“Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win…”
– Gary Linekar, English commentator and former World Cup Golden Boot winner.
When Toni Kroos smashed a free kick into the Swedish goal well into injury time, he was not just ensuring that Germany stayed in contention in the 2018 World Cup. He was also adding a new chapter to the German reputation of being one of the gutsiest teams in football history. Irrespective of the players, irrespective of the era, irrespective of the tournament, German football teams – nicknamed Die Mannschaft (The Team) – fight to the bitter end, often snatching victories from the jaws of defeat against teams that were often supposed to be better than them. It is a reputation that is based on some amazing performances, particularly at the biggest stage of them all. And if you thought Kroos’ effort against Sweden was special, just cast an eye on these seven performances which are the stuff of which German footballing legend is made!
Taking the magic out of the Magyars
Vs Hungary 1954
The game that perhaps laid the foundation of the legend of workmanlike, efficient German teams that would never give in. Beaten 8-3 by the legendary Hungarian team (the Magical Magyars) in the group stage, no one gave the Germans a chance in the finals. Hungary had not lost a match for years and was playing a level of football no one had seen before. Sure enough, the Hungarians were 2-0 up in no time at all. And then inspired by Fritz Walter at the back and Rahn at the front, the Germans hauled them back and stunned the world with a 3-2 win that is still considered the biggest World Cup final upset of all time. The artisans had beaten the artists. A legend was born.
Battling before being burst by Hurst
Vs England 1966
Another World Cup final, another German fightback. England, the hosts and crowd favourites had fallen behind to Germany early on but then had roared back into the lead. With the match almost over, the English team led 2-1 and it seemed only a matter of time before the hosts could collect the World Cup from the Queen. No one had told the Germans that, but. And sure enough, they kept pouring forward and attacking recklessly. Sure enough, they scored with one of the last kicks of the match, with Weber striking the ball home after a melee in the penalty area. The English would win 4-2 in extra time – with Geoff Hurst scoring a very controversial goal (they still debate if the ball crossed the line), but the German reputation for battling till the last breath had been embellished.
Revenge after Bobby went off
Vs England 1970
Four years after playing out a classic in the final, Germany and England were at it again, this time in the quarter finals. And it seemed the result would be the same as well, as England raced to a 2-0 lead and were controlling the flow of play well enough. Germany however kept coming forward and “Kaiser” Franz Beckenbauer pulled one back in the 69th minute. England manager Alf Ramsey then perhaps committed one of the biggest tactical blunders in football history, taking off Bobby Charlton to “save” him for the next match. There would be no next match for England. Germany roared back to win 3-2!
Refusing to lie down and die
Vs Italy 1970
If people thought that Germany’s comeback against England in the quarterfinals in the 1970 World Cup was amazing, the Germans went right ahead and almost repeated the act two days later, in the semi-final against Italy. The Italians scored early and seemed to have matters well in control, when a defender, Karl Hein Schnellinger suddenly seemed to materialize in the Italian penalty area, well into injury time, and equalized. The German miracle was well and truly on when Gerd Muller gave them the lead 2-1 in extra time. Italy, however, came storming back. Burgnich and Riva scored in quick succession to put them back up 3-2. Of COURSE that was not the end of it. Muller equalized again for Germany, making it 3-3, before Gianni Rivera finally sealed it 4-3 for Italy, after one of the great World Cup matches, and certainly the most amazing period of extra time ever.
Refusing to go Dutch
Vs Holland 1974
They were playing at home, but not too many people gave the Germans a chance against the rampaging Dutch team of 1974. Captained and inspired by the amazing Johan Cryuff, Netherlands had cut a swathe through the tournament, playing a brand of football that was labelled “total football.” Argentina were hammered 4-0, Brazil torn apart 2-0, and when Neeskins gave Holland the lead within a minute of the final getting underway against Germany, everyone assumed that was it. Of course, it was not. Brietner equalized and the legendary Gerd Muller fired the Germans ahead, and then Sepp Maier and Beckenbauer held firm against wave after wave of Dutch attacks, and claim the trophy against all odds. 1954 redux? To an extent!
No Vive la France!
Vs France 1982
No one really gave the Germans too much of a chance here. The former World Champions were a shadow of the great team of the 1970s, and in the opinions of many experts, were lucky to be even in the semi-finals, having lost to Algeria earlier on and won a very controversial match against Austria. Against them in the semis was perhaps the most gifted French team of all time, spearheaded by the amazing Michel Platini. The Germans, however, gave no quarter and fought tenaciously, holding the French to a 1-1 draw in regulation time. A key point of controversy was the brutal attack by German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher on Patrick Battiston, which left the Frenchman with broken teeth and ribs and damaged vertebrae, but was strangely, not spotted by the referee. Divine justice however seemed to have been done as the French scored twice to lead 3-1 in extra time. And then Germany again dragged themselves back from the brink, with goals from Rummenigge and Fischer taking the match to penalties, which the Germans won!
Bottling up Diego…almost
Vs Argentina 1986
Of all the teams to have worn German colours (or should that be whites) at the World Cup, the 1986 squad is universally acknowledged to be among the weakest. Their star player Karl Heinz Rummenigge was injured, their best player (Bernd Schuster) was not selected fearing a personality clash, and the rest of the team was a mix of raw youngsters and ageing veterans. No one gave them much of a chance. So, of course, they ended up in the final, following a path that by now was seen as typically German – marked by grit and resilience rather than skill and artistry. They twice came back from being a goal down (against Uruguay and Scotland) in the group stages, scored late against Morocco, survived a penalty shoot out against Mexico, and then capitalized on a goalkeeping error to shock France. Not many gave them a chance against Argentina in the final, not with Diego Maradona running rampant. Germany did put a man on Maradona (a very young Matthaus), but that left too much space for the others, and within an hour, Argentina were 2-0 up and galloping to what seemed an easy win. Again, the Germans had not read that particular script. Rummenigge poked in a corner and then with ten minutes to go, Voeller headed in another. Suddenly it was 2-2, and another German comeback had been made against all odds. Maradona had other thoughts, however, and a silky through pass to Burruchaga ensured that the cup went Argentina’s way, but Germany had once reinforced a principle of modern football – you never count out Die Mannschaft!
PS: Post that goal by Toni Kroos, Linekar updated his famous quote about football and Germany, tweeting:
Football is a simple game, 22 men chase the ball for 82 minutes and the Germans get a player sent off so 21 men chase the ball for 13 minutes and at the end the Germans somehow fucking win.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) 23 June 2018Subscriber Only Stories
“Football is a simple game, 22 men chase the ball for 82 minutes and the Germans get a player sent off so 21 men chase the ball for 13 minutes and at the end the Germans somehow fucking win.”