World Cup 1974: Total Football


Long standing heavyweights West Germany would finally host a World Cup in 1974, but the world would be dazzled by the rise of another. Lead by a new superstar the world fell in love with the dazzling Dutchmen and their new philosophy ‘total football.’

A New Dawn

At their conference of 1966 FIFA awarded the hosting rights of the next three World Cups, with West Germany hosting the 1974 return of the tournament to Europe. The tournament would see a new trophy awarded, the FIFA World Cup designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga. The tournament would have a new format with a second group phase replacing quarter and semi-finals and the inclusion of penalty shoot-outs although none would be required for another eight years. Played just two years on from Munich hosting the Olympics, the tournament would span nine cities in West Germany including West Berlin, with the final to be played at Munich’s Olympiastadion.

100 countries would enter the ’74 tournament and qualifying threw up its biggest shocks to date. The most shocking casualty were 1966 winners England, who missed out for the first time. Previous hosts Mexico along with Spain, Hungary, Romania and Czechoslovakia were other surprise casualties. There were new qualifiers too with Haiti, Australia, Zaire and East Germany all making their debuts.

Rivelino takes down Willie Morgan

Beauty to Beast

Holders Brazil kicked off the tournament in Frankfurt on June 13th. Mario Zagallo was still in charge but his team hadn’t played a competitive match since the ’70 final and were now shorn of legends Pele, Tostao, Gerson and Carlos Alberto. Jairzinho and Rivelino remained but Zagallo was tentative and after the rough treatment Brazil had received the last time the tournament was held in European conditions he opted for a more physical counter attacking approach. The opener pitted Brazil against a strong Yugoslavia team featuring the gifted playmaker Ivica Surjak, Brazil’s more conservative approach was evident in a tepid 0-0 draw.

Scotland were making their first appearance at the finals since 1958. The Scots had a talented veteran core in jinking winger Jimmy Johnstone, midfield tyro Billy Bremner and legendary striker Dennis Law for all of whom ’74 represented a last chance at the World Cup. There were younger talents too in goalkeeper David Harvey, winger Peter Lorimer and Celtic forward Kenny Dalglish.

Scotland opened against Zaire, first half goals from Leeds duo Lorimer and Joe Jordan eased the Scots to a 2-0 win, but crucially Scotland failed to add to their tally in the second half. Next up were Brazil. Again Brazil showed their physical side with Rivelino battling with Bremner in midfield. Brazil’s best chances came from set pieces but found Harvey unbeatable in the Scotland goal. Lorimer was testing out Brazilian keeper Emerson Leao with his trademark thunderous shooting. The best chance went Scotland’s way when a Lorimer corner was headed by Joe Jordan, parried but Bremner couldn’t quite turn it home another 0-0 and Brazil had yet to register a goal in the tournament.

In the other game Yugoslavia showed their class by pummelling Zaire in Gelsenkirchen. Striker Dusan Bajevic helped himself to a hat-trick, Surjak was also amongst the goalscorers in a 9-0 romp, putting Yugoslavia top of the group. As the deciding games kicked off a draw was almost certain to be enough for Yugoslavia, Brazil and Scotland both needed a win to be sure of progressing.

Brazil got underway against Zaire and Jairzinho finally gave the holders liftoff with a 12th minute strike. Rivelino struck midway through the second half, meanwhile Yugoslavia and Scotland were level 0-0; Brazil and Scotland were dead level in the group as the games entered the final 15 minutes. In the 79th minute Brazil got the vital third goal through striker Valdomiro, two minutes later Frankfurt Yugoslavia took the lead when substitute Stanislav Karasi’s close range header finally saw Harvey concede. Scotland now needed a win and Jordan gave them hope with a poacher’s finish in the 88th minute, the Scots pushed but Yugoslavia hung on for the draw and won the group with Brazil joining them in the next round. Scotland left unbeaten but eliminated on goal difference.

East meets West as the two Germany’s kick off in Hamburg

Germany vs Germany

West Germany began the World Cup as hot favourites. West Germany had been crowned European Champions two years earlier with Franz Beckenbauer now nicknamed ‘Der Kaiser’ a dominant presence in the team. Beckenbauer lead a legendary backline also consisting of goalkeeper Sepp Maier along with defenders Berti Vogts, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck and Paul Breitner. Uli Hoeneß was an exceptional attacking midfielder, 1970 survivors Jurgen Grabowski and Wolfgang Overath returned and up front Gerd Muller was in his prime. At club level the spine of the team had just won the European Cup with Bayern Munich.

