Sunday, February 5, 2012

East vs West: All-German Encounter in Football World Cup 1974

The only professional international football match between East Germany and West Germany was played in the World Cup of 1974.

The FIFA world cup of 1974 was held in West Germany across nine cities. The host nation was drawn in Group One along with Chile and new comers Australia and East Germany. The city of Hamburg was to hold the first and what turned out to be the only East-West German professional international ever.

East and West: A Comparison of German Teams

West Germany was the reigning European champions. With players of the likes of Beckenbauer, Breitner, Overath, the ever dangerous Mueller and goalkeeper Maier they were a formidable outfit and were playing on home soil too. They were coached by veteran coach Helmut Shoen.

The East Germans were comparatively inexperienced in professional international level, even though they had done well in Munich Summer Olympics in 1972. Their football, as well as every other aspect of life, was under the influence of the Ministry of State Security (MfS, commonly known as the Stasi) and the communist regime. The Stasi minister Erich Mielke was an ardent football fan and therefore the domestic league was heavily manipulated by him. This did not help the development of a good domestic league.

Countdown to the Game: Preliminary Round

West Germany opened their world cup with a lackluster performance against Chile to the utter disappointment of the home crowd. This prompted them to attack in full force at the hapless Aussies but the 3-0 win was not convincing enough. However, they had by then advanced to the next round.

East Germany started well with a 2-0 victory against the Australians and then drew the match with Chile. But since the Aussie-Chilean match was drawn, by the time the East-West game started, they also had advanced. (Before 1986, the practice of staging the last games of a group simultaneously was not started.)

However, a victory was important for both teams. Helmut Shoen, the West German coach who was born in Dresden wanted his team to win. Beckenbauer would say “we are playing this for Shoen.” For the East German regime, which was trying to prove that they were better than the Westerners in anything, this was a political issue also.

The Match……

The game started at 19:30 hours (Central European Time) at the Volksparkstadion in Hamburg in front of 60,350 spectators including a group of 2,000 ‘loyal’ East German supporters, carefully selected by the communist regime. The players themselves were somewhat confused as to how to behave in such an encounter. First half did not produce a goal despite both teams having chances. Mueller hit the post once and the East Germans missed an open goal.

In the second half, West Germany dominated the game but it was a break at the other end which allowed Juergen Sparwasser to score in the 77th minute, instantly transforming him to an East German legend. The stadium went quiet except for the 2,000 East Germans chanting “sieben, acht, neun, zhen, Klasse” (seven, eight, nine, ten, (top) class) while frantically waving their flags. For the remainder of the game the East Germans managed to defend their lead despite everything their opponent threw at them and won the game.

...and the Aftermath

Helmut Shoen was considerably demoralized by his team's defeat and Beckenbauer had to step in to the void during the remainder of their world cup. Their fans were totally disappointed also. However as the then Dutch captain Cruyff would say at a later time, “Every disadvantage has an advantage” and the West Germans went on to prove it. Their defeat meant that they were the second of the group behind the East Germans. Therefore, the Germans did not meet the Dutch powerhouse until the final. They became better and better as the tournament progressed and ultimately won it. Meanwhile, the East Germans were eliminated at the second round.

In the long term, the East Germans never consented to another East-West game to preserve their clean record. They preserved it successfully but could not preserve their communist regime which finally disappeared from the face of Earth. With the reunification of Germany in 1990, the East German football team disappeared also and the East German football federation was amalgamated to the German Football Federation.


1. Glenn Phillips and Tim Oldham, World Cup '98, London (1998)

2. FourFourTwo, December 2009

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