1) Pre-World Cup
The tournament once again had a very special event in its prehistory: On 27 May, I became the father of a daughter named Chiara-Pauline. The fact that my marriage was divorced and that my daughter’s mother was another woman named Annette, who already had two children of her own, all of whom were born on my all-time favourite number, a 29th, and that my daughter was born in my honour on a 27th, i.e. my own birthday number, reflects in a way the curiosity of my own life’s course. It cannot diminish pride in any way, rather the opposite. If one is interested in another “life wisdom” discovered by me, read this one:
Before I had children, I used to smile at the parents who always praised their obviously absolutely average children so much for their outstanding abilities and constantly highlighted them. Kind of embarrassing. But that was only true until I had children of my own. However, to my greatest surprise, I found out that I was absolutely right: all the other children were really just average.
The fact that the German team always qualified probably only gives me a small reason to attest them further luck. For me, this luck very often starts with the draw of the group opponents, where there were very rarely any real giant pairings. But even with the always quite easy groups, you still have to add a little pinch of luck to get to the 100% required to qualify. Even if you already had 90% after the draw. But let’s leave that at this point.
For this World Cup, permanent partner Micha and I had reached a very special agreement. There was a bookmaker from Austria – having gone there from Holland — who thought about why he had lost with us over a long period of time. He came to the conclusion that we were quite good, invited us to Dornbirn and had a demo of our programme, our thinking and our way of working. It convinced him, so that from then on he became a subscriber to our numbers, and later even bought the whole programme.
For the World Cup, we had in any case found the best approach in his opinion and – for this moment I’ll put aside modesty for a moment – in ours as well. Because the basic assessment of the teams, which was not yet available in 1990, had long since become quite reliable thanks to the numerous results entered into the computer. However, from that year onwards, I did some additional work: each participating team was assessed on the basis of the individual players fielded. The players were classified according to the club teams they played for. And for all the club teams, I had long since obtained excellent figures by recording the European Cup matches and all the major leagues. The basic playing strengths of the teams were fine-tuned again on the basis of these findings. This made it possible to identify a few good picks that might not have been discovered by the market.
Afterwards, the simulation ran reliably as usual. 1000 runs, or in the meantime 5000 or even 10000, ran through in seconds or at most minutes thanks to much improved hardware but also partly software technology. And you really get pretty good results that way, as far as the teams’ chances are concerned. For the World Cup, there is still a special feature: the market is quite inflated by the numerous players who only bet on a big tournament. And as a rule, they have a fairly simple betting principle: the odds don’t matter, I just play what’s coming. And “what’s coming” is, in the opinion of these players, the favourite event.
The agreement with Jessi, the owner of this betting shop, was that we would supply him with our numbers for the duration of the tournament. In return, he would not pay us any money, but fax us all the bets he received. We would then have 50% of all these bets. We didn’t know what to expect, but we thought it was such a good idea, we were excited, and we were happy to go along with it.
Over the last few days before the World Cup, we had one main task: to get enough fax paper. Because that was really running day and night. So one task was to get the bets in the first place. But the even harder one was to get an overview. So we just refrained from doing that. But one thing was obvious: people were playing favourites. In all combinations. Group winners, advancing, winning matches, combined, individual, high, small. Only the same nations and names were always represented. So occasionally one began to wonder what would actually happen if everything turned out like this?
2) The preliminary round
a. The opening match Germany – Bolivia
The arrangements had been made. Our own bets were also placed. We had a good division of labour. I was the man to generate the numbers. Micha was the man to make the numbers work. The fax took care of the rest. But logically, our bets were also placed on the outsiders. Only then did the computer recognise the imaginary “advantages”.
The world champion was allowed to play, or had to play, in the very first match. Advantage or disadvantage need not concern a German. They simply win. Since they once again benefited from the luck of the draw, they started against Bolivia. But the luck of the draw was not limited to this opponent. The other group opponents were Spain and South Korea. As illustrious as Spain may be with its club teams Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the national team has rarely been able to assemble a particularly strong selection due to the special pride of the Spanish people and the individual regions in the country. Apart from the fact that within the club teams, foreign forces often rose to become the leading players.
For Bolivia, it was a major event. To be allowed to play against Germany once, and in front of the assembled world public! A dream. I still remember the scene when Lothar Matthäus stood in front of the Bolivians’ star, Erwin Sanchez, who immediately stood in awe, dutifully delivered the ball and … to my knowledge, Lothar Matthäus issued him ten autographs in return on the way to the half-time break….
