Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 31-The Greatest Semi-Final Of Them All (1970)

West Germany entered the 1970 World Cup in Mexico with a strong team of quite experienced players with the sprinkling of the youth that would get them glory in 1974. Among them was Franz Beckenbauer, who at only 25 years old already was one of the most experienced and established players in international football. The team was still captained by the legendary Uwe Seeler, who was playing his last World Cup while the up and coming Gerd Müller had seemed unstoppable, scoring seven goals in the first three matches, which the Germans won against Peru, Bulgaria and Morocco.

In the quarterfinals West Germany had played England in a repeat of the 1966 final. This time though England let go a 2-0 lead (thanks perhaps to Banks being ill) and West Germany won in extra time 3-2 with, Muller scoring yet another goal in extra time to put the champions out. This was only the second time England lost to West Germany, and as has happened so much since, the English were blanketed with references to the war. Italy had not had good results in the World Cup for many years but under coach Feruccio Valccareggi had built up a very strong team playing the reputed “Catenaccio” style around a highly organised and very strong defense.

The midfield led by AC Milan’s Gianni Rivera (who in 1969 had won the “Balon d’Or” as best player of the year) and with powerful strikers, notably Gigi Riva from Cagliari who is still the most scoring player in the history of the Italian national team. In 1968 Italy had won the European championship and was surely one of the best teams of the world at the time. However, the Italians were not popular for their “catennaccio” style after their first round matches where they tied 0-0 with Uruguay and Israel, and defeated Sweden 1-0. In the quarterfinals they had nevertheless shown their attacking power against the hosts of Mexico, and won 4-1, and were now through to the semifinal where the winner would play the winner between Brazil and Uruguay.

The match in front of a full Azteca Stadium started well for the Italians, only eight minutes into the match the Inter striker Roberto Boninsegna got a return ball at the edge of the German area and resolutely shot and scored. After this, Italy pulled back around its strong defense, and while the Germans had the ball the most, they were unable to open up the defense. It was frustrating for the many spectators as well as for the German players, to see the German team in possession and attacking like they normally did but being unable to score.

In particular, Franz Beckenbauer was playing a strong match and in the second half he dislocated his shoulder and broke his collar bone in a fearless tackle. However, unwilling to be substituted, the Bayern Munich star continued playing with a bandaged shoulder for the remainder of the match for what must have been a very painful sacrifice and virtually guaranteed his rise to captain after Seeler retired. In the 90th minute of the match, the frantic German attacks finally paid off when the AC Milan defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (aka ‘The Volkswagen’) suddenly found himself alone in front of the Italian goal on a cross by Jurgen Grabowski and just had to put the foot on the ball that went straight into the net.

It was one of the few mistakes that the well-organized Italian defense had made. West Germany had equalized and now seemed to have everything going for them as the match went into extra time. Only four minutes later, Gerd Müller took advantage of a misunderstanding between the goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and the defender Fabrizio Pelotti. When either hesitated to get the ball, Gerd Müller quickly got in between them and squeezed the ball into goal for a German lead. With the match completely turned on its head it was now Italy’s turn to start attacking against the partially amputated German defense and only four minutes later the Inter defender Tarcisio Burgnich scored after receiving a bounced off ball from a German defender.

Another defensive mistake had equalised it for the Italians who nevertheless continued attacking after the goal. At the end of the first half of the extra time Gigi Riva was given too much space at the edge of the German area and in despite it not being a very hard shot, it was well-placed towards the far corner of the goal and Sepp Maier had no chance. The match had in fifteen minutes turned around twice! Again it was West Germany’s time to attack as the teams went into the last fifteen minutes of the match and after only a few minutes Gerd Müller scored to make it 3-3 with a header which wasn’t bad for someone who was the size of a dwarf from Lord of the Rings in both height and stature.

The Italians, immediately when putting the ball into play, scored again without the Germans even touching the ball. Boninsegna crossed the ball to a Gianni Rivera and the Milan striker made no mistake when carefully placing the ball perfectly behind Sepp Maier to make it 4-3. Anything seemed possible in this semifinal with both teams knackered and the massive MCG-like crowd baying for more action like it was a bull fight but it was the last goal of the extraordinary drama which Italy won 4-3 and put them in the World Cup final against Brazil. An anecdote of this match tells that the guards at a prison near Acapulco, absorbed in the dramatic match on TV, didn’t notice the escape of 23 prisoners.

There’s season 4 of Prison Break already written. Surely the greatest of all semi finals in any World Cup although the next time they would face each other at this stage (2006) it wouldn’t be half bad either.

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.


  1. Peter Fuller says

    Marvellous account Denis of an extraordinary match. That photo of Beckenbauer with his arm in a sling is one that lives with you forever.

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