Iconic World Cup Moments: 1974 World Cup - East Germany 1-0 West Germany
The law of the universe dictates that everything must have an opposite. There has to be a ‘ying’ to every ‘yang’. A ‘this’ to every ‘that’. A male for a female, a touch of black for a hint of white, a proton for an electron, and a communist for every democrat.
While the last one may not hold true after the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1974 was a world apart from 2014. 40 years ago, the world as we know it had been rented into two halves due to their diametrically opposing political ideologies. And whenever these two ideologies met each other, it was as if matter and anti- matter were coming into contact and negating each other in a fierce explosion. It was as if the entire fabric of the universe would collapse under the duress of the clash.
And one of the very few clashes between the communists and the democrats on the football pitch was in the 1974 World Cup game between East and West Germany, in which the hosts and subsequent World Cup winners, West Germany, were stunned by their communist brothers in front of a 60,000 strong crowd at Hamburg.
While the ‘Cold War’ between the USSR and the USA had led to confrontations all over the world, in Europe, there weren’t quite as many actual clashes between troops. Yet, Germany, which had been carved into two countries, West and East, and had been occupied by different superpowers during the aftermath of the 2nd World War, was one of the most tense regions around the world.
And thanks to the different forms of governance introduced in each half of Germany by the Americans and the Soviets, the countries couldn’t see eye-to-eye with each other on anything, which, sadly for peace lovers, encompassed the beautiful game of football.
While West and East Germany had clashed with each other on a few occasions before 1974 (most of them matches between their amateur teams for the Olympic qualifiers), it had always been a very hush-hush affair; a game played in an indoor stadium with no journalists or fans allowed inside.
But 1974 was, in every sense of the word, a world apart, since this was the first (and last) time these two teams were going to meet at a World Cup, and on West German soil at that. It was going to be the first and the last time the world would witness a football game as tense and as important as this one; the possible real-life repercussions were not easy to fathom.
While the social and the political situations were extremely tense, the match, taken out of the political context, was a rather dull match-up. Both the Western and Eastern halves of Die mannschaft had already qualified for the knockout stages. The West Germans had romped past Chile (1-0) and Australia (3-0), and the East Germans had defeated Australia (2-0) and held Chile to a tie (1-1). Since Australia and Chile drew 0-0, this game was just a formality of a fixture between two teams that had already qualified, at the very end of the group stages.
This fixture, however, was going to decide the group winner, and both teams wanted to win the game, not just because their respective nations had bad blood between them, but also because topping the group generally meant having the privilege of facing a weaker opponent in the knockout stage. So both teams had a logical reason to give it their all, that is if the political pressure they were facing wasn’t enough. This wasn’t going to go down well.
The West German team, who were the European Champions at the time, comprised of legends such as Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and striker extra-ordinaire Gerd Muller, who were all members of the reigning European club, Bayern Munich, at the time of the match. Other influential players included Uli Hoeness, Paul Breitner and Wolfgang Overath, who were all very influential players in Germany.
The entire West German team was very used to the pressure that traditionally accompanies big international games, and they had many veterans, including experienced coach Helmut Schon, on their side. Schon, who was born in Dresden in East Germany, wanted the West Germans to win really badly. Going into the game, their captain Beckenbauer urged his team on by stating that they were “playing this for Schon”
While East Germans were definitely the underdogs going into the game, their team had no dearth of talent, with all of their players representing the traditional powerhouses of the now-defunct East German league, with their goal scorer of the game, Sparwasser, representing the European Cup winners FC Magdeburg. They did, however, lack big game experience in their national colors, since most of their players had represented their nation only in the Olympics as amateurs.
The communists had always placed a lot of emphasis on sports, and their excellent displays in the Olympics only proved that point further. For them, victory in sporting events was just another way to showcase their superiority over their democratic counterparts, who were generally better off economically.
As a result, the players, who were already considered rather inexperienced, had even more pressure on their shoulders, since they had the responsibility of proving communist superiority, or they had to suffer the consequences of incurring the displeasure of a totalitarian government.