The draw however threw up the last team the hosts wanted to face, the other Germany from across the cold war divide. Before facing teach other the two Germany’s would face Chile and Australia. West Germany opened with a scrappy 1-0 win over Chile thanks to Breitner’s early goal, whilst two second half goals handed East Germany a 2-0 win over Australia. Next up Overath opened the scoring as West Germany rolled Australia 3-0, with Muller scoring his first of the tournament, whilst East Germany were held to a 1-1 draw by Chile. That draw meant Chile could still qualify for the next round if they beat Australia and East Germany lost to the West. In the event Chile were eliminated in a dreary game in West Berlin ending 0-0, a game best remembered for Australia’s Ray Richards being booked twice but the referee failing to send him off.

So East met West in Hamburg with both teams already through to the second phase. As the teams walked onto the pitch the chant “Deutschland, Deutshcland” rang around the Volskparkstadion, but was this a chant for the home team or a wider political point from the fans? West Germany were favourites but struggled to find their game against a well organised East German defence. With the political pressure cooker surrounding the match both teams were cautious with neither wanting to make a mistake. The best first half chance falling to Grabowski who couldn’t convert.

East Germany didn’t have the star names of their neighbours but did have a trio of players who’d just won the European Cup Winners Cup with FC Magdeburg. As the second half progressed West Germany pushed for the opener but both teams were largely reduced to shots from distance. East Germany had threatened on the break and their moment came when substitute Erich Hamann played a long ball forward for Jurgen Sparwasser who evaded the slipping Beckenbauer and neatly angled the ball past Maier for the opener on 77 minutes. West Germany rallied but goalkeeper Jurgen Croy maintained control of his penalty area and East Germany had won. They may have been through but the favourites were suddenly in crisis in their own tournament.

Johnny Rep bamboozles Bulgaria

Total Football

Brazil may not have been the fantasy football team of 1970 but football purists soon found a new team to adore. Adorned in their striking orange jerseys the Netherlands introduced themselves to world football in 1974. The Dutch hadn’t made the finals since 1938 but their revolutionary manager Rinus Michels had crafted a brilliant Ajax team that went on to win three straight European Cups from 1971-73. Michels had moved on from Ajax to Barcelona and was appointed national team coach in 1974. Michels’ tactics were known as ‘Total Footall’ the concept that every outfield player could switch to any position and perform, requiring technical excellence from all.

Michels had wonderfully gifted players with which to make Total Football a reality, notably Ajax trio defender Ruud Krol, gifted playmaker Johann Neeskens and rampaging forward Johnny Rep. It wasn’t an all Ajax affair either, Anderlecht forward Rob Rensenbrink was a prolific striker and defender Wim Jansen one of a clutch of stars of Feyenoord’s 1970 European Cup win. The star turn however was the man who’d left Ajax to join Michels at Barcelona, Johan Cruyff. Nominally an attacking midfielder, Cruyff was a magician with the ball at his feet and seen by most as Pele’s heir apparent. He arrived in West Germany on the back of his debut season at Barcelona, in which he delivered a first Spanish title to the Catalan giants in 14 years.

The Dutch opened in Hanover against a Uruguay side still dependant on their veterans of 1970. Uruguay like Brazil resorted to cynical tactics on their return to Europe and Cruyff was immediately targeted. The Dutch simply played around and through Uruguay, a tidy build up saw an inviting cross glanced home by Rep after just seven minutes. Holland played through and around Uruguay and another fine passing move ended with Rep firing home for a 2-0 win and the Dutch had laid down a marker for the tournament.

The other game in Group 3 pitted Sweden against Bulgaria. Sweden had a tough defence featuring Bayern centre back Bjorn Andersson whilst Bulgaria still had star striker Hristo Bonev, on the day defences came out on top in a 0-0 stalemate. Bulgaria then faced Uruguay with Bonev on target but a late equaliser from Ricardo Pavoni denied Bulgaria the win. The Dutch then faced Sweden and the tough tackling Swedes managed to keep Netherlands at bay, picking up four yellow cards in the process, but the 0-0 draw kept both in strong position going into the final group fixtures.

However the game went down in history for a moment of subliminal skill from Cruyff. With his back to goal and tightly marked by Jan Olsson, Cruyff feigned a pass, dragged the ball back behind his standing leg and swiveled 180 degrees to leave the defender bamboozled and Cruyff free to raid down the left wing; The ‘Cruyff turn’ was born

The Dutch dazzled in their final group game, Cruyff was felled for an early penalty which Neeskens despatched. Cruyff was dominating the game, running at the Bulgarian defence and before halftime another poor challenge in the box this time on Jansen gave Neeskens a second spot kick 2-0. A Rep volley in the second half made sure of the win as the Dutch cruised 4-1. The other game Uruguay make the early running but couldn’t penetrate Sweden’s backline. Early in the second half Sweden finally got their first goal of the tournament when their star forward Ralf Edstrom lashed in a fine opener. Ernst Sandberg made sure of progression with a nice finish for 2-0 before Edstrom rounded off a 3-0 win. Sweden were through without conceding a goal but the Dutch took the group and were fast emerging as the favourites.

