- The exhilarating Oranje were the overwhelming favourites
- Not a single West German had touched the ball when they fell behind
- Der Bomber hit the winner to break a World Cup record
1974 Wij waren de besten (We were the best in 1974) is a Dutch book about the FIFA World Cup™ of that year. It was published in the Netherlands in 2004, an indication of the dismay and disbelief still reverberating around the nation 30 years after defeat in the Munich Final. The team coached by Rinus Michels was pipped to the famous Trophy by hosts West Germany.
Amazingly, the meeting between West Germany and the Netherlands on 7 July 1974 was the first competitive fixture between the neighbouring countries. The pair had previously contested no fewer than 19 friendlies, but now the biggest prize in the game was at stake.
The Dutch qualified for the Final with an imperious second group stage campaign, which featured a 4-0 win over Argentina and 2-0 defeats of East Germany and Brazil. "We’ve lost to the best team at the World Cup," Seleção coach Mario Zagallo declared admiringly after seeing his side outclassed by Totaal Voetbal.
This formation and philosophy, unique in the history of the game to date, deployed all ten outfield players in both defence and attack. If a player left his nominal position, another man took his place. But nominal was the operative word, as defenders popped up in attack, and forwards tracked back to defend.
The system demanded enormous reserves of stamina and skill from the players, but the team spearheaded by Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens were in peerless form throughout the tournament. So much so that no-one doubted the ultimate destination of the Trophy, as the Dutch exploded back onto the world stage after 36 years away from the global showcase. "If he gets the ball, I just close my eyes and run. The ball arrives automatically," Neeskens gushed when asked about his captain.
West Germany beat Sweden 4-2, Poland 1-0 and Yugoslavia 2-0 in their second group stage games to qualify comfortably enough for the Final, although their first-stage campaign included a historic 1-0 defeat to East Germany.
The going-in position ahead of the clash between neighbours in front of a 75,000 crowd in Munich's Olympiastadion on 7 July 1974 was relatively clearly defined. The Netherlands, with their flowing football and sublime attacking play, were the darlings of the commentariat and favourites to win, but West Germany, fielding a top class line-up including the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Paul Breitner, were determined to capture the Trophy on home soil.
English referee Jack Taylor whistled play underway at 4pm local time, and the ball was in the net even before the spectators had settled into their seats after the national anthems. The record books show the Dutch playing the ball all of 13 times before Cruyff showed his marker Berti Vogts a clean pair of heels, thrust into the box, and was unceremoniously upended by Uli Hoeness.
It was to be the only incident in the match when Cruyff would get the better of his German opposite number. Neeskens stepped up to the spot, and with just 63 seconds on the clock, blasted his penalty down the middle and into the net. The hosts were behind without a single German player touching the ball.
The goal straight from the kick-off altered the character of the game, but not necessarily in the obvious way, as winger Johnny Rep later recalled: "We wanted to humiliate the Germans. It wasn’t something we’d thought about, but we did it. We started knocking the ball around – and we forgot to score a second."
Indeed, the men in orange began playing to the gallery, and slowly but surely lost their tactical shape. The punishment arrived on 26 minutes when Bernd Holzenbein tumbled over Wim Jansen’s outstretched leg in the Dutch area and won a penalty. Paul Breitner stepped up and levelled. "I looked Paul in the eyes, and I knew he’d score," Muller reported.
The crowd erupted, and Germany suddenly sensed the possibility of a second World Cup success to go with the triumph of 1954. In coach Helmut Schon’s 101st game in charge, the West Germans proceeded to take a half-time lead. Rainer Bonhof broke down the right and crossed, where Gerd Muller scored with a shot on the turn, bringing up a century of goals at the World Cup for Germany – and, as it turned out, settling the match.
The second half can safely be summarised as an onslaught in orange, although the first chance after the restart fell to the hosts, Bonhof planting a header just a fraction wide of the post. The Dutch seized control after that, but Beckenbauer, keeper Sepp Maier and Vogts excelled as the Germans repelled wave after wave of attacks.
The bruising nature of the contest at times is reflected in the match stats and the total of 41 free-kicks - 27 to the Netherlands and 14 to the Germans. The last half-hour saw the Dutch camped in the German half, but the host nation rode their luck and held on to inflict the Netherlands’ first defeat in eight matches at the tournament.
West Germany thus joined Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934) and England (1966) as the fourth host nation to become champions, and were the first to hoist the brand new FIFA World Cup Trophy. The previous version, the Jules Rimet, was awarded to Brazil in perpetuity following the South Americans’ third triumph in 1970.
What they said
"It was the first time we’d played a team with a thoroughly thought-out system, which they then put into practice. And we lacked a man like Gerd Muller."
Johan Cruyff, Netherlands captain
"Going a goal down was good for us. The Dutch eased off and we were able to get into the match. And once you’ve relaxed your grip, it’s hard to recover the initiative."
Franz Beckenbauer, West Germany captain