By 90Min
April 15, 2018

Three minutes. All West Germany had to do was hold out for another three minutes to book their place in the 1978 World Cup third place play-off. Standing in their way were their significantly smaller European neighbours Austria, a side who hadn't beaten them in 47 years. It couldn't be simpler.

If however the World Cup has proven anything in its long and illustrious history, it's that nothing is ever simple. Giants can tumble and minnows can flourish, yet it never ceases to amaze when one of the so-called favourites are humbled.

On 21st June, it was Austria's turn to defy the odds in Argentina. Against their supposedly superior opponents and not having anything to play for, Helmut Senekowitsch's side upset the apple cart, producing a performance known simply as the 'Miracle of Cordoba'. 

The paths of the two nations prior to the tournament couldn't have been any more different. Current World Cup holders, West Germany had reached their second successive European Championship final in 1976, losing out to Czechoslovakia on penalties, while Austria had managed to qualify for their first World Cup since 1958.

A West Germany without the talents of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller began their defence in somewhat insipid fashion. Placed in Group 1, Die Mannschaft finished second in the opening group phase, as an emphatic 6-0 win against Mexico was sandwiched between a pair of 0-0 draws against Poland and Tunisia.  


Austria began their World Cup adventure in Group 3 and, like West Germany, also qualified for the next phase of the tournament in second place. Wins against Spain and Sweden (2-1 and 1-0) were then met with a 1-0 defeat against serial World Cup winners Brazil, meaning they had to settle for runners up behind the South American giants. 

The two would finally meet in Group A, alongside Italy and the much-fancied Netherlands. In a tough group, Austria appeared to assume the title of proverbial 'whipping boys', as a 5-1 defeat to Holland, followed by a 1-0 loss to Italy, meant they propped up the group after two games.

West Germany meanwhile continued to look a shadow of the side that won the competition four years prior, as a 0-0 draw against Italy was followed up with a 2-2 stalemate against the Netherlands in a repeat of 1974's final, leaving a whole number of permutations heading into the final group game, with first qualifying for the final and second qualifying for the third place play-off.

1978 World Cup - Group 2 (after 2 games)

Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Netherlands 2 1 1 0 7 3 +4 3
Italy 2 1 1 0 1 0 +1 3
West Germany 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 2
Austria 2 0 0 2 1 6 -5 0

For West Germany, they would qualify for the final if Netherlands and Italy drew and they beat Austria 5-0 or greater. Should there be a winner in the other match, then West Germany would finish second in the group, provided they beat Austria, while a draw against Austria would be enough for second should Italy lose. Austria had nothing to play for heading into the final group game, while West Germany's fate hung in the balance. 

With Holland's game against Italy at the Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti in Buenos Aires and the apparent formality between West Germany and Austria at the Estadio Olimpico Chateau Carreras in Cordoba both kicking off at 13:45 local time, the stage was set for Group 2 to be decided. 

On 21st June 1978, no one could've predicted what happened next. 

West Germany's slim chances of making the final became even slimmer after 18 minutes as Italy took the lead in Buenos Aires. Despite the setback, the 1974 winners knew could only worry about matters in their game, and managed to make the crucial breakthrough a minute later in their game. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Dieter Muller combined beautifully down the right, playing consecutive one-twos past their Austrian opponents, before Rummenigge calmly slotted the ball past an onrushing Friedl Koncilia and enter half time with a slender lead.

With only 45 minutes left to play in Group 2, it was to be in the second half that the crescendo of chaos and excitement would take place. It started well for Schone's West Germany, as the Netherlands had drawn level against Italy five minutes after the restart, meaning the World Cup holders needed four goals to make yet another final. 

Nine minutes later however, Germany shot themselves in the foot, gifting Austria an equaliser. What should've been a routine cross for West Germany's experienced goalkeeper Sepp Maier to collect, he simply missed the ball, which inadvertently rebounded off a helpless Berti Vogts and into an empty net. 

Things went from bad to worse for the reigning champions as seven minutes later, the plucky underdogs by the name of Austria took a deserved lead with a magnificent finish from their star forward Johann 'Hans' Krankl. Eduard Krieger crossed from the left towards Krankl, who superbly controlled and volleyed with his left foot into Maier's top right corner, stunning the favourites. 

West Germany were now on the brink of leaving the 1978 World Cup prematurely at the hands of a side with nothing to play for. Needing to find a response and quickly, it took all of two minutes before West Germany scored their second. In the 68th minute, a deep free kick from Rainer Bonhof was met with a thunderous header by Bernd Hoelzenbein and make it 2-2 in Cordoba.

Needing a favour in Buenos Aires, it appeared that the footballing gods were shining down on the West German's as Holland took the lead against Italy in the 75th minute. With their game ending 2-1 to the Dutch, all that West Germany had to achieve was a draw and a place in the third place play-off was theirs. Austria however hadn't read the script.

With only three minutes remaining, another piece of magic from Krankl would not only decide the game, but the eventual fate of West Germany. Winning the ball after a poor attempted clearance from Rolf Ruessmann, Austria's second all-time leading scorer raced towards West Germany's goal, skipped past Manfred Kaltz and slotted underneath Maier, sealing the famous 'Miracle of Cordoba'. 

Krankl himself remembers the game well, with his side desperate to win despite having nothing to play for, stating: "The greatest ambition of all for Austrians was beating West Germany. In 47 years it had not happened and to be honest we did not think we could beat them, because we are just their little brother. But somehow we made that dream come true too.

While Krankl's goal sent the nation into euphoria, the commentary of Austrian radio commentator Eduard 'Edi' Finger perhaps elevated the importance of Krankl's late winner to historic proportions. 

A snippet of the commentary, translated into English read: "Here comes Krankl … in space, he shoots … Goooal! Goooal! Goooal! Goooal! Goooal! Goooal! I am going bonkers! Krankl has scored - 3-2 for Austria! Ladies and gentlemen, we are hugging each other here, Rippel, my colleague, graduate engineer Posch, we’re kissing each other … 3-2 for Austria, by our Krankl’s magnificent goal. He beat all of them, ladies and gentlemen."

(You may also be interested in World Cup Countdown: 10 Weeks to Go - The World Cries Foul as Peru Crumble Against Argentina in 1978)

Far from miraculous, the game for West Germany is infamously known as the 'Disgrace of Cordoba' following a loss. For a team with a host of World Cup winners from 1974, a tournament that started ordinarily ended embarrassingly, without even the silver lining of a bronze medal match.

The 1978 World Cup proved to be Schone's final tournament in charge of West Germany, handing in his resognation to end his 14-year tenure in charge of the national team, failing to go out on a high after delivering two trophies in the shape of the 1972 European Championships and 1974 World Cup. 

While the good times would soon be back for West Germany in the not too distant future, their cataclysmic failure against Austria remains a low point in their footballing history, summed up fittingly in the words of Edi: "And now it is ooover! The end! Finished! Done! It’s over! Germany has been beaten!"

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