There is no revenge to be had after losing a final. When sides meet again, if ever, players and coaching personnel will have changed, stakes shifted. What is more, no one will go back to change the name plate on the trophy.
At the 1974 World Cup Holland had reached an until then unseen level of fluidity and understanding on the pitch. To this day they are ranked as one of the finest sides ever put together. Yet in the final they were bested by a pragmatic West Germany.
Four years on Holland were determined to reach the final again. Their 1978 World Cup campaign started convincingly enough, a Rensenbrink hattrick gave them a 3:0 win against Iran. However they then split the points in a goalless draw with Peru before losing to Scotland on the third matchday. Keeping the scoreline to a narrow 2:3 saw Holland inching out Scotland in the group table to advance on superior goal difference.
West Germany weren’t taking Argentina by storm either. As holders they opened the tournament in a tepid 0:0 with Poland. A flurry of goals on the second matchday, coming in a 6:0 over Mexico, lulled the side in a false sense of security. Another 0:0, this time against Tunisia, saw West Germany also finish second in their group.
By virtue of the tournament format the sides did not advance into a knock-out stage but rather entered yet another group stage of two groups with four teams each. The winner of each group would move on to the final, the runners-up would enter the third place play-off. Holland and West Germany both ended up in Group A alongside Italy and Austria. And on the second matchday they would play one another.
So we meet again
In truth this was not the first time the sides had met since the ‘74 final. Frankfurt hosted a test match in May 1975 which finished 1:1. But on June 18th 1978 in Cordoba the stakes could hardly have been higher. West Germany were already heavily under pressure going into this match as they somehow managed a third goalless draw in their Group A opener against Italy. Holland on the other hand had blown away Austria 5:1. An oranje win would, perhaps not exact revenge, but send the Germans packing nonetheless.
The question going into the match was whether Holland’s attack or West Germany’s defence would prevail. The Elftal had scored an impressive ten goals in their first four matches, more than any other side. Ze Germans meanwhile had kept four clean sheets in as many matches. The battle lines were drawn: Would West Germany be able to stop Holland, and, if so, how did they achieve it?
One man who knew how not to do it was Berti Vogts. The Gladbach defender was there to witness Hoeneß give away a penalty inside the first minute in the ‘74 final which Johan Neeskens duly converted. Vogts was one of four players in the German side to feature again, alongside Sepp Maier, Bernd Hölzenbein and Rainer Bonhof. For the Dutch six players made another appearance: Ruud Krol, Arie Haan, Wim Jansen, Johnny Rep, and Rob Rensenbrink had all started in the final, while René van de Kerkhof had come on as a substitute at half-time.
In the same sense that René van de Kerkhof had made a step up into the starting XI, so has Ramon Barreto. The Uruguayan had been one of the sideline assistants in the ‘74 final and was now at the helm of the referee crew.
Another early lead
The first few minutes already typify the different styles of play: Germany’s is a laborious approach, working around the ball at the back, producing little to no gain in the first attack waves: Rummenigge drops into his own half to pick the ball up, once he crosses the midline the noose in the Dutch midfield pressing tightens. On the other side it’s easy enough for Holland to advance the ball, as demonstrated early on by Poortvliet and René van de Kerkhof combining down the left wing, to find Rensenbrink in the box. His first effort is off balance (2’).
Centre back Rolf Rüssmann has the liberty to venture into midfield and does so shortly after Rensenbrink’s shot, picking up a throw in on the left wing. Some quick play sees Germany get past the midfield press for the first time, working the ball over to the far side. Rüdiger Abramczik pulls inside, tries to stick the ball through for Dieter Müller. Before the forward can do anything with it he is fouled just outside the box.
Though Erich Beer and Hölzenbein are options, it’s Bonhof’s free kick to take. With little finesse the Gladbach midfielder blasts the ball around the wall straight at Piet Schrijvers. The Dutch goalkeeper does well enough to get his hands up but can only parry the ball into the center of the box. There, a completely unmarked, Abramczik reacts quickly, pulling of a diving header to give West Germany an early lead (3’).
At only 22 years of age Abramczik was tipped as one of the rising stars in the German outfit. Debuting for Schalke in the Bundesliga at the tender age of 17, and for a time holding the record as the youngest ever Bundesliga player, Abramczik had by 1978 already 132 league matches under his belt. Known for his outstanding crosses, Abi earned his first cap in April ‘77. By February ‘79 his international career would be over. An exchange of words over his level of play in a goalless draw against Malta with DFB president Hermann Neuberger was to be his undoing.
Before butting heads with Neuberger Abi has a row with Willy van de Kerkhof. Coming over the left wing a few minutes after scoring, Abramczik is held by the Dutch midfielder. As the free kick is taken, WvdK jumps into Abramczik with a bit too much elbow action, subsequently going into the book (6’).
Dutch movement stifled
Surprisingly the early lead, coupled with their defensive prowess, does not quell jitters amongst the German backline. Rüssmann and Kaltz both make a meal out of easily defended situations somewhat belying their clean sheet record.