The Germans won 1:0. At one point the goalkeeper was still wandering around the field looking for autograph victims and Jürgen Klinsmann managed to put the ball into the orphaned goal. Wipe your mouth, move on. Only my view was a little different: Surely it could happen, especially in such a weak game, that Germany did not win? For the public, it’s been over for a long time. And with the ridiculous words: “Nobody will be asking ‘how’ in a fortnight’ time. Well, it’s always the winner who says that, isn’t it? Besides, I’ll just ask. It was ridiculous. Even if Germany was better. This time there must have been a full 40% against a victory… But what good are arithmetic games to me? Germany — above all…
We had to throw in the towel quite soon in search of losing bets from Jessi’s side. All the experts had “guessed” Germany’s victory.
b. Spain – South Korea
This game was, as we discovered while rummaging through about 80 metres of fax rolls, even more frequently represented than the Germany – Bolivia game. In the opening game, a few experts were probably still “cautious” or “sceptical”. But Spain won, that was certain.
For me, the starting time of around 2am was unobjectionable. It meant that the not-so-small family was asleep. Because my daughter’s mother had “brought” two more children from her marriage. I watched the game all by myself.
The Spaniards also took command right away. I had very positive memories of South Korea, especially from the 86 World Cup. Above all, I remembered incredibly lively, small players who never seemed to tire and who shot at the goal from all angles. Long-range shots were a particular speciality. Nevertheless, Spain soon took the lead. It was not that South Korea disappointed. It was simply that Spain was better and also scored goals. Because it was soon 2-0 to Spain. But now I did everything but lie down in bed in frustration. I kept watching. For true enthusiasts, every little detail can be significant, informative, but also exciting. By the time the 80th minute had passed, even my if ever hope was decidedly small. But suddenly, in the 85th, the score was 1:2! It was deserved, it was a great performance by the South Koreans, who were exactly as I remembered them. Was a miracle possible after all? And indeed, in the last minute, South Korea managed to equalise. 2:2. The final result.
I spent the rest of the night crossing out all the losing bets. How much it rang in the coffers, I can no longer say. But it was one of the most fortunate events in my life, I claim to this day, 17 November 2009. The game was in all the combos, plus the virtual profit on all bets with Spain going on and Spain winning the group, since neither was lost yet, but only got worse.
c. Bolivia – South Korea
Why do I pick such a game? The most boring match, in terms of the pairing alone, at a World Cup? Well, there is really something special about this game and I was really surprised when a few days ago (on 14.11.09) a chess friend immediately gave me the answer how the game ended and what was the remarkable thing. The game really had a fascinating course and ended – with a 0:0. A true football festival. And it ran from 2am to 4am, with no “extra time”. And for all the exact calculators who immediately raise doubts, let it be mentioned: it really was.
The Scottish referee Mottram (you see, I didn’t research this but coaxed it from my elephantine memory. Only I have to confess that I had already researched it another time before and had therefore memorised it) whistled his last “big” game, because he actually allowed thirteen minutes to be added on, apparently unmotivated. At this point I must take up a lance for this man, as I was also allowed to explain to the chess friend: This game simply could not be whistled off. And that was really due to the way the two teams played. Because a referee proceeds as follows. At least at that time, because today everything has been “executed” by the display of the injury time, especially the tension that is so pleasing and necessary for football, but about that elsewhere…. so he proceeded like this: He waited until an attack was over, the ball was somewhere near the halfway line, the teams realised that at some point it had to be over and played a crossfield pass … and he blew the whistle. I really enjoyed predicting the exact time of the final whistle.
In this game, however, there was no such time. Because an intercepted attack resulted in an immediate counter-attack. The referee simply did not intervene. And when you saw the vehemence, the enthusiasm with which the following attack was played, the open sights, the exposed defences and two teams so eager to play, then you couldn’t simply stop it with a disdainful final whistle. “Let the kids play!”
At the same time, it was also really about a once-in-a-lifetime chance for both to stay in the tournament. A win against the second underdog in the group was basically a must for both of them. My comment: “Thank you very much for these great minutes, Mr. Mottram. And in my humble opinion, you could have calmly taken advantage of the predictable penalty on the part of the famous armchair farts and let the game go to one goal. The teams were ready. And you on the cusp of stardom…”
Incidentally, another little side detail that made this game seem so particularly memorable to me: The commentator was a certain Wolfgang Hempel, on Eurosport. In case you were also wondering about this feat of memory: The clueless standard and uniform blah-blah of German announcers without any build-up of tension would never make any reportage worth remembering for me. Wolfgang Hempel was different.