Poland goal machine Gregorz Lato

Azzurri Poleaxed

Poland were making their first finals appearance since 1938, but having taken down England in qualifying were seen as a dark horse. Goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski had made himself a legend with his one man brickwall performance at Wembley. In front of Tomaszewski stood an impressive side with right-back Antoni Szymanowski, creative midfielder Kazimierz Deyna and attacker Grzegorz Lato the star turns.

First up for the Poles were Agrentina, marshalled by arguably their best ever defender Roberto Perfumo. Going forward Argentina had the dribbling wizardry of winger Rene Houseman and young Rosario forward Mario Kempes. The two met in Stuttgart in a thrilling encounter. It took just seven minutes for Lato to open his account, pouncing on a howler from goalkeeper Daneil Carnevali. A minute later a blistering counter attack saw Andrzej Szarmach go through and arrow in for 2-0. Houseman was summoned from the Argentina bench for the second half but Poland were almost out of sight when Lato hit the post. Argentina got back into the game when nice move engineered by Houseman saw Ramon Heredia blast in on 60 minutes. Two minutes later another awful mistake from Carnevali saw a lazy throw from the keeper picked off by the razor sharp Lato who despatched for 3-1. Argentina clawed a goal back when a goal mouth scramble was finally finished off by Carlos Babington for 3-2 but Poland held on for the win.

1970 runners up Italy were amongst the favourites as they made the short trip to Germany. The spine of the Italian side came from a dominant Juventus team, including stand out goalkeeper Dino Zoff, defenders Luciano Spinosi and Francesco Morini and Fabio Capello in midfield. There was a strong lineage with the 1970 team in skipper Giacinto Facchetti and attacking duo Gianni Rivera and Luigi Riva. They started against debutants Haiti in Munich and were shocked by Emmanuel Sanon giving the underdogs the second half lead. Italy hit back with Rivera swiftly equalising before Romeo Benetti gave Italy the lead but the 3-1 scoreline was far closer than anyone expected.

Just how unconvincing Italy’s win was underlined four days later when Poland faced Haiti. Lato opened the floodgates with an early goal, and Szarmach claimed a hat-trick in a 7-0 rout, the goal difference landslide a virtual guarantee of progression for the Poles. Italy now faced Argentina and Houseman gave Argentina a 20th minute lead with a brilliant half volley. Italy equalised before halftime when Benetti forced Perfumo into an own goal. The game finished 1-1 meaning Italy needed at least a draw against Poland, lose and Argentina would overtake them with a three goal win over Haiti.

Argentina needed goals and Hector Yazalde gave them a 15th minute breakthrough with Houseman making it 2-0 just three minutes later. In the second half Ruben Ayala made it 3-0 meaning the goal difference swung in their favour. Sanon pulled one back to give Argentina the jitters but Yazalde struck on 68 minutes for 4-1 and Italy would need to hold the Poles. Italy went on the front foot early but Poland took the lead when Henryk Kasperczak’s searching cross was brilliantly headed by Szarmach, 1-0. Giorgio Chinaglia spurned a glorious chance to equalise and Italy were made to pay when a swift counter attack saw Deyna drill in the second goal. Manager Ferruccio Valcareggi looked to the old guard and brought on Roberto Boninsegna as Italy pushed to get back in the game. The pressure finally brought a breakthrough when Capello got clear to push home in the 85th minute but Poland hung on for 2-1 and Italy were going home.

Cruyff dethrones Brazil

Clockwork Oranges

For the new second round group phase, Group A looked the tougher with Brazil, Argentina, East Germany and new favourites Holland. The Dutch started against Argentina and put on a clinic of flowing football. Argentina struggled to get the ball out of the their own half as Netherlands dominated, after just 18 minutes Argentina were undressed by a Dutch passing move with Cruyff left clean through to waltz around the goalkeeper for 1-0. Seven minutes later the game was over as a contest when Argentina failed to clear their lines from a corner and Krol blasted home for 2-0. The Dutch were enjoying themselves and the inevitable third came late in the game with Cruyff’s perfect cross finding Rep’s head for the third. Argentina looked to have survived a brilliant Dutch one-two move only to see the ball find its way to Cruyff to lash home and complete Argentina’s misery.