Responding to the opening goal Holland push everybody bar goalkeeper Schrijvers into the opposing half and have West Germany chasing the ball in central midfield. It’s high effort from the Germans to keep up with all of the off ball player movement between the Dutch lines. Only Rep remains in the first line constantly, everybody else is more fluid. (Which also pushes the team graphic to it’s limit, take it as an “approximation”.) One problem hindering the Dutch in the first 20 minutes is their passing not being quite sharp enough to get into the attacking third.
West Germany pack the central midfield with numbers, hoping to stifle the Dutch ball circulation by the sheer amount of legs in the way. Vogts, battle hardened and the best defender in the World Champions side, is tasked to mark Rensenbrink and keeps him largely quiet on the day. No small feat as the heir apparent to Cruyff is still in his full pomp.
Up until the quarter hour mark only one long range effort from Haan can be noted as far as Holland’s shots go. Then, from high up on the right wing, the Ajax and Anderlecht mainstay delivers a free kick. The Germans have a 5:4 man advantage in the middle as the cross is chipped in. Rüssmann jumps underneath it, in his back Rensenbrink climbs higher than Vogts and gets a header off; laying bare the limits of Vogts, standing at only 1.68m. Maier saves at full stretch (16’).
It’s the opening gun to a bit of Dutch power play, earning four corners in as many minutes. They are all easy enough to clear, West Germany are quick out of the blocks on the counter too, but lack quality at playing them through to finish.
Not overcommitting on numbers going forward, it’s down to Müller, Rummenigge, Abramczik and whoever had moved into the attacking third to get the move started. Especially the connection between Müller and Rummenigge is lacking as the pair are hardly ever on the same page. Rüssmann ventures into midfield when on the ball, Kaltz provides overlap on both wings going forward, bursting up into space.
In the left side of the midfield four, Hölzenbein and Bonhof are interchanging constantly. Hölzenbein is generally moving all over the ground, racking up kilometres and covering the full back area, more so than Abramczik does on the other side. It’s very much needed when Vogts is following Rensenbrink around, being pulled out of position. Hölzenbein then slots into the backline.
West Germany simply rely on a massive presence behind the ball. Though as the first half continues that default defensive set-up moves back 15-20 yards. In the beginning Krol had structured the attack, starting the moves from the back. With time that Krol opening is skipped and Haan is directing play from inside the German half.
Lack of concentration in the German defence
A scare for the German backline comes c/o René van de Kerkhof who is sent into the box, to the left of the goal, with a long ball. Beer is on him, Kaltz and Rüssmann are both on Rep. The far side of the goal is completely unmarked and that’s where RvdK chips a cross to. Only nobody had made the run into that area to capitalize (26’).
That lack of concentration continues and proves costly. Haan is given acres of space to advance the ball through the middle of the pitch. West Germany are sitting back too far, so Haan has a go from 30 yards out. Piet Wildschut had tried it earlier, only for the wind to blow it off to the side for a German throw in. Haan can keep his shot down and curls it away from the center of the goal. Maier is not jumping, his view perhaps obstructed by Kaltz. Haan finds the back of the net for the equalizer (27’).
It’s the first goal West Germany have conceded in Argentina and the second might as well have fallen just a minute after. Rensenbrink again wins a header against Vogts from a cross and is able to lay the ball off inside the box. Rep reacts quicker than Rüssmann, tries a volley, but can’t get his foot around it completely (28’).
Meek response from the World Champs
West Germany need to win to retain any chance of advancing. They need to respond. And it’s dire. It’s long balls to Müller and Abramczik. It’s crosses from the second row over the back of the defence. And it’s hardly effective: too little commitment going forward, shoddy delivery. Even then the Dutch backline is not really up high enough in most situation to offer much space to begin with.
Bonhof, now coming through the middle, tests the goalkeeper once more off a free kick. Rather from crossing territory Bonhof decides to blast another shot at goal, sending it straight into Schrijvers arms. It’s only notable as it’s the first shot for West Germany since the equalizer (38’). Beer has a go from the other side, pulling in from the left wing, heaving a shot at goal with his right foot. This one makes Schrijvers work, as the heavyweight, tipping the scales at 100kg, catches Beer’s effort in flight at full stretch (42’).
Helmut Schön followed the first half action, not from his usual place on the bench, but sitting in the stands to better see the systems at work. What the World Cup winning coach saw will likely not have pleased him.
To start the second half he orders his men forward. West Germany push everybody bar Maier into the Dutch half, something not seen at all in the previous 45 minutes. Rummenigge and Abramczik are starting runs from deep, are sent into space, the passes kept on the ground.
Within five minutes any creativity is gone, and the long balls are back. It’s the fifth tournament Schön is presiding over and it’s by far the most frustrating.