The very next morning I wanted to send Eurosport and especially Mr Hempel a letter of thanks for the only television broadcast with German commentary worth listening to in decades… Today I repeat: “Thank you, too, Mr. Hempel!”
d. Germany – South Korea
So Germany had the grandiose opening victory against Bolivia under its belt. In the following game with little memory value against Spain there was a 1-1 draw – defeats simply don’t exist for Germans. The last match was against South Korea.
In the first half, the team played a really great game with a few wonderful goals. 3:0 at the break. I watched the game with little sympathy and hope. I had assessed South Korea well. They had fulfilled their target for my wallet with the draw against Spain. Now all they could do was pull off the miracle. The second half brought them amazingly close to this miracle. Not only did they score the two goals as a matter of course, but they also played a German team that was already feeling confident of victory due to the high temperatures at half-time and was coming close to exhaustion. As much as it would have been deserved in this game – and, just a thought experiment – if the score had been 3:3, the final whistle would not have automatically sounded, it could have turned completely… ? Well, thoughts of an incorrigible dreamer. Germany won 3:2, and Effenberg, who was well aware of what was going on on the pitch and for whom the expectations were (probably unconsciously) too high, made a famous gesture towards the typically German-white whistling audience…
e. “Secret tip” Colombia
There was a surprise even before the World Cup: A qualifying match between Argentina and Colombia ended 0:5. Carlos Valderrama was the playmaker, Adolfo Valencia the goal scorer. “El Tren” had played for Bayern Munich since 1993. And then Pele said a sentence before the World Cup: “My secret tip for this World Cup is Colombia.”
You can imagine the consequences for us. The “secret tip” was no longer so secret shortly after the statement. Quite the opposite. All the weather players who thought they were worth something played Colombia. But most of them played it regardless of the course. Because Pele has spoken. And that’s comparable to Winnetou.
So we had heaps of bets on Colombia. Colombia should score as many points as possible in the preliminary round. Colombia as group winner. But bets were also placed on specific victories in individual matches.
Colombia had already lost to Romania. A little curious story here by the way: I was supposed to take part in the German championship in Subbuteo, a little-known table football game, but where I had played in two World and two European championships. My club chairman, Marcus Tilgner, was determined to persuade me. But it was the World Cup. I agreed on one condition: He had to take his video recorder with him and record the games taking place at the same time. He promised. And, one man, one word: he did. So we played the German team championship together, returned to the hotel late at night, waited for the final whistle of all the games and then watched the recorded games throughout the rest of the night. For my part, sleep was completely foregone. But it was worth it. The best of all results and games Colombia – Romania, with a final score of 1:3. A fantastic game. All the Romanians wore the colour of their jersey as their hair colour: yellow.
Then came the game: USA – Colombia. This second game was obviously very important for Colombia, And for us. The Colombians had to win it. They had to. I watched the game alone as usual in the flat of my girlfriend and child(ren) in Ruhleben. Luck was on my side. However, with a certain tragic consequence. Whoever was responsible for it or how it came about: The final result was 2:1 for the USA. The final result was sealed by an own goal by the Colombian Pablo Escobar. And I quote here verbatim what I just found on the internet about it:
“In the preliminary round match against the USA team on 22 June 1994, Escobar scored an own goal; Colombia lost 1-2 and was eliminated from the tournament. A few days later, on 2 July 1994, Andrés Escobar was killed with 12 shots outside a bar in Medellín.
The perpetrator, Humberto Muñoz Castro, may have been acting as a disappointed, angry fan, or as a contract killer for the Colombian betting mafia. In any case, it is suspected that the reason for Escobar’s murder was that own goal. Muñoz Castro was initially sentenced to 43 years in prison in June 1995, but was released in 2005 for good behaviour.”
As tragic as this goal was for Colombia and even more so for this man: for us it meant one of the highest profits ever of about 120,000 DM at that moment. Colombia was out, Colombia had lost the game. And we didn’t yet know about the later misfortune.
But my guess later was similar: Someone had probably lost a little too much?!
f. The Italy group and an unspeakable comment
This group constellation deserves a closer look. The rules were still that out of 24 teams in six groups, the four best third-placed teams would advance. Italy had lost 0:1 to Ireland in their opening game, scorer Ronny Whelan, as I can’t remember. For the arithmeticians, this meant that the second match against Norway had to be won. And this game started extremely inauspiciously with a justified sending-off against the Italian goalkeeper. However, he had fouled outside the penalty area, so the result was only a sending-off and not a goal against. The Italians nevertheless combined their strengths and came away with a 1:0 victory.
