If the Super Bowl were played between all-star teams representing the United States and the Soviet Union, it might approach in emotional intensity an international soccer match between England and West Germany. Much of this stems from two previous meetings—in the finals of the 1966 World Cup, when the English defeated the Germans 4-2 in extra time, and in the quarterfinals of the 1970 World Cup in León, Mexico, where the Germans rallied with three straight goals to put England out of the tournament 3-2, again in extra time.
So it was not surprising when 90,000 mad Englishmen and another 10,000 equally mad Germans defied wind and cold, drenching rain to jam London's Wembley Stadium last Saturday night for the renewal of their rivalry in the quarterfinals of the biennial European Cup of Nations. (The enthusiasm lost something in transmission, however. Cable-TV audiences in many U.S. theaters were considered disappointing.)
The scene in Wembley was reminiscent of the 1966 World Cup finals: the noisy, exuberant crowd chanting in deep-throated unison, "Eng-land, Eng-land, Eng-land," a level and steadiness of noise far exceeding that at stop-and-start American football games. Unfortunately for the English, that is where the resemblance to 1966 ended. The game itself was quite different.
This time the Germans won rather easily 3-1 by outrunning the comparatively lethargic English and capitalizing on their scoring opportunities with flashing skill and determination. The English, aggressive but unimaginative, proved too slow and too methodical to overcome the German defense.
The British morning-after press viewed the defeat as a national disaster. OH, WHAT A BLACK DAY FOR ENGLAND, lamented the Sunday Express, THE BEGINNING OF THE END said The Observer. It was, to be sure, a somber turn for the soccer-proud English and it was only natural that they began casting about at once for someone to blame. Sir Alf Ramsey, the coach of the England team, who still clings to the kind of soccer that won him and England the World Cup in 1966, was certainly a target of convenience. If you had to compare him to an American football coach, it would be Vince Lombardi, but with less emotion. Sir Alf believes in making as few errors as possible and fattening on the errors of the opponent, which is dull—but fine if you win.
Helmut Schoen, coach of the West Germans, is almost the complete opposite. Tall, balding and outgoing, with a ready smile and ready statement, he somehow manages never to reveal much. Because the quarterfinals consist of two games, with aggregate scores determining the winner, Schoen had been expected to play a defensive, containing game at Wembley, holding his attack forces for the rematch in Berlin May 13. But Schoen did the opposite.
"I was surprised that they came at us so much in the first half," Sir Alf said after the game. "But it was probably our fault."
This was the first time in 71 years a German team had won at Wembley, and the victory was achieved with considerable style, skill and discipline. Much of it stemmed from veteran Franz Beckenbauer, the Germans' sweeper—a kind of free safety who plays just behind the first line, sweeping up loose balls and retrieving the errors of those up front. But Beckenbauer did far more; he was often the man who launched the swift German sorties with deft, flicking passes that were almost always on target to the most open man.
In the first half, before the heavy footing slowed him, Beckenbauer moved into the attack himself, and indeed he took the first really good hard shot in the game, firing from some 30 yards out toward the right corner of the English goal. Gordon Banks, England's fine goalie, barely managed a diving interception of the ball.
During the first half Banks was sorely pressed by the German offense. He blocked another shot by powerful Gerd M√ºller, the top scorer in Europe, but the block only postponed disaster momentarily. When Bobby Moore, the English captain, failed to clear the ball afterward it was picked up by M√ºller, who drew the defense in toward him and then snapped off a short pass to Uli Hoeness, another forward, on his right. Hoeness' shot caromed off Norman Hunter and into the net.
The German goal seemed to arouse the English, and for the rest of the half they became the aggressors. But their attack was fatally flawed. Their thrusts were too deliberate, almost telegraphed, and their desire to get into point-blank range before venturing a shot numbed their offense. The Germans played a kind of collapsing defense, with virtually the entire team dropping back to protect the goal, repeatedly frustrating the too-careful English attack.
