The 2nd phase of the 1974 World Cup had thrown up two virtual semi-finals for its final round of matches which would all take place on Wednesday 3rd July. As had been the case with all the other 2nd round matches, West Germany would play their game at a different time to the other three fixtures and it turned out that their afternoon game in Group B against Poland would decide which of those two sides would progress to the Final. For the host nation a draw would be enough to see them through to the final in Munich, for Poland nothing less than victory would do.
Torrential rain in Frankfurt put the match in some jeopardy as the Waldstadion pitch struggled to cope with the sheer volume of water which fell upon it in the latest of the storms which had so blighted the World Cup. So bad was the condition of the pitch that the kick off was delayed by 30 minutes to allow extra time for drainage in a bid to make the pitch playable. Back home viewers of ITV’s live coverage of the match were “treated” to pictures of the ground staff desperately trying to get the pitch into a fit state.
The weather did not dampen the spirits of the 62,000 fans packed inside the stadium and they were rewarded for their patience when play finally began. Despite the draw being enough for West Germany, the host nation had the better of the opening stages, coming to terms with the waterlogged pitch better than the Poles. Uli Hoeness drew a save from Jan Tomasewski in the Polish goal from a free kick.
However as the half wore on it was the West German goalkeeper who would be the busier man as Poland took a hold of the game. Time after time he repelled Polish attacks, with one particularly fine save denying Robert Godocha from opening the scoring from a free kick.
As the second half commenced, the hosts regained control of the game and were gifted a chance to take the lead eight minutes into the second half. Bernd Holzenbein dashed into the penalty area from the right hand side and as Wladyslaw Zmuda slid in to try to make a tackle, the German winger dived headlong over the defender’s outstretched leg to win a penalty. (It was a move which we hadn’t seen the last of!)
Up stepped Uli Hoeness to take the spot kick, but with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders he folded under the pressure, his weak kick turned away by Tomasewski to keep the scores level.
As the game wore on the pitch was becoming a quagmire, not helped by another downpour which made conditions almost unplayable. Poland kept plugging away looking for the goal which would take them into the final, Kazimierez Deyna coming close with an effort which was well saved by Maier.
With 14 minutes remaining West Germany finally made the breakthrough which would seal their place in the final of their own party and who else would it be to score the goal than Gerd Muller. The goal poacher extraordinaire found the ball fall at his feet 12 yards out from the Polish goal and he produced a trademark finish to drill the ball past Tomasewki and send the country wild.
Poland did not give up and Maier had to produce one more stunning save to deny substitute Kazimierz Kmiecik and preserve West Germany’s lead. For the side that had been unfairly dismissed when knocking England out of the competition in qualifying, Poland had been one of the brightest and most exciting teams in a competition which saw a pragmatic style of football come to the fore following the exuberance of Mexico in 1970.
For West Germany it was redemption following their shock defeat to their communist neighbours from the East in the opening group phase. The European Champions had put themselves in position to complete a unique double. They could sit back and watch the evening’s action safe in the knowledge that they were in the World Cup Final.
The three other matches all took place at the same time later that evening. In the dead rubber in Group B, Sweden beat Yugoslavia 2-1 to finish 3rd in the group. The Yugoslav’s had taken the lead through Ivica Surjacon 27 minutes but his lack of any celebration showed how little the game mattered. Ralf Edstrom added to his burgeoning reputation with an equaliser two minutes later, the big striker hooking the ball home after Enver Maric had dropped a corner. Sweden won the game five minutes from time, Conny Torstensson cooly drilling home a shot of the post.
In Group A East Germany and Argentina played out a 1-1 draw in Gelsenkirchen to end their campaigns. A goal from Joachim Streich on 14 minutes put East Germany ahead but Rene Houseman fired home an equaliser six minutes later after latching onto a fine ball from Mario Kempes. Those two would play a more significant role in the World Cup four years later.
All eyes though were on the clash between Brazil and the Netherlands in Dortmund where the prize was a place in the final. The scenario was the same in as in Group B. Brazil needed a win, Holland knowing that a draw would be enough for them to progress thanks to their superior goal difference. It would be a match which would signify a changing of the guard protecting the image of football as the “beautiful game.”
Both channels back home broadcast the match live with the commentary big guns of David Coleman (BBC) and Hugh Johns (ITV) calling the game for the respective stations.
Unfortunately the match saw Brazil revert to the brutality of their first round encounters as they struggled to cope with Holland’s free flowing attacking football. As a spectacle Brazil’s aggressiveness saw the Dutch drawn into tat for tat retaliation and both sides expended as much energy kicking each other as they did the ball. Maybe it was the strange sight of both countries ditching their traditional colours for the match, Brazil in their blue shirts whilst Holland turned out in white which saw the play a style of football unrecognizable from their usual game.
Whilst the Dutch were proving they were more than capable of looking after themselves against the Brazillian assaults, they were head and shoulders above their opponents when it came to the more aesthetically pleasing parts of the game. The two goals they scored to take them into the final were both things of true beauty.
Five minutes into the second half Johan Neeskens put Holland in front. The architect was inevitably Johan Cruyff, his ball in from the right hand side into Neeskens allowing the striker to cleverly loop the ball first time over the keeper from 12 yards.
The second goal is one which has gone down in World Cup folklore and saw Cruyff stamp his mark indelibly over the game. A swift Dutch attack saw Rob Rensenbrink stride away down the left hand side and his cross was met by a flying volley from Cruyff eight yards out from goal which crashed into the net.
Brazil, knowing their time was up lost the plot completely and their disgrace was complete when Luis Pereira was sent off six minutes from time for a brutal hack at the legs of Cruyff, the centre back gesturing to the crowd as he left the field and almost sparking a mini riot.
So Brazil were out, the glorious attacking football of four years previously nothing but a memory, and would become a burden for the national team for another 20 years. Holland were the heir’s apparent to the crown of the best football team on the planet. But not for the first time, and certainly not the last, the side that played the game in the best way would not be the best team on the planet. Total Football was about to meet a winning machine.