The other game in the group saw Brazil take on East Germany in a much tighter affair. East Germany gave as good as they got as the Brazilians again lacked the flair of yesteryear. Brazil did have one exotic trick left in their locker; Rivelino’s free kicks. On the hour the dead ball genius stepped up and bent a beautiful free kick through the East German wall for 1-0. Brazil were forced to defend to hold their lead with Martin Hoffmann going close but the champions held hung on.

Brazil’s next game was against a shell shocked Argentina. With Argentina struggling Brazil began to look far more like the Brazil of old with Rivelino pulling the strings in midfield. Inevitably it was Rivelino who got the breakthrough with a thunderous drive on 32 minutes. Argentina hit back with Miguel Brindisi hitting a powerful free kick straight down the centre of the goal and beating Leao with sheer power and the sides went in level at the break. Brazil retook the lead shortly after half time with Ze Maria’s persistence seeing him burst forward and deliver a delightful right wing cross for Jairzinho to head home. Brazil were made to work but saw the game out and would go to their final group game still alive.

The Netherlands dominated East Germany in the other game, Neeskens giving them an early lead they never looked like relinquishing. In the second half Rob Rensenbrink added the second to see out a comfortable 2-0 win. The Dutch would now face Brazil in Dortmund with a place in the final at stake.

From the first whistle in Dortmund Brazil played spoiler, as the Dutch dominated possession with Cruyff and Rensenbrink going close. At the other end Jairzinho was looking dangerous and his deflected shot almost creeped inside the post. At the back Brazil’s rough tackling resulted in three first half cautions but they made it to the break at 0-0.

Netherlands were again on the front foot at the start of the second half and on 50 minutes the breakthrough arrived, Cruyff crossed low from the right for Neeskens to beautifully loop the ball over Leao. Fifteen minutes later the Dutch provided a team goal to rival Carlos Alberto’s in the ’70 final. Holland began with the ball in their own half picking passes before Rensenbrink played a one two with Krol who powered down the left to deliver a cross for Cruyff to volley home 2-0. Brazil were beaten, their fall exemplified by Luis Pereira receiving’s late dismissal. The Netherlands were heading to their first World Cup Final.

West Germany’s thriller against Sweden

Schon’s Switch

Nobody felt the pain of West Germany’s loss to their Eastern cousins more than veteran manager Helmut Schon. Born in Dresden back in 1915 many of Schon’s family had fled the communist east to settle in West Germany. The coach who’d taken West Germany close in the two previous World Cup’s knew he needed to change things up if he was going to deliver the home World Cup his countrymen demanded. However the loss to East Germany came with a silver lining, West Germany were in the weaker of the two groups having to navigate a path past Yuoslavia, Sweden and Poland to make the final and crucially avoiding both Brazil and Holland.

For the opening match against Yugoslavia Schon made changes drafting in defensive midfielder Rainer Bonhof and winger Bernd Holzenbein amongst four changes. West Germany got back on the horse and Breitner’s howitzer on 39 minutes settled their nerves and gave them the lead. The game remained tight but Schon pulled a masterstroke by brining Hoeneß (one of the dropped quartet) off the bench late, his cross in the 82nd minute fell invitingly for Muller who gobbled up the chance 2-0 and job done.

In the other game Poland continued their fine form against Sweden, with Lato grabbing the only goal of the game just before halftime. Next up Poland faced Yugoslavia, the Poles took the lead when a moment of petulance handed them a penalty, ably despatched by Deyna. Yugoslavia fought back and just before the break a patient passing movement opened Poland up and Karasi smashed in the equaliser. Poland weren’t to be denied though, a pinpoint second half corner from Robert Gadocha found Lato who headed in for 2-1 and put Poland top of the group while Yugoslavia were eliminated.

The pressure was now firmly on Schon and West Germany as they faced Sweden. Some indecisive defending from the Germans saw a weak clearing header swiftly punished by Edstrom whose vicious volley beat Maier on 24 minutes. Sweden’s hopes took a heavy blow eight minutes later when midfield lynchpin Bo Larsson was injured and subbed off, but they made it to halftime with the lead intact. West Germany went on the front foot and the pressure told on 51 minutes when Muller tried to wriggle free in the box and the ball found its way to Overath who fired in the leveller. A minute later West Germany were ahead when Bonhoff fired home from range. Just when it seemed Sweden were out of it they immediately struck back when West Germany failed to clear a hopeful cross and Ernst Sandberg smashed in for 2-2. Schon again turned to the bench and brought on Grabowski and again it paid off, Muller turned provider and played in Grabowski who powered home the killer goal. Hoeneß added a late fourth from the penalty spot and West Germany suddenly only needed a draw with Poland to make the final.

