History of the World Cup: 1974 – Beckenbauer vs. Cruyff

West Germany captain, Franz Beckenbauer holds up the World Cup trophy after they defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in the 1974 final in Munich. (AP)

Twenty years after the “Miracle of Bern,” the Germans were again champions of the world in 1974, defeating the Netherlands on home soil in a battle of Total Football devotees.


The map of the soccer world changed drastically after the 1970 World Cup. Brazil was no longer the dominant power it once was, Poland and a host of other countries were emerging as legitimate threats and England, the great inventor of the game, had lost its way.

Brazil’s samba soccer and Italian catenaccio were spent forces, while a new style of play, which emphasized the inter-changeability and versatility of players, ruled the global game, as did its greatest advocates, West Germany and the Netherlands. Featuring the likes of the incomparable Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens, the Dutch mesmerized fans and opponents alike with an attacking brand of soccer known as “Total Football.” The West Germans, guided by Franz Beckenbauer, subscribed to a more conservative yet equally effective interpretation of the revolutionary scheme.

“Total Football” came to full fruition at the 1974 competition in West Germany, marking a new era in World Cup history.

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With a new era came a new format. The 16-team field was still divided into four groups, but this time a second group stage replaced the knockout quarterfinal round: the top two teams in each group would then be placed into two groups of four with the winners meeting in the final.


West Germany vs. the Netherlands was the match that everybody wanted to see, the two celebrated practitioners of “Total Football” going head-to-head. The Netherlands had Germany running ragged from the opening kickoff. After an amazing first minute where the Germans didn’t even touch the ball, Cruyff began a purposeful and ambitious run deep inside Germany’s end. Cruyff left Berti Vogts for dead and the German defender brought the Dutch stylist down inside the penalty area. Johan Neeskens converted the ensuing penalty kick and the Netherlands were up 1-0 after only two minutes.

For the next 20 minutes, the Dutch toyed with their opponents, mocking the Germans with their slick passes and insolent possession, making them chase the ball in vain. The message was clear from Cruyff and his cohorts: merely beating the Germans wasn’t enough, they wanted to humiliate them.

Germany, to its credit, did not lose faith, and marshalled by Beckenbauer, it fought back and made the Netherlands pay for their indulgence. Bernd Holzenbein breezed down the left wing and glided into the penalty area where he was tripped by Wim Jansen. English referee Jack Taylor pointed to the penalty spot, but the Dutch accused the German winger of diving. No matter, though, as Paul Breitner drilled the ball past Jan Jongbloed in the 25th minute. The tide had turned.

Two minutes before halftime Germany’s Rainer Bonhof sped down the right side before delivering a cross into the box. Always in the right place at the right time, Gerd Muller dragged the ball back into his path and swept it past the Dutch goalkeeper.

Its pride stung, the Netherlands came out firing in the second half, but as time passed, Cruyff became less and less of a factor, his influence stifled by Vogts, and the Dutch had no more answers for the steely German defence. Germany eventually won and Beckenbauer, who had lost the 1966 final and a heartbreaking semifinal four years earlier against the Italians, lifted the new World Cup trophy.


Number of participating teams: 16
Top scorer: Poland’s Grzegorz Lato (7 goals
Number of games: 38
Total goals scored: 97
Average goals per game: 2.55
Highest scoring game: Yugoslavia’s 9-0 win over Zaire on June 18
Total attendance: 1,744,022
Average attendance: 46,685


Gzregorz Lato. The ace winger was the revelation of the competition, scoring at will as he led Poland to victory over teams the calibre Italy, Argentina and Brazil. Lato finished as the competition’s top scorer with seven goals and was the main reason why the Poles finished in third-place.


West Germany’s 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final. No match at the 1974 tournament came close to equalling the tension of the dramatic final between these two powerhouses. It was billed as a battle between Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, but it was the goal-poacher Gerd Muller who made the difference with his winning strike for the Germans.


The 1974 World Cup introduced “Total Football” to the world, a free-flowing brand of soccer that was the antithesis of Italian catenaccio.”Total Football” was a system whereby a player who moved out of his position was instantly replaced by a fellow teammate, thus retaining the team’s intended organizational structure. In this fluid arrangement, no player was tied down to their assigned position; any player could be an attacker, a midfielder and a defender. The idea was that you could switch around one player and insert him into another position and you would not be adversely affected because everybody on the team could play any position with aplomb — “Total Football.”


The 1974 tournament in West Germany marked a new era in World Cup history as a new trophy, simply called the FIFA World Cup Trophy, was introduced. Designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga, the current trophy, unlike its predecessor, cannot be won outright: the winners of the tournament receive it on loan for four years and must return it before the next World Cup. The winners receive a replica to keep.


Without question, the most memorable moment of the tournament came in a first-round game between the Netherlands and Sweden. It was in that 0-0 draw that the incomparable Johan Cruyff conjured up a bit of magic after receiving the ball just outside the Swedish penalty area. With his back towards the net, he looked as if he was about to pass Sweden’s Gunnar Olsson on his left and move back towards the centre of the field. Instead, with the same right foot that appeared to knock the ball backwards, Cruyff shifted the ball in the opposite direction while simultaneously swivelling his entire body in the same direction and took off past Olsson on the right towards the Swedish goal-line. He didn’t score, but the “Cruyff Turn” became an instant part of soccer lore as children tried for decades to duplicate his ballet-like move in school playgrounds across the globe


Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff’s incredible streak of 1,142 minutes without conceding a goal in international play came to an end when Haiti’s Emmanuel Sanon scored against the Azzurri in the opening round.


Haiti’s Ernst Jean-Joseph became the subject of the first doping scandal in World Cup history when he tested positive for an illegal substance after the Italy game. He was suspended from the rest of the tournament.


Scotland didn’t lose a game in the group stage — one win and two draws — but that still wasn’t enough to see them progress to the next round. Scotland finished as the only undefeated team of the competition.


Gerd Muller retired from the national team after scoring the winner in the final. With a remarkable 68 goals in 62 appearances, Muller is Germany’s second all-time leading scorer (behind only Miroslav Klose, with 71).


Just two years removed from the horrors of the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972 where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered, the World Cup was played against a backdrop of tension and unease. Security, reasonably so, was tighter than ever with tanks poised at the airports and armed police vigilant outside the stadiums.


West Germany beat Chile and Australia in its first two games, and was then set to take on East Germany in the first-ever World Cup meeting between the two nations. West Germany, having already qualified for the next round, lost 1-0, but it was a blessing in disguise: The East Germans won Group A and as a result, Franz Beckenbauer and his teammates avoided the Netherlands and played in the easier of the two groups in the second round.


• Franz Beckenbauer would guide West Germany to another World Cup title in 1990 as a manager, becoming the only man in history to coach and captain a World Cup winning team.

• Days before the finals, Brazilian Joao Havelange was elected the new president of FIFA, replacing Englishman Sir Stanley Rous, who held the post since 1961. Havelange was the first non-European to hold the position since FIFA was founded in 1904.

• The 1974 World Cup was the first that England failed to qualify for since it began participating in 1950.

• Australia was the first nation from Oceania to qualify for the World Cup finals.

• Zaire was the first sub-Saharan team to ever appear at the World Cup finals.

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