1982: The Austria fix

Before their opening game of the World Cup in Spain, Jupp Derwall, the West Germany coach, didn’t even bother to show his players footage of their Algerian opponents. He was worried that they might laugh at him. But there was no mirth once goals from Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi took the rank outsiders to a 2-1 victory. The Germans duly tonked Chile 4-1 in their next game. But once Algeria beat Chile 3-2, it left the champions of Europe needing to win by a goal or more to ensure that it would be they and Austria that went through at the North Africans’ expense.

Germany scored early enough, a bullet header from the imposing Horst Hrubesch. And that was that. The remaining 80 minutes played out as though part of some relaxed training session. If you watch the footage, you can hear irate fans chanting “Fuera, Fuera (Out, Out)" and “Que se besen, que se besen (Let them kiss, let them kiss)". Algerian fans turned their backs to the farce.

Four years earlier, the Austrians had beaten West Germany 3-2, in a game fondly remembered as The Miracle of Córdoba. The great Hans Krankl scored twice. In Gijón, he barely got a shot away, as the ball was passed around the middle of the park in somnolent fashion. In those days, the final group matches weren’t played simultaneously, and both the Germans and Austrians were well aware of what they needed to do to progress.

Krankl spoke afterwards of how there had been no tacit understanding between the two sides. But the thousands that had to watch that abomination of a game thought rather differently. El Comercio, a Gijón-based daily newspaper, went to the extent of featuring the match report in its crime section. And all these years later, the stain and the stench haven’t gone away.

The mother of all defeats

This was a rivalry that had been characterized by intense ill-feeling since the end of World War II. In the summer of 1988, when a late, late goal from Marco van Basten beat the Germans on their own patch in the semi-final of Euro 1988, fans in Amsterdam celebrated by throwing bicycles in the air, symbolizing the thousands that had been confiscated and then melted down to build German armaments during the war.

On the football field too, the Dutch had endured “the mother of all defeats", as Johan Cruyff and his Total-football compatriots were beaten 2-1 by West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final. Dutch frustration at the defeat suffered by one of the finest sides football has seen manifested itself in the sending off of Dirk Nanninga at the 1978 World Cup (a 2-2 draw), and Johnny Rep kicking Harald Schumacher in the abdomen at Euro 1980 (a 3-2 German win).

By the time they met at Italia 1990, a few months after Dutch fans had unveiled a banner comparing Lothar Matthäus, Germany’s captain and midfield talisman, to Adolf Hitler, there was another layer of animus to consider. The game was hosted by Milan. Ruud Gullit, van Basten and Frank Rijkaard all played for AC Milan, while Matthäus, Jürgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme wore the shirts of Internazionale, their great rivals.

In the first half, both Rijkaard and Rudi Völler, who played for AS Roma at the time, were sent off, though it was the Dutchman who had spat twice into Völler’s bubble perm. Given yellow cards and warned by the referee, the two were in each other’s faces again when Völler contested a high ball with Hans van Breukelen, the Dutch goalkeeper.

Rijkaard’s disgraceful behaviour was distinctly at odds with Erik van Muiswinkel’s poem, How Deeply It Runs, about a father teaching his daughter the difference between light and darkness. “Good and Evil Look, darling, look at the TV: Orange, Gullit, White. White, Matthäus, Black."

Back on the field, it was the surging runs of the unheralded Guido Buchwald that opened up the game. In the 50th minute, he got to the byline and crossed. Klinsmann’s deft angled finish was so exquisite that the cameraman nearly missed it. In the 84th minute, Buchwald went left again. When he pulled it back, Brehme collected, set himself and then curled a beauty into the far corner. Ronald Koeman’s late consolation was nothing more than a footnote in a game where Klinsmann’s lone-ranger role left him so exhausted that he collapsed at the final whistle.

1990: Lothar Matthäus’ Summer

In the 1986 final, it had been Matthäus’ task to keep the Cosmic Kite—as the immortal piece of commentary referred to Diego Maradona—from flying away with the trophy. It was a task he performed diligently, but the Argentine genius still found that split second of time and space to send Jorge Burruchaga away for the winning goal.

Four years on, it was Matthäus who was in his prime, and carrying a nation’s hopes. Instead of a merely defensive brief, he had the licence to roam upfield and inflict maximum damage. And there was no greater demonstration of his qualities than in the opening game against a dazzlingly talented Yugoslavia side that had knocked France out in qualifying.

At the San Siro, where he played his club football for Internazionale, Matthäus gave the complete performance. His first goal was a left-footed curler, placed beyond the goalkeeper’s right hand after he had received the ball with his back to goal and pirouetted as though wearing ballet pumps.

Then, after the Yugoslavs had pulled a goal back to make it 2-1 midway through the second half, Matthäus set off from the halfway line. Right, left, right, leaving for dead players who should have been shadowing him. Once within range, he let fly with the right boot. Again, it arrowed into the far corner.

He would score in the 5-1 rout of the United Arab Emirates, and stroke home the penalty that defeated Czechoslovakia in the quarter-final. He didn’t miss from the spot in the shoot-out against England in the semi-final and his composure, as opposed to Maradona’s frustrated histrionics, was a key factor in West Germany prevailing in an ill-tempered final. Four years after his watchdog impersonation, Germany’s finest was lord of the manor.

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