Yugoslavia, the side that had ended British hopes for the 1976 European Championships, by beating Wales in the quarter-finals, were rewarded with the honour of hosting the final tournament, which for the final time in the competition’s history would contain just the last four.
Joining the hosts were reigning World and European Champions West Germany, beaten World Cup finalists Holland and Czechoslovakia who had disposed of Don Revie’s England. In a competition of such quality there was no easy draw, but the hosts could feel slightly aggrieved to have pulled out West Germany.
In the first semi final the Czechs produced a surprise 3-1 extra time victory over the Dutch in a match marred by three red cards shown by Welsh referee Clive Thomas, with the Dutch reduced to 9 men by the final whistle.
Without British participation, TV coverage was sparse, ITV showing highlights of the first match and BBC showing highlights of the second semi final, John Motson on duty in the commentary box. I have however managed to obtain a copy of the full match from German TV, in what turned out to be a classic match.
The hosts were of course quite familiar to viewers in the UK, dashing the hopes of Scotland and Wales in the last two tournaments. They had made changes from the side that had seen off the Welsh in the quarter finals. Ongen Petrovic had replaced Enver Maric in goal and Jovan Acimovic and Dragan Dzajic came into the team for Dzemal Hadziabic and Branislav Djordjevic.
West German football had never been at such a high point. Holders of the European Championship and the World Cup and with Bayern Munich having just completed a hat-trick of European Cup wins, having beaten St Etienne in the final at Hampden Park, there were a few new faces in their line up. Sepp Maier, Berti Vogts, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and captain Franz Beckenbauer remained from the team that had won the last two major tournaments along with the likes of Rainer Bonhoff, Herbert Wimmer, Bernd Holzenbein and Uli Hoeness. Up front though “Der Bomber” Gerd Muller was missing, his international career having ended on that glorious afternoon in Munich. Erich Beer was the focal point of the attack, but there was a Muller on the bench, the uncapped Dieter of Cologne.
With 50,000 fans roaring the host nation on, the match was end to end right from the off. Chances were at a premium in the opening stages and it would be 14 minutes before either goalkeeper would be seriously tested. It was Yugoslavia’s skipper, Jovan Azimovic, who forced Maier to work, bursting down the right hand side and firing in an effort which the keeper did well to grasp at his near post.
Yugoslavia took the lead in the 19th minute, and it would be a rare mistake by Beckenbauer that would hand them the advantage. A long ball was played forward by Branko Oblak and floated over the head of the German skipper into the path of Danilo Popivoda who strode into the area and fired a low drive past Maier and into the net.
The home side were very much on the front foot at this stage and Maier was forced to turn the ball over his own bar when a cross from the right hand side looped up off the left back Bernhard Dietz towards the German net. Two minutes later, Maier again saved his side, pushing away a 20 yard free kick from Popivoda.
Yugoslavia’s total domination was rewarded with a second goal on 32 minutes and it was handed to them by Sepp Maier. Another high cross in from the right saw the West German keeper attempt to catch the ball at full stretch, an attempt that saw him spill the ball into the path of Dragan Dzajic who tucked the ball into the empty net.
The keeper redeemed himself four minutes later, producing a great save to deny Acimovic. The Yugoslav skipper had cleverly spun away from the centre back to fire in a shot from 12 yards which Maier pushed away to keep his side in the game.
By now the hosts were toying with their German opponents, but just before half time there was a fleeting glimpse of the dangerous beast the wounded World Champions could become. A rare attack gave Hoeness the opportunity to shoot and his effort was kicked off the line by a Yugoslav defender but only as far as Beer. His first attempt was thwarted as Petrovic saved but he was left with an open goal to tap in the rebound. Incredibly the West German striked somehow contrived to fire the ball over the bar and allow Yugoslavia to go in at the break with their two goal lead intact.
