All the Kaiser’s Men: West Germany at Mexico ’86 – Part 2

Click here to read Part 1 of the look back at West Germany’s 1986 World Cup Finals campaign.

After West Germany secured the runner up spot in Mexico’s Group E – the original “Group of Death” – Franz Beckenbauer’s travelling band moved to Monterrey in the northeastern State of Nuevo Leon, at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental.

Where the air seemed as thin as West Germany’s chances of lifting the World Cup, Beckenbauer’s squad prepared to surmount the knock-out stages of the tournament with a round of 16 encounter against Morocco, the unexpected winners of Group F.

At 4pm on 17th June West Germany kicked-off against the canny Moroccans. After a 3-1 defeat of Portugal they could not be taken lightly and Beckenbauer opted to start with his big gun: Rummenigge.

 

Although not fully fit the great Inter striker almost scored early on, as a miraculous goal line save from Zaki prevented the Germans from taking the lead. It looked as though Morocco had set out their stall for extra-time until Lothar Matthaus finished the contest with a 30 yard free-kick in the 87th minute.

Zoran Petrovic blew his whistle moments later and West Germany were through to the quarter finals. They got to stay in the hills of Monterrey for the next encounter, where their opponents were to be the host nation.

On Saturday 21st June, West Germany once again kicked off at 4pm. The second quarter final of the day would forever be overshadowed by one of the all-time great contests of the World Cup knockout phase.

Earlier in the day France had edged out Brazil on penalties in Guadalajara, as Michel Platini scored in normal time and missed a shoot-out penalty on his 31st birthday.

In Monterrey, Rummenigge started once more, although he was exchanged for Hoeness in the 59th minute. Pierre Littbasrski also came on as substitute in the second period of extra-time, as both teams prepared for penalties.

When Mexico could only score one in the shoot-out to Germany’s four, Franz Beckenbauer’s men progressed to a semi-final with France. Commentating for ITV, John Helm summed it up with a resigned “West Germany have done it again

Moving across to Guadalajara for the semi-final, Beckenbauer’s men were gaining some kind of momentum. Two of his three clearly unfit stars – Rummenigge, and Littbarski – were performing intermittently, making some kind of contribution during the games, while the third – Voller – was being used sparingly.

If Rummenigge was unfit then so his French counterpart, Platini, was feeling the strain too. Struggling throughout the tournament, he had been pumped full of anti-inflammatory pills to kill the pain of tendonitis in his ankle.

The greater the pain for Platini, the greater the dosage of anti-inflammatories and so, consequently, the greater the chance of being weakened due to his stomach’s reaction to them.

 

At noon on 25th June in front of just 45,000 supporters the semi-final kicked-off. At the nine minute mark, Joel Bats, one of the heroes of the quarter-final had an uncharacteristically Gary Sprake moment.

A Brehme free-kick contrived to roll under the French ‘keeper’s body and into the net. France chased the game from that moment on.  Then, in the 89th minute, it was all over. Pressing for the equalizer, the French defence was  out of position and a simple chance was left to Rudi Voller to make it 2-0.

Incredibly, and implausibly, given pre-tournament expectations, West Germany had made it to the final. Later on that same afternoon two Diego Maradona goals put Argentina past Belgium and set a date with Beckenbauer’s team for the Azteca Stadium on Sunday, 29th June.

Franz Beckenbauer’s High Noon finally came round and it was one which presented a stark contract between two different teams. As Ron Atkinson argued in his role as ITV’s summariser, it was a battle between a team marshalled by “one absolutely brilliant individual” and another “built on method”.

That might be a tad oversimplified but it served its purpose as regards billing for the main event. West Germany had changed to green shirts with green socks and white shorts, while Argentina remained in the famous vertical powder blue stripes.

A fairly pedestrian start suddenly warmed up when Schumacher was caught in No Man’s Land to a deep cross. Jose Luis Brown, the tournament replacement for Daniel Passarella, nodded into the back of the net in the 23rd minute.

In the second half, Valdano made 2-0 in the 55th minute. The West Germans looked spent. It was to their immense credit that they bounced back to make it 2-2, through goals in the 74th and 80th minutes from Rummenigge and Voller respectively. Suddenly, with the Argentines shaken, it looked like game on for West Germany.

In the 83rd minute, however, Maradona pirouetted around the centre circle to locate Burrachaga who then ran and placed the ball to Schumacher’s left. Final score 3-2 and “thankfully and rightfully” according to Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, Argentina were the champions of the world for the second time.

