After my temporary Hamburg gig, I had returned to Berlin. Since I just couldn’t get Britta – or could I? For details, please refer to the amorous chapter “Britta” told elsewhere – in a fit of weakness, I got involved with Ilona. We lived together in the “Hotel Papa”. I also stayed at the university for quite a long time, though not directly for the registered studies, but rather on an arbitrary retraining tour. Through the lecture “ALGOL 68” I had access to the Harris Grissrechen facility and was almost part of the inventory there for many months. I developed my Black Jack programme there and soon also the first football programme, which was gradually developed into a forecasting tool. In the spring of ’86, however, I decided to put my playing career completely “on hold”. I was able to take part in a one-year, state-subsidised proper retraining measure to become an EDP specialist/economics. I was forced to de-register and had the summer completely free until the start of the programme.
This was ideal for watching the World Cup, which was again taking place in Mexico, as the games were played late in the evening and late at night, as they had been in 1970. So I only missed about one and a half games at this World Cup, when I was allowed to go to the German Blitz Chess Championship one weekend and the return journey took a little longer than I had hoped.
Otherwise I watched football. At this point I would like to tell you about my personal feeling and experience of a World Championship and what fascinated me and why. When the tournament was approaching, the feeling was comparable to the childlike anticipation of Christmas. Once, when I was talking to an English acquaintance before the ’98 World Cup, he told me the phrase that I still find convincing today, purely from the wording. He said, “I cant wait.” I liked the idea of “not even being able to wait”.
So that’s how it was before it started. To this end, football pictures were regularly collected so that I could gradually familiarise myself with players, line-ups and teams, their chances and playing strengths. Other pre-match reports were of course just as greedily devoured and consulted. In this way, you also look for your own idols or insider tips, teams or players that you really look forward to because you think they might be underestimated by the general public. In addition, you knew from previous experience that there were always a few surprises, a few exotics who could perhaps trip up a big player here or there. In addition, I could look forward to exciting group constellations, which I regularly enjoyed working out. Who would advance or be eliminated with which results was a joy for Little Pauli.
In those years, the fate of the German team did not interest me more than that of the other participants. The fact that they continued to have “priority” was entirely thanks to the reporting that provided me with daily reports from the German camp and for which the other teams were essentially only interesting when they had to play against the Germans. Sure, at a World Cup, from about 1974 onwards, all the games were broadcast, so the commentators had to deal with the chances and the conditions of the other participants in an emergency. But it was more of a duty, I felt. Well, to a certain extent I do understand such behaviour, since for most Germans it’s simply the performance of their own team that’s in the foreground – perhaps the same in other countries. But a little more enthusiasm and objectivity for others could do us good in this country. I simply maintain that it is precisely in Germany that the feeling is conveyed and maintained that Germany is the navel of the world. Throwing the modest judgements of other holidaymakers into the balance when you meet each other abroad could confirm these unpleasant findings. As much as I may take flak for it, one observation is that a German, for example, does not think it necessary to learn another language. Prejudices always have two characteristics: they are true in the grand scheme of things. And they never apply to the actual interlocutor (here: reader).
But now there is another phenomenon: the preliminary round comprised 24 teams in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994. So there were 6 groups of four teams each. Six matches were played in each group so that everyone played against everyone else. That makes 6 * 6 = 36 preliminary round matches. Then came the round of 16 with 8 games, quarter-finals with 4 games, semi-finals with two more games and the final, one game, and for true enthusiasts the game for third place, so from the round of 16 onwards 8 + 4 + 2 + 2 = 16 games. Preliminary round is 36 games, after that only 16 games. For me, that meant that when everyone said “now it really starts”, it was practically already over. I was only really looking forward to the preliminary round. Lots of games every day, all the teams still allowed to play and you could calculate who could get further with which result, which would be needed and who could meet who if they got further. From the round of sixteen onwards, there were only knockout games, which had the unfortunate side effect that from then on you couldn’t see one team and there wasn’t much left to calculate, plus the small number of remaining games. So I didn’t understand what could be meant by “now it’s just getting started”?
By the way, never was the English saying, for which I cannot find a German equivalent, more fitting than at this point: “You can’t have the cake and eat it.” You can’t have the cake and eat it. That’s what the tournaments were like. It was wonderful, the Christmas feeling of anticipation. But the cake had to be eaten. And by the preliminary round, it was well over half eaten. And without a choice.
As nice as it was for me to be able to watch a game like Portugal against Morocco at 3 a.m., here and for this piece, the fate of the Germans in particular at this tournament, but once again under the aspect of “the Duseldeutsche” must concern me. The group draw gave them Uruguay, Scotland and Denmark, not quite as easy a task as usual. But there were no real heavyweights in the group either. In the first match, they had to deal with Uruguay. Since the South Americans were much closer to home than in Europe, this task was expected to be difficult. The result was a 1-1 draw. In the second match against Scotland, they met their congenial opponents: what the Germans had in luck, the Scots always had in bad luck. You could have been in tears as early as 1978, when they beat the overpowering Dutch 3-2, but were still eliminated according to the usual rules of the time – in the event of a tie, goal difference counts. And that was not an isolated case for Scotland.