The last group game was against Mexico. For us, it was important that Italy did not win the game and did not become group winner, but we had also predicted that Mexico would win the group. But it was especially important for Italy not to lose the match. The parallel match was Ireland – Norway. And since Italy had won against Norway, but also Norway against Mexico and Mexico against Ireland, all teams were level on points before the matches. Because of the rules, this meant that Mexico and Italy were virtually certain to progress with the actual score at the 70th minute of 1-1 and the tie 0-0. Mexko anyway, as they were allowed to celebrate their victory with a 2-1 score, which gave them the more goals scored in the standings with equal points and goal difference and thus assured progress. However, due to the intermediate score of 1:1, Italy also had a goal difference of 2:2, just like Ireland, but Norway only had a goal difference of 1:1. Although this meant that Italy “only” came third, as the direct comparison against Ireland was against them in the case of equality of points and goals, this place was sufficient to secure them a place in the comparison of the third-placed teams in the group.
The only possibility for Italy to be eliminated was if both teams scored exactly two goals in the match between Norway and Ireland (well, for the more subtle readers: even three or four or more, the main thing is that they scored the same number and more than one would have brought the same result). But even a 1:1 would not have been enough, because Norway and Italy would have been equal on points and goals, but in the direct comparison Italy would have been ahead again thanks to the 1:0 win against Norway. That two or more goals for both sides was about as likely as the Eiffel Tower collapsing from the 80th minute onwards.
In keeping with the inherited skills of an Italian footballer, coach Arrigo Sacchi ordered his men to the back, as was illustrated by the running pictures, which were the same in all other countries. However, the German commentator, who did not even think it necessary to consider a few eventualities and was about as familiar with the possible constellations as any housewife, wanted to send the Italians forward with his comments. “The Italians need another goal.” So if the prior research did not cause him in any way to concern himself with the particular constellation of this group – my interpretation for this is quite simple: Germany is not playing and therefore no one is watching or listening anyway, apart from the fact that in Germany it does not matter in principle which other teams remain in the tournament, who would meet whom under what circumstances, because a) no one cares anyway and b) Germany always wins anyway — this unambiguous gesture by the Italian coach should have informed him at the latest that the Italians were obviously satisfied with the point. He should then have had the ingenuity to remain silent for a moment, leave the calculations to the Italian in charge and, after the game was over, realise with astonishment that Italy had progressed after all. But not everyone has that much ingenuity. My own astonishment went so far that I realised that in Germany not even such incompetence was of interest to the extent that there was a single commentary on it. The speaker does his job reliably as usual. That which was Mr. Mottram’s undoing through no fault of his own on the official side passes easily here. No one cares. Go ahead and talk nonsense for 90 minutes. Keep it up! No one listens any more anyway (soon, really).
By the way, I would be interested in one more thing: In how many other countries was the speaker similarly naïve (the person in question may feel addressed, but I couldn’t remember his name even with the best will in the world, and for a good reason, but I’ll blatantly call the behaviour “stupid”, no “dumb”) and prescribed unconditional attack on the Italians?
g. The Round of 16 Germany – Belgium
I’m going through all the other teams in the round of 16 again in my mind, including those who didn’t even get there or who weren’t even allowed to play in the World Cup. May I mention at this point that France, for example, were eliminated in incredible fashion against Bulgaria and, as I recall, Israel before that? They needed one more point from the last two qualifiers, both on their own pitch, and first lost to Israel, then were even 2-0 up against Bulgaria (all memory, no research) and yet Kostadinov hammered them 3-2 just before the end to the horror of the entire crowd, which had long been in a jubilant mood, no, of an entire nation. Why does this never happen to Germany? And England also failed to qualify. I know, they are all “too stupid”…
Once again, Belgium was the easiest draw. Well, the Saudis, who had a particularly strong team that year and also beat Belgium, may have been similar. Germany once again had an easy path. Bolivia and South Korea in the preliminary round, with the course described, and now Belgium.
The first half they offered really good football again, I’m happy to admit. The “tournament team” seems to be getting back on track. They were leading 3:1. When Albert then scored the 2:3 shortly before the end, I had another brief opportunity to use the armchair as a standing place. Because now it was Belgium’s “turn”. But in this game, too, the Germans managed to hold on for the 3:2. Okay, my hopes were also low. But for us, it would have meant: “Open the window. A windfall.” Germany had to go out. I sold my soul long ago anyway. That comes with the job. But in order to press for the Germans’ failure, financial support would not have been necessary for a long time.
h. The quarter-final between Germany and Bulgaria
Well, here too my sympathies were quite clearly distributed. And of course there was a lot of money at stake. Surely there can’t always be the same luck, Fortuna smiling upon the same?