West Germany had surpassed themselves in reaching the final and in running Maradona’a Argentina so close. West Germany’s defeat appears to have been met with a sense of comic relief by many German commentators, though. Hesse-Lichtenberger concluded “The football had certainly not been great, but at least the team had not embarrassed the country again”.

 

The boss, Der Kaiser himself, even found it amusing to reflect on the progress of his team in 1986. Reflecting on Mexico ’86 some years later, he remarked “can you believe we reached the final of a World Cup with these players?”  When he took over in 1984 he observed that the only real qualities he found to work with were the “proverbial German virtues: fighting spirit and solid defending”.

In German footballing parlance a “Blind” player is one who is workmanlike but unimaginative. The Kaiser acknowledged that he had assembled a team of “Blind” men for the 1986 tournament, but given the paucity of talent, he had little option.

Reflecting on the 1986 tournament twenty years later, as his country was about to host the 2006 World Cup, the Kaiser was more open about his own role and his shortcomings as coach back in Mexico. He told Der Spiegel:

I lacked experience. Fool that I was, I took care of every little thing, like dripping taps. Added to that there was the mistake of letting the press into the team quarters. We had a demarcation line in the hotel but it didn’t work. It was a daily battle against the media, a battle you can’t win.

In the same interview he was also much more charitable about the achievement of his players in the Mexico World Cup, while admitting that he gambled on the fitness of certain players:

I had brought along players who had been injured for a long time, Rudi Völler, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Pierre Littbarski too. I thought I could get them fit. But it didn’t happen. It was a huge achievement. 1990 was child’s play by comparison.

By 1988 the “Blind” men had evolved into a slicker unit as Andreas Brehme and Rudi Voller had been joined by a 23-year-old striker from Stuttgart. Jurgen Klinsmann, who would go on to emerge as a born-again Californian and coach of the American national team, joined forces with another of the “Blind” posse of 1986: Lothar Matthaus.

From defensive, holding midfielder and “policeman” of Maradona in the Azteca Stadium in June 1986, Matthaus went on to become European and World footballer of the year in West Germany’s third World Cup  triumph of 1990.

By then, of course, he was anything but “Blind”, as he had at last been set free to enjoy life as a marauding, attacking midfielder and his country’s captain.

 

Old war horses like Rummenigge, Schumacher, Forster, Magath and Briegel bowed out after Mexico, paving the way for a new generation to build on the formative experience of their month in Central America. Similarly, Bundesliga stalwarts like Norbert Eder, Dieter Hoeness and Ditmar Jakobs would not be selected again.

Maybe history will be kinder to Franz Beckenbauer’s 1986 vintage. After all, they certainly performed more creditably than the 1994 and 1998 squads led by Berti Vogts. In the tournaments held in the United States and in France, ageing squads squabbled throughout as egos undermined any sense of team unity.

Where once Helmut Schoen and then Beckenbauer had managed to galvanise teams through their sheer magnetism, so Berti Vogts found this increasingly difficult in an age of burgeoning player power. As player power soared, so the quality of talent available to the national team manager declined in inverse proportion.

Although 1990 had seen some semblance of harmony develop within the group, this rapidly dissipated at successive tournaments. Thereafter, both the team management and younger, emerging players were subjected to the whims and eccentricities of a self-interested clique of over the hill superstars. Not until Jurgen Klinsmann guided the German team to the World Cup semi-finals on home soil in 2006 was the balance restored.

One of the abiding images of Mexico ’86, however, is of Beckenbauer, arms folded, standing upright throughout the game. Bedecked in an unflattering combination of loose-fitting Adidas sports shirt and gaudy check flannels that would have shamed even the least stylish of corporate weekend golfers, he still managed to exude a cool, calculated charisma.

Four years later, bespectacled and still only 44, he led a more refined team to the greatest prize of all on a balmy July night in Rome.

Author Details

Gareth Bland

From Derbyshire in the English Peak District, Gareth also writes for cricketweb.net and the U.S. sites axs.com and examiner.com. A devotee of all things Busby and Stein, his other footballing interests include the Dutch, Spanish and Italian leagues, as well as the game in the Balkans and the history of the European Cup and Champions League.

3 thoughts on “All the Kaiser’s Men: West Germany at Mexico ’86 – Part 2

  1. Interesting piece, but you left out the Schumacher assault in the semi-final. Would be interesting for your take on it. Personally it (along with the Hand of God) was a stand out moment.

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