When did England cease to be world champions? In a literal sense, it was in June 1970, as West Germany beat England 3-2 in a World Cup quarterfinal in Leon. But psychologically, it wasn't until April 1972, when West Germany won a European Championship quarterfinal first leg 3-1 at Wembley, that the fact that England was no longer the best in the world became incontrovertible. What had happened in Mexico could be blamed on heat, foreign conditions and a stomach bug picked up by the goalkeeper,
Back then, England and West Germany had won one World Cup each.
England had only suffered its first defeat to West Germany in 1968 -- and that in a friendly when England had been preparing for a European Championship semifinal -- and probably regarded itself as the more senior football nation. But West Germany, for bewildering 35 minutes, played what the French sports paper
England had come home from the 1970 World Cup feeling slightly unfortunate, and with no sense of imminent crisis. England swept the Home Championship (an annual competition featuring Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that was discontinued in 1984) and qualified for the quarterfinal of the European Championship with ease, dropping a single point in topping a group comprised of Switzerland, Greece and Malta (the tournament in those days consisted of a group stage, followed by a two-legged, home-and-away quarterfinal, before the remaining four sides met in a single location for the semifinals and final). There were suggestions that England was boring, but then there always had been under
Yet Ramsey's mistake for that game -- if he was to blame at all -- was to select a 4-3-3 with no midfield holder. Perhaps he had been stung, although it seems uncharacteristic for such a thick-skinned and self-assured figure, by the criticism of his perceived negativity. Or perhaps he had been misled by the widespread belief that West Germany would set out to defend, but he selected
That positivity of outlook was reflected in their play. Immediately, West Germany spun long skeins of passes, not necessarily quickly and not necessarily going forwards, but always, almost hypnotically, moving the ball, interchanging positions. The two fullbacks,
And at the center of it all, of course, controlling and organizing as
The football West Germany produced in the first half was breathtaking.
"The magnitude of our performance," said Beckenbauer in
Everything we wanted to do, we did. The moves, the idea and the execution all happened." As England staggered off, battered and bewildered, at halftime, the miracle was it was only one down, Hoeness having capitalized on a mistake by the ageing Moore to thud a shot past Banks.
England, to its credit, rallied, and with West Germany unable to recapture the rhythm of the first half, the home side had the better of the second, equalizing from
The England captain tripped him, conceding a penalty that Netzer converted. Two minutes later,
West Germany went on to win the European Championship that summer, followed it up with the World Cup two years later, and were finalists against in the European Championship in 1976. For England, though, the truth was all too apparent. The World Cup winners -- five of whom had started at Wembley -- were too old, and the sport was moving into the era of Total Football, a radical philosophy with which conservative England never came to terms.
Failure piled on failure, and the seventies became the most barren decade in England's international history. Eight years after winning the World Cup, it didn't even qualify for the tournament in West Germany, and it would be until 1980 that England again took its place in an international tournament. Not until Euro 2000 did England again beat (west) Germany in a competitive fixture. Netzer himself, the architect of the victory at Wembley, soon faded from the international stage, but for England, his legacy was long and bleak.