12 W/C recalls—1974 (Pt 3): Beckenbauer’s Germans power past the Poles

West Germany also made a confident start in the second round. They began their Group B campaign by seeing off Yugoslavia, with goals in either half from Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller. 

On the same day, a Grzegorz Lato header gave Poland victory over Sweden in a very tight contest. The Swedes now had no choice but to go for broke against Germany in Düsseldorf. 

Photo: Germany World Cup star Paul Breitner.

In heavy rain, Sweden’s giant centre-forward Ralf Edstrom stunned Sepp Maier after 24 minutes with a volleyed rocket from outside the box. That forced the Germans to abandon their compact approach and seek an equaliser. But the resilient Ronnie Hellstrom pulled off a series of extraordinary saves, including a diving, two-handed block from Muller at point-blank range, and Sweden’s lead held to the break.  

This situation was deemed serious enough for Franz Beckenbauer and Rainer Bonhof to venture out of defence in a bid to create more attacking options. But that meant reduced numbers at the back. The result was three goals in three minutes. 

Time and again, Hellstrom was let down by his teammates. In the 51st, Germany midfielder Wolfgang Overath pounced on a poor clearance. With his weaker right foot, he scuffed his shot and the ball rolled in under the surprised Hellstrom, perhaps expecting a bullet. 

The blunder threw the Swedish defenders temporarily out of kilter. The 60 seconds or so of disarray proved enough for them to concede a second. 

Photo: Former Gemany midfield star Wolfgang Overath.
(Copyright Getty Images)

Muller chested down a pass for the power-kicking Reiner Bonhof, who blasted a volley from the edge of the penalty area. Hellstrom palmed it but the ball went in off the post.

The lead had changed hands. 

Almost immediately, Schwarzenbeck missed a long air ball. Roland Sandberg controlled and drilled it into the far corner past Sepp Maier’s left hand. 

But Germany regained the lead through Grabowski. Left unmarked just outside the six-yard box, he slammed his shot past Hellstrom as he rushed across to cover.

A quarter of an hour left and Germany 3-2 up.

Sweden went to pieces, conceding once more after Muller was tripped in the box. Uli Hoeness stroked the spot kick past Hellstrom to wrap up the 4-2 victory. 

Photo: Germany defender Uli Hoeness celebrates his successful penalty against Sweden in the 1974 World Cup.

With West Germany level on points but ahead of Poland on goal difference, their clash in Frankfurt was a virtual semi-final. A major rainstorm hit the city that afternoon and the downpour continued throughout the game, the heavy surface at the Waldstadion favouring the sturdier Germans. 

Parts of the field were virtually unplayable and neither team could make any headway. But as the second half got under way, Bernd Hölzenbein cut in from the left, beat a defender and went dramatically to ground. Replays suggested he’d flung himself as Poland’s Zmuda stuck out a right leg. Penalty, ruled the Austrian referee.

However, Hoeness hit a tame spot kick just a couple feet to Tomaszewski’s right and the big man easily got down to smother it.  

Undeterred, Germany got the only goal in the 75th minute. Beckenbauer’s chipped pass found Hölzenbein at inside-left and he played it on for Bonhof, sprinting behind him. Bonhof passed to Muller, unmarked on the penalty spot, and the burly striker faked, let it roll to his right foot and fired low past the diving Tomaszewski.

Game over.

Photo: West Germany forward Gerd Muller is one of the most dangerous international marksmen of all time.

Three days later, Poland claimed the bronze medals, though not without luck and controversy in their 1-0 win over Brazil. In the first half, Valdomiro made a perfect knock-down for Rivelino, with Tomaszewski stranded in the centre of the goal. But the ball fell to the left-footed maestro’s right and he turned it wide of the post from point blank range.

It was still goalless after 71 minutes when substitute Mirandinha broke from just inside Brazil’s half with a clear run on goal. Henryk Kasperczak, no match for his pace, first held his shirt, then hooked his right arm and pulled away with all his might. 

Mirandinha breached the penalty area but, fighting desperately to free himself, he went down a couple strides from the six-yard box, the Pole’s arm still attached. The yellow card shown to Kasperczak by the Italian referee seemed ridiculous at best—under today’s rules, it would have had to be red.

Five minutes later, Lato got the drop on Alfredo, who had replaced the suspended Pereira. Turning on the after burners, he hit cleanly past Leao. It was his seventh goal, which clinched both the victory for his team and the Golden Boot award for him.

Photo: Former Poland star Grzegorz Lato.

But the football world was already focused on the final. The pundits had been right all along. Holland and West Germany, the two dominant teams, would clash the following day to determine the new World Cup champions. 

Little did the fans know that they would be treated to one of the most dramatic starts to a World Cup Final and one of the most talked about.


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