50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #26 Karl-Heinz Rummenigge
Blondes Haar, Dreiundzwanzig Jahr (Blonde hair, 23 years old), Karl-Heinz Rummenigge burst onto the World Cup scene during 1978, springing like a Gazelle with a point to prove. West Germany have always, ALWAYS, had reliable and prolific strikers.
From Helmut Rahn to Uwe Seeler, from Gerd Muller to Miroslav Klose, from Thomas Muller to another star in the making, Timo Werner. Considering the players who wore the famous white jersey before him, the pressure was on young Rummenigge to perform on the biggest stage of them all. And boy did he deliver.
West Germany, by all accounts, had a disappointing World Cup in 1978 as they were beaten by Austria in the second round. Their group stages were largely underwhelming as well as they managed just one win that came against Mexico. That was the tie where Rummenigge raised quite a few eyebrows. His first goal was a solo run that came off a Mexico freekick. Sprinting from his own half, the 23-year old neglected a brilliant run made by Dieter Muller. The audacity of the lad! He then calmly evaded the Mexican defence before slotting the ball past the 'keeper Jose Pillar Reyes.
His second of the game was a sweeping move by the West Germans, counter-attacking at its best. Klaus Fischer’s marauding run on the left stretched the Mexican defence and his cross found Hansi Muller on the right. Muller deftly pulled it back for Rummenigge who smashed the ball past Reyes with authority to make it five for the side.
West Germany won the game 6-0 but it was their only win of the tournament. Not the best of result despite having players like Fischer, Muller, Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, and Hans Georg Schwarzenbeck. Rummenigge’s arrival was the biggest positive as he finished with four goals in his first ever World Cup tournament.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the forward but he only got better from there. Before the 1982 World Cup, Rummenigge had a successful few years at club level and even lifted the Ballon d’Or in 1980 for his exploits with Bayern Munich. He also won the Bundesliga golden boot twice; in ’80 and ’81. Winning the European Championship with Germany set him up nicely for the 1982 World Cup, but he wasn’t in top shape after suffering a knee injury before the tournament. Regardless, it was a tournament to remember for the forward.
Despite a shock loss suffered at the hands of Algeria, where Rummenigge scored, the West Germans went on to face France in the semi-final, and boy did we get some game.
Rummenigge didn’t start the game, but played a big hand in the final score and ultimately the result of the game. France had a pretty good team back then. It wasn’t quite the Carré Magique, but the individual talent they had made them slight favourites over the West Germans. They started badly as Germany took the lead, but a Michel Platini penalty took the game to extra time. That’s when the French stepped it up a bit.
First Marius Tresor and then Alain Giresse scored to give them a 3-1 lead. The Germans were in dire need. They needed a character and someone who could score and lift the spirits of a tired and leggy team.
Enter Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Entering the game as a 97th-minute substitute, he didn’t have too much time to take on players and leather the ball into the back of the net like he was used to doing with Bayern. He had to be smart, making the most of the French defenders’ complacency, and that is exactly what he did.
It was a goal that deserves more credit because Rummenigge not only played a part in the build-up play but also made that run into the box, smartly attacking the space in between Marius Tresor and Gerard Janvion to contort his body and deftly guide a cross into the back of the net with the outside of his right foot. Everyone knew at the time that he could smash them and place them, but that goal which reduced the deficit was all about his ability to caress the ball. 2-3.
Klaus Fischer made it 3-3 in the second half of injury time and from there, it seemed like the West Germans had the momentum and confidence to win the penalty shootout. Lest we forget, they’ve always been a mean team when it comes to spot kicks.
Rummenigge’s side were beaten by the Italians in the final and he had to suffer the heartbreak of losing to Argentine in the 1986 World Cup final as well. That was another game where Kalle helped his side get back into the game before Jorge Burrachaga scored a late winner.
Its shame Rummenigge never won the World Cup. He is perhaps one of the best strikers to not lift the Jules Rimet trophy. A World Cup great, he makes our list of the 50 greatest World Cup players.