Four minutes into the second half saw the games turning point. Another Yugoslav attack down the left hand side saw the a cross come into the area. The ball evaded Maier and Jurich Jankovic found himself with all the time in the world and an empty net in front of him. Somehow he managed to drag his shot across the face of goal and the miss gave the West Germans the encouragement that they were still in the game.
The comeback started slowly and fortunately. On 65 minutes substitute Heinz Flohe, who had replaced Dietmar Danner, tried his luck from 20 yards and saw the ball strike Bernd Holzenbein in the chest, wildly deflecting the ball past a wrong footed Petrovic in the Yugoslav goal and into the net.
That goal set off alarms in the Yugoslavians, quite literally as the game was interspersed by the sounds of some sort of air raid siren. Holding a one goal lead, the hosts found themselves in a stick or twist situation. Did they fall back and defend the lead or should they continue to drive forward as they had in the first. As it turned out they did neither.
There was the occasional flurry. Slavisa Zunguc produced one of the most pitiful attempts ever to con a referee when he tried to claim a penalty. A purposeful run into the West German area was halted by a superb tackle from Holzenbein, but Zunguc laughably continued to run for a number of strides before throwing himself to the floor, further embellishing his performance by staying down to hold the “ankle” damaged by Holzenbein’s “savage assault”.
The shots that had rained in on Sepp Maier’s goal in the first half were now few and far between. Acimovic tried his luck with 19 minutes remaining, but only succeeded in driving the ball straight into the West German keeper’s bread basket.
West Germany were now looking the most threatening and they should have levelled matters on 73 minutes. Hoeness pinched the ball from a defender on the half way line and burst forwards towards goal, only to spurn the chance by firing straight at Petrovic.
Eleven minutes from time, Helmut Schoen introduced Dieter Muller from the bench for Wimmer, hoping that he could emulate his namesake Gerd, whose poaching skills had been badly missed by the Germans. His impact would prove to be beyond his coaches wildest dreams.
Just a minute later, with his first touch, Muller levelled matters. The Yugoslav defence were totally disorganized with three West Germans left free in the area, one of them being the substitute totally unmarked to head in a Bonhoff corner from six yards out.
The Yugoslavs were now totally rattled and in fact were fortunate to get through to extra time as West Germany went close to grabbing a winger. First Beer was played in down the left hand side, firing a shot across goal which was pushed around the post by Petrovic.
In the last minute the Yugoslavia had one last chance with a free kick 25 yards out centrally, but Dzajic curled his effort just wide of the post. Extra time would be required to find out who would take on Czechoslavakia
The hosts seemed to have regrouped during the short interval as they came out for the extra half hour with all guns blazing. They won a couple of free kicks on the edge of the West German area in the opening five minutes of extra time, the second of which was well struck by Josip Katalinski which Maier was forced to push away.
That escape prompted the West Germans into attack mode and Bonhoff made a dangerous burst into the Yugoslav area, getting a shot away which was well saved by Petkovic.
The scores were still level as the sides entered the final six minutes. Yugoslavia had been on the front foot in the second period of extra time and had forced Maier into more work, the West German keeper producing three decent saves to keep his side in the game.
Then with the clock ticking down to a first ever penalty shoot out in a major competition, West Germany took the game by the scruff of the neck, and it was Muller who would once again be the hero. A sweeping move started with a superb cross field pass by Flohe was collected by Holzenbein. The winger showed great composure to collect the ball and calmly roll the ball into the path of the substitute Muller who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from six yards out.
The goal took all the fight from the home side and as the game entered it’s final minute, West Germany sealed the match as Muller completed a sensational debut hat trick, showing the goal poaching skills of his more famous namesake as he tapped in a rebound after Bonhoff had struck the post with a shot from the edge of the box.
Once again the West Germans had shown the never say die spirit which would become their hallmark over the years. They had knocked out the hosts and would be hot favourites for the final against the Czechs. However, Panenka and penalties lay in wait.