So, as usual, the Germans won this game 2-1. There would be other results sometimes. Even with the special course of the game.
Now, at this point, we have to say a few words again about the once again changed match mode: The ridiculous groups of three from 1982 had been abolished again. Instead, there was to be a real round of 16. Now think, how do you turn 24 teams into 16? As much as it was pleasing for me. There were 36 preliminary round matches to reduce the number of participants from 24 to 16! As I said, it was interesting for me and in keeping with the spirit of a final tournament, it was also good that every qualified participant was guaranteed at least their three group matches. Commerce was not neglected either, as the World Cup has long been broadcast worldwide. But the sporting value is doubtful. Those responsible also had to come up with a regulation to implement the project. So they decided that the group winners and group runners-up would still be through, of course. With six groups, that makes 6 * 2 = twelve teams for the round of sixteen. The other four were to be the best four third-placed teams. And that’s where things got sportingly dubious and highly complicated. After all, it had to be decided under which circumstances who would play against whom in the round of sixteen. And what happens if there is a tie on points and goals? But I would like to explain the procedure in more detail only where necessary.
For Germany, as usual, these two results meant that they had already secured qualification for the last 16. So, in the third match, they only played for group victory or for placement. And in retrospect, I had a lot of sympathy for Franz Beckenbauer, the coach at the time, when he simply claimed in response to the angry reporters’ questions that he had seen one of the best games of a German team in the 2-0 defeat. For whatever one may think about the performance, the result itself was really “good”. And it’s a scoundrel who thinks badly of it. The Germans then “coincidentally” had Morocco as their opponent in the round of 16, while group winners Denmark had to deal with “rebuilding opponents” Spain. The 1:5 defeat of the Danes was surely just a slip-up? But the Germans really took Morocco apart. As early as the 88th minute, Lothar Matthäus took heart and hammered a free kick from about 40 metres onto the goal, which actually slipped through the goalkeeper’s braces. The 1:0 and the quarter-final were the reward for the two brilliant performances.
The Danes had already paid (dearly) for their naivety, just as the GDR had done back in 1974. But the Germans’ luck had not even begun to run out. They were only really rewarded in the quarter-finals. There they had to face the host nation Mexico. But the next pairings had already been decided, there was no drawing of lots. Could the Germans “aim” again, like in 1974? And Mexico had already more than fulfilled their obligation to reach the last 16. The quarter-finals were already a bonus. Of all the opponents there, the Mexicans were certainly the easiest. But even a game like that still has to be won, even if the world certainly saw Germany as favourites and objectively that may have been the case. But the way the Mexicans were defeated was once again “typically German”. Luck, luck, luck. Briegel was sent off at some point and they had to play 10 against 11 against the then euphoric home power. Of course, this was successful not only over the full 90 minutes but also beyond extra time. The 0:0 was sealed The winner had to be determined once again in a purely German affair: The penalty shoot-out. After all, the Mexicans managed to sink one of the four penalties they took. 4:1 for Germany. A clear affair!?
But here, too, luck was far from running out. In the semi-finals, France awaited again, as they had in ’82. They were of course looking for revenge for Battiston and an undeserved defeat. But they had eliminated Brazil in the quarter-finals in one of the best World Cup matches. I watched the game again later, the full 120 minutes plus the penalty shootout. And if ever the phrase “this game deserved two winners” was appropriate, it was here. It was like slapstick. Goal chance here, goal chance, there, up and down. For 120 minutes. 1:1 in the end, but even 4:4 would have been acceptable. Tragic that one of these two fantastic teams had to be eliminated. while the sleeping tablets Germany were allowed to play on. I can still see Socrates when his penalty was missed. And to this day it can bring tears to my eyes. Always against the background that Germany was once again allowed to rub its hands. And France was assigned to the semi-finals after this feat.
This semi-final is also more than memorable for me. The French would certainly not dare to claim that they were clearly the better team. Because that’s what almost every major opponent has thought for the last 40 years or so. Only in the end you always end up empty-handed. And in Germany, you would only hear a “better, my ass. Whoever scored the goals was better”. So I feel very lonely in the world. Especially with the assessment that Germany was far more clearly outclassed than in 1982. An early goal – was that Brehme’s deflected free-kick or should I forget my resolution not to do research for once in this tournament? – After that, it was a one-way street towards the German goal. And no matter how many chances. The ball just wouldn’t go in. Last minute, the French defence completely exposed, a long ball, Völler through alone, he scores – 2:0. Final whistle.
