The second phase of the 1974 World Cup took the form of two round robin groups of four teams, with the winners of groups 1 & 3 (East Germany & Holland) meeting the runners up of Groups 2 & 4 (Brazil & Argentina) in Group A and vice versa in Group B (West Germany, Sweden, Yugoslavia and Poland).
The first set of matches took place on Wednesday 26th June with West Germany opening proceedings in the afternoon by taking on Yugoslavia. The match took place in Dusseldorf and was the first in a double header of matches on ITV, Gerald Sindstadt getting the opportunity to provide the commentary. The host nation were in need of an impressive performance following their shock reversal to East Germany last time out.
As it was in the first round of matches, Paul Brietner got the West Germans underway with a superb strike on 39 minutes, cutting in from the left hand side and unleashing a tremendous shot into the top corner of the net.
Gerd Muller sealed the win for the Germans with a trademark goal eight minutes from time. Wolfgang Overrath played a quick free kick down the right for Uli Hoeness who made his way to the byeline before pulling the ball back to Muller on the six yard line. The Bayern Munich striker seemed to have missed his opportunity but whilst on his backside stretched out a leg to poke the ball past the keeper for his second goal of the tournament.
The other match in Group B took place later that evening in Stuttgart. Poland, from being shock qualifiers when they knocked England out the previous October, were now favourites to make the final after winning all three of their opening games. They took on the obdurate Swedes, who had progressed from Group 3 without conceding a goal.
That run was ended just before half time when Grzegorz Lato notched his fifth goal of the tournament, bundling the ball into the net from close range to give Poland the lead. A deep cross from the left was met at the back post and headed across the goal for the bustling striker to force into the net.
Sweden were a tough nut to crack and they should have equalised midway through the second half when Jerzy Gorgon was adjudged to have brought down Conny Torstensson. However the “clown” Jan Tomaszewski produced a stunning save, diving full length to push away Staffan Tapper’s spot kick and preserve Poland’s 100% record.
In Group A, the shock winners of Group 1, East Germany took on the reigning champions Brazil. The BBC selected this for live coverage, hoping that Brazil would come out of the defensive shell which had seen them squeeze past Scotland on goal difference and provide some sparkling entertainment as they had four years earlier in Mexico.
David Coleman, on commentary duty, will have been as disappointed as the viewing public at home as Brazil produced another deathly dull performance, the only minute of class handing them a narrow win. A free kick on the hour from 20 yards out allowed Rivelino to produce his party piece, firing his shot through a minute gap which had been left by the clever movement of one of his team mates in the wall, the ball arrowing through the pin-point gap left as a Brazillian dived on the floor out of the way.
The real class was to be left to the Dutch who confirmed their tag as favourites with a dismantling of Argentina in the other match in Group A. ITV had selected this match for live coverage and Hugh Johns was able to describe a Johan Cruyff masterclass.
The Dutch master put the Oranje in front with a classic goal, collecting Van Hannegam’s chipped pass into the area, controlling and then rounding the keeper to tuck into the net from a tight angle. Holland dominated affairs, having two efforts cleared off the line and having a goal disallowed before they doubled the lead.
It was Ruud Krol who fired home the second, shooting through a crowd of players as Argentina failed to clear a corner, the ball falling to the defender 20 yards out who fired unerringly home.
The second half was played in completely different conditions to the first as Gelsenkirchen was hit by the latest of the torrential downpours which had marred the tournament so far. The wet and sticky conditions failed to deter the Dutch from their Total Football and it was another classic goal which put them 3-0 up.
Cruyff was once again the architect, crossing from the left hand side, picking out Jonny Rep who stooped to head past Daniel Carnevali at his near post. The best though was saved until last as Cruyff got his second and the Dutch’s fourth in the final minute.
Van Hannegam was the driving force behind the goal, bursting into the Argentine box and being denied a goal by a fine save from Carnevali. The ball looped off the keepers block towards Cruyff who was lurking on the left hand side of the area. Without flinching, Cruyff struck the ball back towards the goal on the volley, defying the impossibly tight angle to nestle the ball in the back of the net, sealing a very impressive win which emphasised the favourites tag that Holland had been dubbed with.