1974 West Germany

The Dutch 'total football' was new
And it seemed the World Cup must accrue
But it would have been wiser
To bet on the Kaiser
As the Germans in confidence grew

The World Cup came to West Germany in 1974. The hosts had a strong team, with the great Franz Beckenbauer now captain, and several other players household names. But the new emerging power was the Netherlands, coached by Rinus Michels, espousing a brand of total football, with echos of the great Hungarian side of 1954.

What was going on in the world in 1974?

  • Japanese WW2 soldier, 2nd Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, surrenders in the Philippines
  • ABBA win the Eurovision song contest with Waterloo
  • Isabel Peron becomes the first female President of Argentina replacing her dying husband
  • The Watergate scandal concludes with the resignation of Presdient Nixon, effective 9 Aug
  • Muhammed Ali defeats George Foreman in 8 rounds in the 'Rumble in the Jungle' in Kinshasa, Zaire

Back to the World Cup – the format

The second stage was reformed so that the top two teams in each first round group went through into two second groups of four teams each. The winners of those groups went into the final, with the runners-up paying off for 3rd place.


East Germany, Australia, Haiti and Zaire all qualified for the first time, making a rather eclectic group of rookies. England failed to qualify for the first time and so missed their first World Cup since the 1930s when they opted out. Also failing to qualify were France, USSR, Mexico, Hungary and Spain.

Australia managed to pick a point in a 0-0 draw with Chile and were more competitive in their other group matches than was expected. Both Haiti and Zaire struggled badly. Haiti had a brief moment, when taking the lead against Italy, and perhaps were dreaming of being the new North Korea and causing a major upset over the Italians. However, it did not last and they finished with no points and a goal difference of -12. The goal against Italy was especially unexpected as Dino Zoff's excellence had ensured that Italy had not conceded a goal in 19 matches leading up to the World Cup, but an inch-perfect pass from Philippe Vorbe put Emmanuel Sanon through on goal and he finished with aplomb. Unfortunately, Italy came back to win 3-1

Here is the Haiti goal.

Zaire finished with no points and -14 in the goal difference column, but did produce one comedy moment in the match with Brazil, when Mwepu Ilunga ran out from a defensive wall to boot the ball away before the free kick was taken.

Tournament Facts and Records

  • Grzegorz Lato of Poland top scored wth 7 goals; Gerd Muller's 4 goals took his total to 14, a record until 2006
  • Carlos Caszely of Chile, became the first player to receive a red card in the World Cup, cards having been introduced in 1970
  • Scotland was the only unbeaten in the tournament but failed to progress to the second round despite this
  • Brazil played Argentina for the first time in World Cup history, winning 2-1 in a second round group game
  • West Germany won the World Cup despite losing in the group stage; only they themselves had previously done this before
  • There were no extra time matches, the fourth and last time this has happened

Who should have won but didn't?

The Dutch, quite simply the most innovative team for 20 years. In Johan Cruyff they had the game's best player, with Pele now retired, and Rinus Michels chose to build his team and style of play around Cruyff. But it is a bit unfair to leave it at that. This was also a very good West German team, although they were a bit slow to get going, including a surprising group defeat to East Germany.

The Dutch 'total football' was new
And it seemed the World Cup must accrue
But it would have been wiser
To bet on the Kaiser
As the Germans in confidence grew

The Poles who qualified at England's expense were a breath of fresh air and finished third, but Brazil put in a more laboured performance in the first World Cup of the post Pele era

Heroes and Villains

Hero: Johan Cruyff

1974 saw a seminal performance from the Dutch which would not have been possible without Johan Cruyff, who won FIFA's Golden Ball,as the tournament's best player. Going into the final match, the Dutch had won five games and drawn one, with a goal difference of +13 (14 scored, 1 conceded) . But his influence on the development of the game was immense, through the concept of total football, and in this respect he was a more important player than either Pele or Maradona. Watch the best moments of Johan Cruyff in the 1974 World Cup here.

The tragedy is that Cruyff never won a World Cup winners' medal, and indeed, 1974 was his only World Cup tournament, opting to stay away from Argentina in 1978. Initially this was thought to be a political statement in opposition to the Jorge Videla dictatorship, but later it transpired that there had been threats to his family and so he chose to stay with them. We have a limerick for this too.

A talented yuong Dutchman named Cruyff
Gave opposing defences much strife
But he said "it's no fun to
Play in front of that Junta"
So he stayed back at home with his wife.

Villain: Ferruccio Valcareggi

Ferruccio Valcareggi was coach of Italy in the 1974 World Cup. Over the previous three years, the game in Europe had developed both at club level with Ajax and at national level with the Netherlands and West Germany into a more attacking game, 'total football', with the main innovation being the use the sweeper in a positive attacking way. All this seems to have passed the Italians by. They persisted with the negative sweeper, whose role was to snuff out attacks and break up play. This tactic manifested itself in Italy's abject performances in the group, from which they failed to progress, despite being the seeded team.

An enterprising Poland won the group, and the Italians finished behind Argentina too, as Valcareggi completely misread the Argentinian tactical plan, deploying Fabio Capello, an inside-forward to mark Rene Houseman a dynamic winger. Italy even contrived to fall behind to Haiti, one of the tournament rookies, which was the first goal conceded by Dino Zoff in 12 internatonal matches.

Wrong tactics, wrong time, wrong coach.

Quick Facts

  • Teams: 16
  • When: 13 June 1974 to 07 July 1974
  • Final: 07 July 1974
  • Matches: 38
  • Goals Scored: 97 (average 2.6 per match)
  • Attendance: 1,865,753 (average 49,098)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

A qualified good World Cup. There were no grave injustices, and while the Netherlands would have been worthy winners, they were fairly beaten in the final by a very strong West German side. Attacking sides, such as the Netherlands, West Germany, and Poland were successful, whereas the negative teams, primarily Italy and Brazil were less succesful.

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