Holland playing keep-ball
Ernie Brandts is man marking Müller, Krol stays behind him for safety, and that is all the defence Holland need on the day. The full backs are free to take up a high position or to venture forward. It’s easy enough for Holland to play keep-ball as West Germany try to sort themselves out. The holders can hardly clear the ball shortly after the restart.
Symbolic is a rare touch for Müller inside the box: it’s worked in by Beer and Hölzenbein, Müller himself is surprised, half going for it himself, half leaving it for Rummenigge. The two forwards can’t get on the same page, the chance is squandered and West Germany are slow getting back into defensive formation to boot (56’).
Holland up the tempo and the pressure, are good moving out the back in numbers. If anybody is going to score it’s likely to be Holland. The Dutch are very much in command and are threatening even without Rensenbrink. The only part of the German match plan that works is Vogts taking away Rensenbrink as an option on the ground. Incidentally both van de Kerkhof brothers are repeatedly looking for Rensenbrink at either far post to capitalize on the forward’s height advantage.
Even then the Dutch boast an all-timer axis of Krol, Haan and Rep. One knock on them, though, is the lack of worked out attacks. Most shots at Maier’s goal come from long range, none of them can bother him.
A rare element of surprise
One couldn’t even say where the needed spark in offense is supposed to come from for West Germany. Rummenigge is invisible, Bonhof inconsequential. Albeit far away from the attack, the most active player in the white and black on the day is Erich Beer.
Caps for West Germany weren’t handed out to just anybody in the 70s, least of all for central midfielders. Beer was already 28 years old when he debuted at the international level in May 1975. His first match: the aforementioned 1:1 against Holland. Another 23 would follow for the Hertha legend. Ete, short for Erich in Berlin, played for nearly a decade in the walled off city. During the 75/76 season he managed to score four goals in a single match on three separate occasions.
Twenty minutes from time Ete provides just the spark his side needed.
Hölzenbein brings the ball up the left wing under no pressure from the Dutch defenders. He lays it off for Abramczik who takes it inside and is fouled. Germany take the free kick quickly, for once surprising Holland. They move the ball to Beer who is high up the left wing completely unmarked. Holland are still getting their wits as Beer puts in a cross. The defence has a 3:2 man advantage around the penalty spot but everybody failed to pick up Müller. The forward nods a header into the ground, the bounce beating the outstretched Schrijvers (70’).
René to the rescue
Holland are far from rattled and rather go into overdrive. Rep takes on three German defenders by himself, cutting in from the right wing with the ball. He blows past all of them and gets a shot off that takes a slight deflection and clatters off the bar (72’).
Instead of now sitting back to defend their lead as they had done after the 1:0, West Germany take the game to Holland, trying to exploit the space their opponent leave open when they advance. The Germans sense their best chance lies in defending forward, which leads to the liveliest part of the match. Abramczik scuffs an uncontested shots inside the box, whilst Beer clanks a volley off the bar.
Losing is not an option for Holland. Bondscoach Ernst Happel, clad in a spiffy oranje jacket, throws on the tall attacker Dick Nanninga for Wildschut. From an errant German clearance the ball falls to the newly introduced Nanninga inside the box. His volley shot forces a nice save from Maier (81’).
With the German defence still in disarray, the next Dutch attack wave is barely stifled. A clearance lands at Poortvliet’s feet 30 yards out. The Eindhoven defender demonstrates good vision, picking out RvdK starting in the left half channel. A big gap in the German defence was opened up by movement in the Dutch forward line. Poortvliet plays the through ball into the box, RvdK makes Dietz miss who overshoots the mark trying to dive in. With Maier beaten, Rüssmann tries to stop the shot with his hand in front of the line. Both defender and ball end up in the back of the net (82’).
An unseemly end
If the draw favors anybody it’s Holland. Though, much like Germany some 15 minutes earlier, it is now Holland who like their chances and rather than ride out the result try to go for the win. The Dutch intensify their pressing, become even more direct going forward. West Germany do enough to derail play forcing set pieces and injury stoppages.
The match screeches to a halt and subsequently ends in a rather unsatisfying way, made all the more bothersome as the cause went uncaptured by the TV feed. Nanninga had received a yellow card for an off the ball tussle with Hölzenbein. Immediately afterwards referee Barreto brandishes a red card, sending Nanninga off supposedly for laughing upon seeing the initial cautioning. It takes a few minutes to sort out the situation and, eager to be done with it all, Barreto blows for the final whistle shortly thereafter.
The draw kept both teams in contention for the final as in the parallel match Italy had beaten Austria 1:0. West Germany would face Austria and needed a win with a goal difference of least +5, while having to hope the clash between Holland and Italy ended in a draw. Should West Germany draw with Austria, or, the horror, lose to their neighbours, the winner of Holland vs Italy was assured a spot in the final.
- Man Of The Match: Haan
- Best Hair: Abramczik
- Viewing Recommendation: This is likely the best performance West Germany put on in the World Cup 78 and it’s still hardly worth watching; last 20 minutes, from the 2:1 on, are enough.
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