Germany in the final. The Argentines had knocked out England on the road with an outstanding Maradonna and his “Hand of God” in a duel that was highly explosive because of the Falklands War, the Brazilians had fallen by the wayside, as had the Spanish and the Italians. The giants had torn each other to shreds, while Germany, with a single goal from play in the 88th against Morocco, a penalty shoot-out and then via a lucky victory against the French, who were perhaps even slightly exhausted from a gigantic victory against Brazil, nevertheless the far better team, “pigged out” and were in the final. How unfair the world can be! And no one notices. No one stops the beast with the seven lives and the gigantic tentacles. It is beamed into the final again and again by a ghostly hand. How does that work?
The final itself is particularly memorable in that there was some very late justice. The Argentines, with Maradonna at the top of his game in this tournament, seemed to be heading for an easy victory when they were already leading 2-0 after about an hour. But the Germans still had a few arrows in their quiver for this game as well. Connecting goal by Rummenigge, equaliser by Völler. Surely that couldn’t be true? Only for once I have to confirm a legend, when I usually have all kinds of doubts about history: In their euphoria, the Germans now believed they could take the world by storm. Once world champion, always world champion, or something like that. They stormed on immediately and practically all ran forward. The defence was completely exposed when Burruchaga, set up by Maradonna, ran alone towards the German goal and did not get any more soft knees, but uncompromisingly hammered the ball past Schumacher into the net. There was not the slightest doubt that Argentina were deserved world champions. If it wasn’t allowed to be France or Brazil…
But there are a few interesting incidents to tell beyond that:
For example, the absurdity of the rule that the best four third-place finishers would advance had the following effect at one point. When Uruguay and Scotland met in the last preliminary round match of the German group, the bad luck of the Scots became apparent once again. The game went like this: in the first minute a Uru was sent off. The earliest sending off at a finals tournament. On top of that, Uruguay only had the point from their 1-1 draw with Germany in their opening match. The match against Denmark was lost 6-1, the Danes with the outstanding Preben Elkjaer Larsen and a still young but highly talented Michael Laudrup.
So 2:7 goals and a point for Uruguay. “Nothing to write home about”, rather a reason to walk around with bowed heads. And now there was the 90-minute defensive battle with 10 against 11 men against Scotland. But when the final whistle blew on that game and the 0-0 score was actually sealed, I can still see the gigantic Uruguayan player’s grape that formed at the centre circle, including all the officials. Unbelievable! The rules were responsible for the Urus actually reaching the last 16 as the fourth best third-placed team with those three results and being allowed to rejoice so euphorically!
Another memory is Maradonna’s hand goal. I understand so well that he later spoke of it being “the hand of God” that was responsible for that goal. What was interpreted as presumption, even blasphemy, but at least brazen audacity and denial of the true facts, is in fact an admission of guilt. In principle, he admits what the cameras did not allow to be concealed anyway, that it was a handball. On the other hand, the goal was awarded. The only option would be not to take the hand in the first place. From my experience and observation as a football player, however, I know that the rules were sometimes disregarded, especially in the understandable effort to somehow still get hold of the ball. The defenders do everything they can to stop a striker and prevent him from finishing successfully. And they always go to the limits with their choice of means, if they do not willingly exceed them, in the hope of not being caught. And how often does a striker know, for example, when he takes a header, that it was held or pulled down and only as a result did he fail to score? No defender would think of going to the referee and saying: “Hey, Schri, didn’t you see? I held the man down, that was a penalty”, right? There is the concept of factual decision. And the strikers are much more often victims of that factual decision. They are fouled, the defender uses his hand, there is no appropriate punishment in the form of a penalty. But a striker is not allowed to invoke this rule? Is not allowed to try to exploit that once in his favour?
On top of that, the Argentines certainly felt oppressed by the colonial power England for a long time. And that year they were the better team anyway. The victory was deserved. Who doesn’t remember Maradonna’s second goal, when he “nibbled” almost the entire English team from the halfway line and about seven Englishmen were all sitting on the seat of their trousers rubbing their eyes in amazement when the ball was in the net? So Maradonn basically just said it was a win and a decision of justice. And surely God is just? Unless we’re talking about a Central European one…. but let’s not go there.
But if you still think that Maradonna should have denounced himself, and that a respectable German would never do such a thing, remember Thomas Helmer’s phantom goal in Bayern’s match against Nuremberg, when the ball went wide of the goal, Helmer even grabbed his head in disgust at the missed chance, but the linesman ruled it a goal, and Helmer and all of Bayern broke out in jubilation and began to celebrate the “goal”. That was much more brazen than Maradonna. And here, too, a small victory for justice. The obviousness of this “cheating” earned Bayern a replay of the game won 2-1 by this goal.
And they won this one 5:0, justly. Like the whole world. And God?!?!?