Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 53-When East Met West (1974)

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Football/Soccer is more than just a game sometimes. As the ‘real’ world unfolds, football becomes caught up in it, and particular matches have particular political symbolism. One such match was when West Germany played East Germany in the 1974 World Cup.

Since the end of the second world war the divided Germany had become the main arena for the ongoing Cold War between East and West. While the World Cup in West Germany had been decided in 1966, the early 1970s were full of political tensions that more or less indirectly affected the world cup. The USSR did not participate after they refused to play a play-off match against the newly installed Pinochet regime in Chile, and security during the tournament was intense after the Palestinian terrorist attacks during the Olympics games in Munich two years before as well as the fear of the German Rote Armee Fraktion.

It was thus part of the tension when West Germany and East Germany drew each other in the first round of the World Cup to play in what is surely the most politically tense match in the history of the world cup (until 1998 when the US played Iran). The two Germany’s had started a process of normalization in the early 1970’s and had only recognised each other in the Basic treaty of 1972 some two years before this clash kicked off.

As soon as it became clear that the two teams would face each other in a serious match for the first time ever (they had met in Olympic amateur matches), the ‘brotherly’ match between the two German nations became more than just a football match, catching the attention of not only the political leadership of the two countries, but also of the people’s of both countries. The match was to be the last match of the first round, which had started well for both teams. West Germany had defeated Chile and our rag tag debutants, while the East Germans had defeated us in their first match (a World Cup debut for them as well as us) and tied with Chile.

As the Socceroos and Chile tied 0-0 in their last match, it became clear that both German teams would qualify, no matter the result of the match in Hamburg.

Still, it was an important match, and for sure the West Germans were huge favourites. Besides being at home, the team was defending European champions, and had a core of players from the Bayern Munich team that barely a month earlier had lifted the European Champions Cup trophy after crushing Atlético Madrid in the final. Nevertheless, the East Germans had a good team as well. The East German champions FC Magdeburg had also had European glory a month before when they won the European Cup winners Cup by defeating AC Milan 2-0. Many players had good Olympic experience, having won bronze at the 1972 Olympics (and they would win gold in 1976).

Besides each team’s strength, the players from both sides were very aware of the importance of the match. Still, the West Germans were, prior to the match, largely dismissing the East Germans, sure of a victory that would give them the group victory. In spite of this apparent arrogance, many East German fans supported the West German side, living as they did under a communist regime that was highly restrictive. Only 1500 specially selected East German fans were allowed to travel to Hamburg by train, for a match with 60,000 spectators.

It was not the best match though. The West Germans were perhaps surprised by the well-organised East Germans, but the match in first half didn’t flow well, although both teams had chances that should have resulted in goals. This theme continued in the second half, until a long ball was kicked towards the Magdeburg striker Jurgen Sparwasser, who at full speed got in between three German defenders and kicked the ball over the legendary West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier.

This goal was enough for the East Germans to win the group, and they celebrated when the referee ended the match. This was a victory that resounded in the world. However, the remainder of the World Cup went differently for both teams. East Germany, who had paradoxically won the group, now had to face the strong sides of Brazil and the Netherlands, and were indeed eliminated. On the other hand, West Germany had an easier draw and won the rest of their matches, also the final against the Netherlands, to become world champions, and easily forget the humiliating defeat against the communistss from next door.

In the qualifiers for the European Championship of 1992, East and West Germany drew each other. However, before they could meet towards the end of 1990, political events overtook them. The wall fell and Germany was reunified to the soundtrack of David Hasselhof and The Scorpians, and has since played as one country. Still, their encounter in 1974 will be remembered as the most important match these two nations played at a time when Germany was divided.

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.

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