East Germany had beaten the favourites.

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What happened afterwards is part of German football history. The GDR finished first in their group and had to face Holland, Brazil and Argentina, while West Germany had an easier ride to the final. Commentators have argued that Helmut Schön’s team lost on purpose to come second and therefore face easier opponents in the following matches. This is nonsense, as the accounts of Schön himself and several of the players verify. West Germany went on to win the World Cup after defeating a Johan Cruyff inspired Netherlands in the final.

The result had different reverberations in East Germany. For many it was a catastrophe for they supported the DFB-team. Many football fans behind the wall had their local team but also rooted for Bundesliga clubs. Additionally, the West German national team provided some glory that the GDR was lacking in football. Games in Eastern Europe were popular among the Ossis as these were destinations they were allowed to travel to. So it happened that in 1971 6,000 East German supporters travelled to Poland to see West Germany take on the Polish team in a European Championship qualifier. Besides the East Germans there were only 2,500 from the West, too. There were, however, those loyal to the State and the Party and for those the 1-0 victory was cause for celebration. For those in charge of the sports programme, it was vindication that their plan was working.

The rest of the tournament of 1974 is well known. In the history of East German football the 1974 World Cup was the one and only time the national team qualified; the team that entered qualification for the 1990 competition was looking very good and it may have just happened for them had the Berlin Wall not been torn down in November 1989.

As it stands the GDR have a 100 per cent record against the FRG in football: played one, won one. Surely, this is unique. It is only a footnote in football history though: the GDR doesn’t exist anymore and Germany are one of the most powerful teams to play in any tournament and will once again be among the favourites in Russia this summer.

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