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Apr 25, 2006

World Cup 1974 - Hosts West Germany

Though its defining moment, Mexico '70 was the end of the era of Brazilian World Cup dominance. By the time the Mondial returned in 1974 the map of world football had changed.

The mid-70s was the era of 'Total Football' and European club-scene dominance by Ajax Amsterdam and Bayern Munich, both exponents of this free-flowing interchangeable approach.

While Holland, who featured the likes of Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol and Van Hanegem, played a more attractive and cavalier game, the West Germans had won the European Nations Cup in 1972, playing a more functional but devastatingly effective brand of it.

Two years later they were perhaps a little more defensive, no longer relying on midfield counterpoint Gunter Netzer, but seemingly the only team who had a chance of stopping the devastating Dutch.

Brazil were a spent force playing an ugly Europeanised form of football. With Pele now gone and Gerson and Tostao also out of the picture, they were fortunate not to lose to the ever unlucky Scotland in the group stages and only just sneaked into the newly-added second group stage.

Elsewhere, Holland qualified from their group with ease. The West Germans didn't find it quite so easy and suffered an embarassing loss to their East German brothers and struggled to beat Chile and Australia, making their first and so far only appearance in the finals.

The highest profile first-round casualties were the Italians, who had struggled to beat Haiti and then been beaten by Poland in the final group game.

The Poles, England's conquerors in the qualifiers after Jan Tomaszewski, the keeper labelled by Brian Clough as a 'clown', had thwarted an England onslaught at Wembley, featured the talents of the wonderfully-named defender Jerzy Gorgon, midfield creator Kazimierz Deyna and free-scoring winger Gregorz Lato and enjoyed their best-ever World Cup.

The second stage saw Holland really get into gear. With Cruyff at his mercurial best, they hammered Argentina 4-0, eased past the East Germans and then compounded the new world order of international football by soundly beating the Brazilians. Neeskens and Cruyff scored two great goals to put them into the final.

The other group was far less straightforward as both West Germany and the Poles looked strong in seeing off the challenges of Sweden and Yugoslavia. Holland's opponent would be decided in the last group game.

Despite a strong showing from the Poles, home advantage stood in Frankfurt when Gerd Muller, Bayern Munich's finisher of finishers, scored in the 76th minute to set up a date with destiny in Munich.

It was one of the most eagerly-awaited finals in years with few able to choose between the two. Considering the historical emnity between the two countries it was a game that meant far more than football.

The Dutch seemed intent on humiliating the Germans and after an amazing first minute where Holland passed the ball around without the Germans touching the ball, Cruyff set off into the box with typical purpose. Future Scotland manager Berti Vogts brought him down and Johan Neeskens did the rest from the penalty spot.

After that Holland continued to play keep-ball and mock the Germans. But, marshalled by Beckenbauer, the hosts held their nerve and were rewarded when a forceful run by Hölzenbein was ended after a tackle by Wim Jansen. Referee Jack Taylor pointed to the penalty spot.

The Dutch accused the German winger of diving but the end result was Paul Breitner drilling the ball past Jan Jongbloed in the 25th minute.

Two minutes before half-time and the Germans were in the lead. The scorer was Gerd Muller, in his last international, who executed a pirouette to fire in. Demoralised just before the break, the Dutch came out fighting in the second-half.

But the lethargy and teasing of the early part of the game was hard to shake off. Though Johan Neeskens went close twice, keeper Sepp Maier was equal to the task.

The West Germans had beaten their bitter rivals and dashed the hopes of the footballing romantic - just as they had done in 1954 with the Hungarians.

Cruyff was soon to sneak into World Cup exile. Beckenbauer, who had previously lost a final and come third in 1970, lifted the new FIFA World Cup trophy.