World Cup's Greatest Shocks: East Germany 1–0 West Germany, 1974

There are plenty of reasons why football has grown to become the world's most popular sport. The game's simplicity means it can be played by almost anyone, anywhere. Its incredible fanbases have helped to create unbeatable atmospheres, but it is arguably in the sport's unpredictability that truly sets it aside. Gareth and I have compiled a list of 10 of the Men's World Cup's greatest shocks. Covering almost 100 years of football history, the following upsets can tell us more than just what happened over the course of 90 minutes. 

East Germany 1-0 West Germany - 1974

West Germany have a magnificent history at the FIFA World Cup, winning the competition three times before reunification in 1990, East Germany by comparison, don't. The East Germans qualified on one solitary occasion, 1974, when the competition was hosted by their political and ideological opposites and neighbours, West Germany.

Following the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union controlled the east of Germany, turning it into a Communist, totalitarian regime. The west meanwhile was considered more democratic. Germany and it’s capital Berlin was split in half too. East Germany became the German Democratic Republic (GDR), whilst the West was named the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). 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. During this time many players and coaches sought to escape to West Germany.

West Germany quickly became a footballing nation of note, winning the 1954 World Cup as underdogs against favourites Hungary in the 'Miracle of Bern'. In 1972 West Germany also lifted the UEFA European Championships with a squad filled with stars such as Gerd Müller, Paul Breitner and Franz Beckenbauer. Hosting the World Cup in 1974 was a chance for West Germany to fully establish their place as a global footballing powerhouse. 

The World Cup draw placed hosts West Germany in a Group 1 with Chile, debutants Australia and first-timers East Germany. The Germany Derby clash would be the last fixture of the group stage, with West Germany opening their tournament by beating Chile 1-0, whilst East Germany put two past Australia. The second round of games saw West Germany continue their good form by dispatching Australia 3-0, with the East Germans letting a 1-0 lead slip to share the points with Chile. The results meant that both East and West Germany qualified for the second group stage (as was the structure in 1974), with a game to spare.

Helmut Schön - The East German managing West Germany

The final group game was the first and only time these two international teams would face each other. It was a matchup that the GDR had constantly rejected and East German striker Hans-Jürgen Kreische recalled relishing the opportunity to compete with the West, ‘it was something we repeatedly strived for, but the authorities always prevented’.[1] Added to this was the fact that West Germany were led by Helmut Schön, their manager who had been born in East Germany but escaped in 1950 to further his coaching career. Tickets for this battle were hard to come by and reportedly reached £66 (worth over £700 in 2022) on the black market, but as the Sunday Mirror wrote post-match, ‘for the East Germans who poured through Checkpoint Charlie… it was well worth every Deutschmark’[2].

The game itself perhaps did not live up to pre-match billing or anticipation. With neither side wanting to lose the game played out like so many derby games we see today, a cautious and tight affair.  Dynamo Dresden forward Kreische had the best opportunity of the first half, the East German sending the ball over the bar instead of putting the ball into a reletively empty net from a well-worked chance. The game was goalless at the break.

Into the second 45 and with the West Germans on top, the East would sit tight and defend in numbers. A draw would see West Germany top the group on home soil with the East taking progression through the runners-up spot. 

In the 77th minute though, a moment would become etched into East German memories. Goalkeeper Jürgen Croy quickly distributed the ball to the right-hand side, Vorwärts Frankfurt's Erich Hamann. The substitute who was full of running burst forwards unchallenged taking the ball beyond the halfway line. Looking up Hamann saw the run of attack-minded midfielder Jürgen Sparwasser whom he found with a delightfully-weighted cross. Sparwasser's touch off his chest was excellent, taking the ball beyond the two West German defenders and finishing calmly and high with his right foot into the net (see the goal below). 1-0! 

East Germany faced immense pressure as the West sought to level the game, but they clung on to claim an historic victory. East Germany had done it, beaten the West and topped Group 1, one of the World Cup's greatest shocks!

East Germany had already exceeded expectiations by topping Group 1. However, their fine performance had in some ways ended up punishing them, as was reported in the Sunday Mirror, ‘ironically East Germany's victory [over rivals West Germany] put them in the tougher of the two second-round groups’.[3] The win saw them face eventual runners-up Netherlands, defending champions Brazil and a very strong Argentina side. 

The East Germans would battle valiantly but a 1-0 loss to Brazil, 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands and a 1-1 draw with Argentina would send them back home across the German border. Despite missing out on World Cup glory, the East would refuse to play the West again and they did not meet competitively until German reunited in 1990. East Germany could not boast lifting the FIFA World Cup, but they could boast a 100% record versus the West, and perhaps the rather sarcastic nickname of ‘Freundschaftsspielweltmeister’ (‘world champions of friendlies’). This title was given to them due to the tendency of communist nations to play ‘friendly’ matches against each other, and East Germany’s dominance in these games.[4] 

For the West Germans the setback landed them in the easier second group, with Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia. However, the defeat for East German-born manager Helmut Schön had a significant impact on him. He was ‘never the same coach again’, as he nearly ‘cracked up’ at being beaten by the country of his birth. [5] It is said that their captain, ‘Der Kaiser’, Franz Beckenbauer, pulled the team together and winning all three games in the second group stage qualified the West for a World Cup final versus the Netherlands.

The Netherlands took a second minute lead at the Olympiastadion, Munich but goals from Paul Breitner  (25') and Gerd Müller (43') would be enough to win West Germany a second FIFA World Cup. The West could boast the greater success, but for East Germany and Sparwasser the result was historic. The People poetically wrote: ‘Earlier Sparwasser was booked for dissent. Now he's booked imperishably into the Fatherland's football history as the man who won this first meeting of the two Germanies.’[6]

Sparwasser (left)


This blog contains an extract from our second book - The History of Football in 90 Minutes (Plus Extra-Time) - you can purchase it here!

Match and news reports from various sources including:

[1] Mani Djazmi, ‘World Cup whisky and the Cold War: When East & West Germany met’, BBC Sport, 07 March 2019,
[2] Sunday Mirror, 23 June 1974.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Markus Hesselmann and Robert Ide, in Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young (eds.), German Football: History, Culture, Society (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006) p.44.
[5] lrich Hesse, Tor!: The Story of German Football (London: WSC Books Ltd., 2003) p.193
Clemente Lisi, A History of the World Cup: 1930-2010 (Plymouth: Scarecrow Press, INC., 2011)

By Gareth Thomas, follow on Twitter: @TFHBs and @GJ_Thomas

©The Football History Boys, 2022
(All pictures borrowed and NOT owned in any form by TFHB)


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