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1974 World Cup: East Meets West

In 1946, Winston Churchill declared that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. This was in reference to the the split that had occurred after the end of the Second World War where the Soviet controlled east became a Communist, totalitarian regime whereas the west was considered more democratic. Germany and it’s capital Berlin was split in half too, East Germany becoming the German Democratic Republic (don't be fooled by the name!) while the West was named the Federal Republic of Germany. This led to years of tension with tight restrictions on most areas of life in the East, football included. Professional clubs were banned and players were picked on if they were considered good role models rather than talent (maybe something we could do with today eh?!)
Probably wouldn't be playing for GDR!
The West was a different case, it was considered an economic miracle and grew rapidly, many Eastern Germans flooded across the borders to the Allied zones in desperation and in 1961, to stem the drain on Eastern resources, the Soviet union constructed the Berlin Wall. Two worlds were created, including in footballing terms with the West’s professionals Bayern Munich dominating much of the late 1960s/70s while Eastern amateur clubs languished behind. 

In 1972 the UEFA European Championships were won by star laden West Germany, containing the true footballing legends of Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner and Franz Beckenbauer. The next big step in the countries short history was to host the 1974 World Cup. It must be noted that moves towards reconciliation were in place and the countries formally recognised each other in the Basic Treaty at the beginning of the decade but worries remained across the continent, especially after events like the Palestinian terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich olympics. Both sides qualified for the competition and the group draw for the first round proper pulled out a cracker, GDR, FRG, Australia and Chile. For the first time in serious competition (the had played in the Olympics but these were only amateur games) the two teams would meet! 


Franz Beckenbauer and Bernd Bransch

This was the tie of the tournament no doubt about it but was seen as the “brotherly” match, gripping not only football fans but whole countries who saw this as a chance to united a divided nation. Things were helped by the fact both sides had already qualified for the second stage of the tournament. This was the final group game and was played in a good spirit with only 3 bookings throughout the match, the West though firm favorites and they knew it. Bayern Munich had won the European Cup weeks before beating Atletico Madrid in the final but FC Magdeburg of the East were also winners of the European Cup Winners’ Cup after victory of Milan. This was going to be one tasty game!!   

 All 1,500 of the specially selected East German fans piled into the stadium of 60,000 (the only ones allowed, similar to North Korea World Cup 2010 who sent Chinese actors!). The game itself did not live up to its billing however with both teams not really creating much of note, everyone believing the West would nick it at the end. In the 77th minute though, something unexpected happened... A long ball was well controlled by East German striker Jurgen Sparwasser who beat 3 West defenders and rifled the ball past Sepp Maier , incredible scenes!! (video below)


The result stood at full time breaking the heart of West German manager Helmut Schon who was one of those East German’s who had escaped across the border to the West to further his career. Rumor has it he lost all motivation and Franz Beckenbauer effectively helped guide the team for the rest of the tournament. The win though was probably the downfall for East Germany, they topped the table and so for the next stage were placed into another group with Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands while West Germany only had to face Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland

The Wall comes tumbling down
The final was between West Germany and the powerhouse of “Total Football” that was Netherlands. Two giants of World football that eventually saw Federal Republic of Germany win 2-1 thanks to goals from Breitner and Muller. Until Vincente del Bosque with the current Spain squad Schon was the most successful international manager with a record of 1 world cup win and 1 European Championship as well as coming runner up in both too. For East Germany it was a moment of triumph, the only side to beat their Western counterparts during the World Cup and a kickstart to the 1976 Olympics where they won the gold. This would be the only time the two met, drawn to be in the same Euro 1992 qualifying group the Berlin Wall came down and the country was reunited just before. This is certainly a moment to remember from the history of the beautiful game, something that seems a world away from the Europe we know now but also something that really wasn't that long ago, what a story!


Gareth Thomas TFHB (Follow me on twitter: @GJ_Thomas)

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