The top two met on a soaked pitch in Frankfurt with Grabowski back in the West Germany starting line up. West Germany won a penalty through Holzenbein but Tomaszewski came to Poland’s rescue with a fine save. In the difficult conditions it was a game of few chances and with 14 minutes to go Bonhof played in Muller and ‘Der Bomber’ finished with aplomb. West Germany were through, Poland went on to beat Brazil to claim third place with Lato scoring the only goal of the game and claiming the golden boot. For the hosts Schon had found the right blend and they were heading to the final, but the Dutch were waiting in Munich to provide the ultimate test.

Muller grabs the winner

’54 Redux

The final pitted unquestionably the two best teams of the tournament against each other. Netherlands were hot favourites, their bewitching football was now compared to Brazil’s of 1970. West Germany had found their grove, had experience on their side as European Champions and had five survivors from the ’66 World Cup Final. They were however still underdogs, many saw the parallel with the final 20 years earlier when unfancied West Germany had taken down red hot favourites Hungary.

Five days before the final tensions were stoked up when Germany tabloid Bild published a story claiming the Dutch players had engaged in a naked pool party at the team hotel with local girls, they claimed to have photos but if they did they never published them. Michels denies the story and was outraged claiming dirty tricks from the hosts. For the final Schon detailed Berti Vogts to man mark Cruyff as a means of nullifying the Dutch. The game got underway in Munich with the Dutch kicking off. The visitors were knocking the ball about with confidence and Cruyff quickened the pace as he darted into the box, was brought down and the penalty given. Neeskens fired down the middle with just 84 seconds played 0-1, the first German player to touch the ball was Maier when he picked it out of his own net.

The Dutch were dominating the ball and Vogts was booked after just four minutes for a foul on Cruyff, it seemed Schon’s plan was already dead. The Dutch seemed to be toying with the Germans but crucially didn’t get the second goal. As the first half wore on West Germany were growing into the game and Holzenbein burst in the box, drawing a foul and the Germans had a penalty of their own. Breitner stepped up and easily despatched, 1-1 on 25 minutes. The Dutch were losing their way and Vogts found himself clean through only to be denied by a brilliant save from Jan Jongbloed. With the game swinging West Germany’s way Hoeneß went close. As halftime approached both teams created big chances as the game became stretched. Two minutes before the break Grabowski raided down the right, crossed for Muller who checked back and brilliantly swung his leg around the ball to slot home for 2-1 at the break.

Netherlands regrouped for the second half but Bonhoff almost put West Germany out of sight with a header he put wide. At the other end Breitner headed off the line and a Cruyff free kick was headed by Willem van Hanegem forcing a good save from Maier. West Germany were under siege as the Dutch swarmed around their box with a vicious shot from Neeskens drawing another brilliant Maier save. Rep almost got in from close range and then another attack saw him swing a shot across the face of West Germany’s goal. The defence was holding, Vogts was containing Cruyff and West Germany were a threat on the counter. In the dying minutes Neeskens’s rasping drive went close but wide, Jack Taylor blew his whistle and West Germany were champions.

Beckenbauer finally lifts the World Cup


Mexico ‘70 was always going to be a tough act with only a few teams hitting the same heights. 1974 for better or worse saw the beginning of the modern World Cup and not just because of the trophy. Commercialism, media intrusion and bickering over bonuses were clearly evident in ’74.

West Germany were worthy champions, arguably the best in their nation’s storied history and few players deserved to life the trophy as richly as Beckenbauer and Muller. Poland with their goal hungry team were also a delight. It was the Netherlands however that captivated the world. With their total football, flowing locks and love beeds, Cruyff’s team inherited Brazil’s mantle of beautiful football with Dutch orange replacing Brazilian yellow. Some equate their loss in the final to the defeat of 60s idealism to the harsh realities of the 1970s embodied by West Germany.

’74 would be Cruyff’s only World Cup quitting international football after the 1976 European Championships, Beckenbauer wouldn’t return to the tournament either. More surprisingly the final turned out to be Muller’s swansong from international football aged 29. Michels went back to club management but returned to the Netherlands job for the 1988 European Championships. Ironically held in West Germany, Michels returned to the Munich’s Olimpicstadion and this time went home clutching the trophy. The indelible image of ’74 remains the Cruyff turn, an iconic moment recreated in school playgrounds across the globe to this day.

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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