Shots that did get off were handled admirably by German Goalkeeper Josef Maier, who had worked out before the match by crouching in the goal mouth with his back to the field and whirling like a TV gunfighter to block shots from 20 yards out at the moment the ball was kicked. He stopped most of those, and he stopped most of England's. During the English flurry after the first German goal, Maier made three acrobatic saves, the first on a clean shot by Francis Lee, which Maier picked off running across the goal mouth, like an end catching a look-in pass.
A few moments later Martin Peters, firing from beyond the box, forced Maier to leap high in the air to deflect the ball over the goalpost. In the next English attack Peters tried again from shorter range, and this time Maier caught the hard-hit ball in the goal mouth. Thus England got nothing for its energetic efforts, and the half ended with the Germans ahead 1-0.
In view of England's aggressiveness during the last 10 minutes of the period, however, the lead seemed precarious enough as the second half opened. England continued to dominate play during the early going. The ubiquitous Beckenbauer, operating as a true sweeper this time, broke up a clever series of passes between Emlyn Hughes and Geoff Hurst, blocking the latter when he was almost in the act of shooting. The maneuver stopped what would surely have been an equalizing goal.
Hurst, who scored three goals in the English victory in 1966, was removed a few moments later. The crowd, which had begun to chant "Rod-nee, Rod-nee, Rod-nee" roared when Rodney Marsh, a Manchester City player and a strong scorer, came in. But he was not instrumental in England's catch-up goal, which came 12 minutes before the end of regular time.
It was a bad, tentative pass by Beckenbauer that started this England attack. The ball was short and wide of its target, and it was easily intercepted deep in German territory. A hard shot by Colin Bell was partially blocked by Maier, but Lee followed up and drove the ball home from short range to tie the game.
It seemed as if England now might rally, but in the last six minutes the West Germans scored twice, attacking with a speed and decisiveness that was lacking on the England side. Sigi Held, moving exceptionally fast, broke clear of Bobby Moore, and Moore, lunging desperately after him near the goal, was called for tripping. Gunter Netzer's short-range penalty shot sliced off Banks' hand against the goalpost and into the left-hand corner of the net.
Held also figured in the crusher, a goal following his steal from Hughes just short of midfield. Gerd M√ºller, the stocky, long-haired premier strike for the Germans, got free 20 yards from the English goal mouth, and Herd hit him with a good, quick pass. M√ºller, unlike the English strikers, did not try to improve his position by dribbling, but simply whirled and shot. The ball buried itself in the net behind the outstretched right hand of the leaping Banks for the final score.
The Wembley contest was certainly the most lively of the European Cup of Nations quarterfinals. Italy and Belgium fought to a scoreless tie in Milan's San Siro Stadium (the other game seen on closed-circuit TV by U.S. audiences), while Rumania and Hungary played a 1-1 draw in Budapest. The fourth contest, matching Yugoslavia against the U.S.S.R., also ended in a scoreless tie. The defense-minded Italians, in shutting out the Belgians, preserved an 18-year tradition at San Siro: no foreign squad has scored a goal there since 1954.
The two-goal lead West Germany takes back to Berlin means that Sir Alf must change his philosophy. The stodgy, plodding attack that failed him Saturday would certainly not make up the two-goal deficit in Berlin. He might well take a page from Herr Schoen's book and use players with more speed and daring than the knowledgeable but aging veterans he fielded at Wembley.
But Sir Alf, as imperturbable in defeat as he would have been in victory, did not hint of any significant changes in the England side for Berlin. "The return match will be tremendously difficult," he said. "However, nothing is impossible."
Indeed. But the home-field advantage for the Germans is not the only difficulty ahead. Schoen was deprived at Wembley of two of his most valuable players, Wolfgang Overath and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, both out with minor injuries. If they are fit in Berlin, they will spring Beckenbauer for further attack duties. England's dependence on old, tried players may have to change if it hopes for better results. Sir Alf, who first made his reputation as the innovative coach of a small team in Ipswich, is certainly capable of reorienting his strategy. The time may now have arrived to do just that.