With no World Cup to play in England, for the second consecutive year, headed off to Eastern Europe, this time to provide warm up opposition for three sides who had qualified for the tournament. The first of these games was against first time qualifiers, East Germany, who had reason to look forward to the competition in the neighbouring West which would feature a historic first ever clash between the two Germanys.
Back home, viewers would be treated to an hours highlights on ITV with Brian Moore in the commentary box. However I have managed to get hold of the full game which was broadcast on the German channel MDR under the title Fussbal Oldies. The station is based in Leipzig, the city where the game took place in the Zentral Stadion.
A crowd of over 95,000 attended the match and were treated to a splendid encounter with attacking football from both sides. The East German side were on an incredible run of 12 consecutive victories. England made two changes from the side which drew with Argentina on their last run out. Ray Clemence earned his third cap in place of Peter Shilton with Martin Dobson coming into the midfield in place of Keith Weller.
It was Clemence who was the first keeper brought into action as early as the third minute tipping a free kick from the right over the bar. England hit back and Trevor Brooking became the first England player to strike the woodwork in the 11th minute. His clipped cross from the left hand side hit the top of the cross bar, the first of four efforts to come back of the square frame of the goal in the Leipzig stadium.
After a cagy opening, the match sprang into life in the 16th minute as Mick Channon came to the fore, striking the woodwork twice in the space of a minute. A Brooking free kick from midway inside the East German half was headed back across the goal to Channon 15 yards out. The Southampton striker hit a splendid volley which crashed back off the crossbar.
A minute later England broke down the right hand side. Channon this time drove into the penalty area on the right hand side, striking a shot across the keeper only to see the ball come back off the post.
England’s work both on and off the ball was impressive, keeping their hosts quiet whilst looking by far the most dangerous side in attack. The crowd seemed to be behind England as much as their own side, cheering the attacks from both sides, the only real difference being the cacophony of air horns sounding when East Germany had possession.
Whilst Channon was the major thorn in East Germany’s side, England were finding it difficult to contain Joachim Streich. The Hansa Rostock striker was played in down the left hand side, taking the ball to the edge of the area before firing goal wards, where Clemence palmed the ball at full stretch over the bar.
This attack was as close as East Germany came in the opening half hour, as England’s defence kept them at bay, restricting the home side to shots from long range. When they did get into the box after 34 minutes Eberhard Vogel fired the ball across the box to Konrad Wiese who fired straight at Clemence.
The second half started with East Germany in the ascendency. Streich again was the threat; another run into the box saw him lift the ball over two defenders before hitting a low shot which Clemence blocked away with his feet. The resulting corner reached Wiese on the edge of the box, but he once again drove his shot straight at Clemence in the England goal.
England, despite being pegged back by the East Germans at the start of the half, still posed a threat of their own with Kevin Keegan his usual busy self on the right hand side. He cut inside left back Bernd Bransch to make his way into the box, but was guilty of also shooting straight at the goalkeeper.
Jurgen Croy between the posts for East Germany was helpless a minute later when Colin Bell hit a shot from the left hand side of the penalty area. However he was once again rescued by the frame of the goal as Bell’s shot cannoned back of the base of the post.
The game continued to flow from end to end with the home side finally making the breakthrough midway through the second half. Inevitably it was Streich who got the goal, capitalising on Alec Lindsay’s misjudging of a cross from the left. The Liverpool full back got under the ball, completely missing his header which allowed the dangerous striker to collect the ball in complete freedom on the right hand side of the area and cleverly curl beyond the reach of Clemence into the far side of the net.
However the nature of the game meant that England would respond quickly and they didn’t disappoint. Awarded a free kick 20 yards out, Channon stepped up to show anything Streich could do, he could match driving the shot past the wall and into the bottom corner of the net, the ball appearing to take a hop just before it reached the outstretched hands of Croy in the East German goal.
The match was back in the balance and both sides continued to show an intent to go forward, but now is was the East Germans who looked the most dangerous. In Striech the East Germans had a striker at the top of his game and he continued to cause the England defence all sorts of problems. With 12 minutes to go a splendid quick change of feet created a shooting opportunity which forced Clemence into a scrambling save, the keeper shovelling the ball around the post.
Normally the closing moments would see the game peter out to a tame draw, but with almost a 100,000 fans cheering them on, East Germany continued to press on. The closing five minutes saw the home side create two more chances. Firstly Streich again worked Clemence with a shot from the angle of the box, which the Liverpool keeper pushed away to allow his defence to scramble clear. Then in the last minute Jurgen Sparwasser showed great skill to lift the ball over a covering defender before letting himself down with a weak shot which Clemence easily gathered.
The final whistle brought an end to a superb game, with both sides happy with the result. For England it was an encouraging return to form and started their tour off on a positive note. After the game caretaker manager Joe Mercer bemoaned England’s luck in the game claiming that his side had “hit the woodwork more times than a team of lumberjacks” For East Germany it continued their unbeaten run and maintained their confidence heading into the World Cup, where they would shock the world with Sparwasser’s goal earning them their famous victory over their Western neighbours in the group stages.