In 1954 it was the rain that helped Germany triumph in the Miracle of Bern over favourites Hungary to lift the World Cup for the first time, and twenty years later, on home soil the rain was to work in their favour against another highly fancied team to reach another final. The ‘Wasserschlacht’ in Frankfurt (water battle) has gone down in the annals of the Nationalmannschaft.
With Germany to face Poland in a friendly, we cast our minds back to the summer of ’74 when the weather helped Germany win their second World Cup.
Germany, as reigning European champions and on home soil were looking to secure a second World Cup after going very close in both 1966 and 1970. The Golden Generation was at it’s peak and the script was written for the perfect summer. The team however didn’t follow the smooth path to glory with pre-tournament wrangling over bonusses threatening harmony and results and performances not exactly inspiring.
Unconvincing wins over Chile (1-0) and Australia (3-0) were followed by defeat to fierce rivals East Germany as the side from the other side of the Iron Curtain won the Battle of the Brothers. The 1-0 loss in Hamburg came via Jürgen Sparwasser’s goal ten minutes from time.
Germany had qualified for the second group stage as runner-up meaning they would face Sweden, Yugoslavia, and Poland for a place in the final. Germany and Poland both beat the Swedes and Yugoslavs to set-up a winner takes all clash in Frankfurt (although the Germans would proceed with a draw thanks to a better goal difference.
Müller to the rescue
Poland were a highly fancied side who had qualified for the tournament ahead of England, and who won their first group ahead of both Italy and Argentina. Their team (under the leadership of Kazimierz Górski) was one of genuine pedigree. Two years before this fateful World Cup clash, Poland had won the Olympic Games gold medal in Munich.
With Jan “the Clown” Tomaszewski in goal, Kazimierz Deyna, Andrzej Szarmach and Grzegorz Lato, they were an emerging power of the game and hitting their peak at the right time. They played a fast-paced, free-flowing brand of offensive football complete with short and swift passing combinations. Their game was perfectly suited to being played on a good playing surface.
That sadly for them was not what greeted them on July 3rd, 1974, at Frankfurt’s Waldstadion. The kick-off was delayed for 30 minutes after a cloudburst turned the pitch into a quagmire and intense work had to be carried out before the referee deemed it playable.
The conditions didn’t help either side, but they both at least tried to play attractive football. The Poles however had their natural game stymied by the numerous puddles than interrupted their passing game. The first half was goalless despite the valiant efforts of both sides to play attacking football. Lato had two good chances to open the scoring in the first period, but was denied by top saves from Sepp Maier.
Germany missed a great chance to open the scoring in the 53rd minute when Uli Hoeness saw his penalty saved superbly by Tomaszewski.
The only goal of the games fell in the 76th minute and Germany had their striking talisman Gerd Müller to thank once again. Bernd Hölzenbein found a bit of space in midfield and threaded a ball through the Polish defence to Rainer Bonhof inside the penalty area. He kept his feet as he turned sharply and laid the ball into the path of Gerd Müller, who took a touch to control before firing home the only goal of the match.
It was the first chance that had come his way and it was to be the goal that fired Germany into the final. It was also the first lapse in the Polish defence, but when you have a striker of the quality of Gerd Müller around, one lapse is all it takes.
Germany: Maier, Vogts, Beckenbauer, Schwarzenbeck, Breitner, U.Hoeness, Bonhof, Overath, Grabowski, G.Müller, Hölzenbein
Poland: Tomaszewski, Szymanowski, Zmuda, Gorgon, Musial, Maszczyk (Kmiecik 79), Deyna, Kasperczak (Chmiekiwicz 79, Lato, Szarmach, Gadocha
The agony and the ecstasy
To the victors the spoils as they say and Germany would go on the beat another of the highly fancied teams in the Munich final. The 2-1 win over Johann Cruyff’s Netherlands side saw the favourites defeated and a second World crown for the hosts. Poland beat Brazil in the third-place play-off, but that couldn’t compensate for the huge disappointment of missing their golden opportunity.
They were beaten by Müller’s goal, but they were also beaten by the rain. Years later when talking about the match Paul Breitner admitted as much. “I can remember one game where I’ve always maintained we beat a team which was fundamentally better than us. In fact, it was definitely the best team in the competition and still didn’t win the World Cup. I mean Poland in 1974.”