It's a strange fact that there have been only two World Cup games between Germany and Brazil, whereas Sunday's encounter between Germany and Argentina is already the seventh tournament match these two teams have played. And the third final.
No matter how you look at it, there is something special about games between the sides. For instance, when West Germany beat Argentina 3-1 in June 1958 during the World Cup in Sweden, it was the Germans first-ever win against a non-European team.
When West Germany lost 2-1 against Argentina in January 1981 (at the tournament in Uruguay held to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first World Cup), it ended the team's run of 23 consecutive games without a defeat, still the national record.
And Argentina's 3-1 win in Duesseldorf in September 1984 was Franz Beckenbauer's first game in charge as the national coach. (Or rather "team director", as he was officially called because he didn't have coaching badges.)
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Then, of course, there were the two World Cup finals, in 1986 and 1990. And the two coaches were the same. Three Argentinians and four Germans played in both games. Yet the two matches were very different.
When Cesar Luis Menotti, who had won the trophy with Argentina in 1978, told the German magazine Der Spiegel a few months before the 1986 tournament in Mexico began that he thought Beckenbauer's team was "one of the most serious candidates" for the title, the reporter replied: "You are apparently a very polite man." That's how pessimistic the mood was in Germany.
Menotti then went on to qualify his statement by saying that West Germany could only win in Mexico with Bernd Schuster in the team. And that was out of the question, as the stylish and gifted but also headstrong Barcelona midfielder had made it clear he was no longer interested in playing for his country.
And so Beckenbauer's team was largely a collection of willing but limited defensive players. Two days before the first group game, Beckenbauer told the German writer Jurgen Leinemann that "you have to play the system for which you have the players." He also said that "it's the eleventh hour for German football" because there were no talented young players coming through. He added that what the country really needed might be a big wake-up call, for instance going out in the group stage. Then he said: "But of course that's not what I want."
And that's not what he got. His team surprised pundits and fans alike and reached the final with a combination of luck, resilience and, in the semifinal against France, even courage. Still, they were considered rank outsiders for the final against Argentina led by Diego Maradona.
Maybe that was the problem. The Germans probably expected to be under a lot of pressure in the opening stages, but that was not at all the case until Lothar Matthaus, playing with a broken hand and asked to contain Maradona, tripped Jose Cuciuffo 22 minutes into the game. Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher later said that he had been all fired up before the game and that he was almost disappointed that he hadn't been called into action so far. Now, as Jorge Burruchaga walked over to take the free kick, Schumacher vowed to himself that he was going to leave his line and collect the cross or punch it clear no matter what.
He never even got close. The ball sailed over his head to the far edge of the penalty area. Schumacher turned his head to follow the flight of the ball and probably said a quick, silent prayer. If so, it wasn't heard. Argentina's sweeper Jose Brown easily headed the ball into an open goal. "I have never seen Schumacher do anything like this before," the shocked German television commentator said.
Substitute Olaf Thon later said: "This first goal may have decided the match." But it was probably Schumacher's second, less famous mistake that did that. Because after a brilliantly timed Maradona pass beat the offside trap to set up Jorge Valdano to make it 2-0, the Germans remembered what their specialty was: coming back from two goals down in big games.
Fifteen minutes from time, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge -- who looked unfit and had an otherwise quiet tournament -- suddenly pulled one back. And seven minutes later, the impossible happened. Rudi Voller tied the game with a header from close range. The deafening noise reverberating throughout the Estadio Azteca not only told you that most of the neutrals supported West Germany, it also didn't bode well for Argentina. They were the better team, true, but now the momentum was surely with the Germans, who also looked fresher and sharper.
But 152 seconds later, Maradona's genius created the deciding moment. Surrounded by three opponents in the centre circle, he somehow saw Burruchaga making a run. Maradona's pass was awesome and Burruchaga was fast. However, he didn't control the ball too well, perhaps because he had tired in the Mexican heat. Maybe Schumacher would have had a chance to get to the ball if he had left his line. Gunter Netzer, for one, said so on the following day. We'll never know because Schumacher stayed put. Burruchaga scored and Argentina deservedly lifted the World Cup.
Beckenbauer later said about that day: "It was a good thing we didn't win, because that would have been a defeat for football." However, four years later, the roles were thoroughly reversed. This time Beckenbauer went into a tournament convinced that his side had a very good chance to win the trophy. This time the players were brimming with optimism. This time there was a lot of talent and individual class in the side. And this time an Argentinian win would have been a defeat for football.
The Germans have a reputation for being the undisputed masters of the penalty shootout, and not without reason. They have contested four World Cup shootouts, one of them in 1990, and won all four. But Argentina aren't far behind. Their record reads: five shootouts, four wins. And in 1990 they became the first and so far only team to win two shootouts during a World Cup: against Yugoslavia in the quarterfinals and against hosts Italy in the semis.
Like everyone else at what was a low scoring World Cup, Argentina found it hard to hit the back of the net. It was an affliction that also befell the German team from the quarterfinals on. Although they had been scoring quite freely until then, all German goals in the last three rounds came from the penalty spot or from a free kick.
And so the story of the final developed with almost painful inevitability. Argentina seemed to aim for yet another shootout from the beginning and didn't create a single decent scoring opportunity. The German magazine kicker later said that a misplaced Klaus Augenthaler back pass shortly before the break was Argentina's most dangerous attack. It wasn't a joke.
But even though Germany dominated the game and kept attacking, they had few chances themselves. The best may have been a Thomas Berthold header from a tight angle shortly after half-time. Or maybe it came in the 58th minute, when Augenthaler suddenly popped up in the Argentinian penalty area. He was about to round Sergio Goycochea when the goalkeeper clearly brought him down. The referee, who was standing only a few steps behind the two, waved play on.
Six minutes later came the red card for Pedro Monzon we have already discussed during this World Cup. With 10 men, Argentina became even more defensive. Perhaps they would have indeed taken the game to penalties if Voller hadn't gone down under a challenge from Roberto Sensini with five minutes left to win a very soft penalty. The German television commentator was audibly disbelieving, saying that the foul on Augenthaler had been "10 times more deserving of a penalty than this."
The Germans had three main penalty takes: Voller, Matthaus and Andreas Brehme. The team rule was that the player who was fouled shouldn't take the penalty, so Voller was out. Matthaus, meanwhile, quickly moved away from the spot, indicating he would prefer not to step up. Maybe he did so because he had to change a boot during half-time and didn't feel comfortable in the new one. Or maybe he just felt that Brehme had the better nerves.
Brehme was almost completely two-footed. He always used to say that he had a bit more power in his left foot and a bit more precision in the right one. Now, with the biggest trophy in football at stake, he decided to not go for power. He placed the ball so well, just inside the left-hand post, that Goycochea had no chance even though he guessed the right way.
It was Augenthaler's last game for Germany. It was also Beckenbauer's last game in charge of the team. And it was the last time Germany won the World Cup.