MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 4 (1974 World Cup)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.


The 1974 World Cup was held in West Germany and saw a new format, a new trophy and lots of rain.  The 16 participants were divided into four groups of four with the top two advancing to the next stage of two groups of four.  The winners of each group contested the World Cup Final.  David Goldblatt called the 1974 edition “the tipping point” as the convergence of a new President with new ideas (Joao Havelange) and a commercially savvy sports company (adidas), saw the tournament become a worldwide event.

Of the 16 teams at the Finals, 9 were from UEFA, which struck me as uneven and puts the current 32 team tournament into perspective.  Scotland did not lose a match but were eliminated on goal difference, while Italy failed to progress after losing to Poland in the final group game, and Bulgaria could only get draws in their opening two fixtures before suffering a heavy loss to Holland.

West Germany, Holland, Yugoslavia, East Germany, Sweden and Poland progressed to the next stage with Poland proving to be one of the surprises of the tournament.  Three wins out of three in the first phase saw them move forward, but a 1-0 loss to West Germany in the final group game of the second stage eliminated them and sent the hosts to the Final. In watching the Official FIFA video of this tournament, West Germany had entertaining games in the second group stage–4-2 against Sweden and a dramatic 1-0 win over Poland, which saw the West Germans wear an unusual strip of all white.

Holland progressed to the Final, using the Total Football mentioned in the opening post in this series.  The website went into greater detail, focusing on the Brazil match, which Holland won 2-0.

Holland’s tactics were aimed at making life as hard as possible for Brazil . . . Holland made the pitch as small as possible. . . by pressing forward as a team. The attackers would be the first to press, and the midfielders and defenders were close behind. This required defenders to push up high and leave a large gap behind the defense. Holland prevented Brazil from profiting from that space by making excellent use of the offside trap and have the goalie act as an emergency sweeper. It worked brilliantly.

The Final matched West Germany and Holland and research in this area proved particularly compelling. I came across several articles that went beyond the score to reveal the context of the tournament, particularly for these two teams.  Starting with ripples from World War II, two of my favorite writers, Uli Hesse and Simon Kuper, examined the psyches of each country.  Their thoughts were fascinating and shed an interesting light on the games over the years.

Niklas Wildhagen wrote an intriguing article on the many issues in the background for the two Finalists.  One point he made was how the Dutch went to the tournament at less than 100%, but coach Rinus Michaels had forged a team in great form.  However the relaxed atmosphere in the Dutch camp was unbalanced the night before the Final by a newspaper article with the headline Cruyff, Champagne and Naked Girls. A final element mentioned by Chris Hunt was that the theme of the tournament was money—win bonuses and sponsorship deals being particularly big issues.  In the end the hosts won the Final 2-1.  The West Germans survived a very early goal by the Dutch, equalized and eventually went ahead.  A great Dutch team had been stopped by the resolve of the Germans, who won their second World Cup.



I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.



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