But I can confidently describe the game as a very good one for the Germans. Sure, objectivity is always made much easier by winning. I know many chess players who, in retrospect, attest that the losing player “played really well”. Even in the neighbouring country, the GDR, it was customary to always praise the opponent to the skies. It was interpreted by the commentators and, in principle, by the whole nation as “whitewashing” and, above all, as a way of putting a possible success even higher. For me personally, it meant that I much preferred watching the games that were broadcast on GDR television, from a certain point on. And the coverage definitely had much more objectivity than the West German coverage.
Germany played a very strong game, took a 1-0 lead and was overwhelmingly superior. It was a question of time, if you like, before the second goal was scored. And it did…
And it was precisely this goal that made the game special and memorable for me. However, as I’m sure you’ve come to expect from me, it’s a (more accurately: the) representation of the sequence of scenes. In a nutshell: banger by Möller, post, follow-up shot by Völler. 2:0 and the semi-final. That’s what everyone thought. There was cheering not only in the announcers’ booth, and if the tradition of high-summer New Year’s Eve firecrackers had already been born at that time, there would certainly have been plenty set off. Only the referees and linesmen objected. One wondered a little at first, because the players’ cheers died away. Then they rubbed their eyes. Then you realised that the linesman had raised the flag. Then you realised, as you had once done in 1966, when the linesman Bakhramov had to convince the referee of the validity of the goal, that this goal did not count here. And went on to analyse. The TV pictures proved: When Möller scored directly, Rudi Völler was actually closer to the goal line than the last defender. The announcer accepted the offside, as far as I know, even after some thought. The whole of Germany probably accepted this decision. The world anyway. After all, it concerned the all-powerful and universally hated Beast, who, if anything, was disadvantaged.
But here comes my unbelievable assertion: Before the goal, this form of offside decision did not even exist. It only became hopeful through this (non-)goal. In the past, as mentioned above and for me in any case absolutely conclusive, one would have pleaded for a “direct shot on goal”, for which it was recognised that there was no offside anyway – even today’s “obstructing the view”, which allegedly players standing in the way would do to the goalkeeper, did not exist in this form; it was also at times when people were still happy when goals were scored…; but more about that elsewhere –, and after the shot on goal pleaded for a “new playing situation”. I think there was no reason to change this view.
Thus, Germany became a late victim of such a new interpretation of the rules. I am happy to take the expected beating. Only I am quite relaxed about the scene being played in. I would also be happy to watch demonstrations of previous decisions of this kind, which can be equated with this one, and … revise my statement, if you like.
But there is one thing I will definitely not do: I won’t ever let anything happen to my personal heroes Hristo Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov, who turned the game around to make it 2-1. And I won’t … give back what the warm (money) rain washed in after opening the window. Don’t I have to? Even if I win with luck? What was the parable with the gift horse or something? Was it about its “value” for the sake of rhyme? I have also suffered often enough … and had to pay…
Did the (black-red) gold medal have another side to it than just the (federal) eagle or the (German) coat of arms?
The media reaction was just as unsatisfactory as in the case of the 92 final defeat against Denmark. In Germany, there is only “error analysis” for such cases in the best case, and blame and accusations in the normal case. And the term “catastrophe World Cup” was coined, one heard a “you whistles lost and hurt our honour”. These kickers have not fulfilled their sacred duty of winning. A new coach and new players are needed. Or? Apart from that: There is never anyone in Germany who mourns anymore. How is such a thing possible? ’66 or ’70, those were the last times.
I still ask: How can you call a quarter-final appearance a “catastrophe”? If you honestly (and unusually objectively) list the nations that spontaneously come to mind when you think of the term “world’s best” – just thrown into the room, Brazil, Italy, England, France, Argentina, Spain, Holland, Portugal – then I’m already at 8. And a quarter-final still means being among the best eight in the world. And who could just as honestly claim that the German team is better than those listed? Objectively speaking, a close examination of the player material might yield an “equally good”. But really only in the best… You automatically get the title “tournament team” through success. So that’s nonsense. The fact that one’s own self-confidence is strengthened accordingly and that of others is transformed into proper respect may have contributed to a very small extent to the lasting successes. Otherwise, it was luck. And we should please reintroduce this term into the (football) vernacular. Gratitude, joy and sadness could then also be taken up again in parallel and make our whole (football) world a little nicer again.
Especially since it is the truth… And what is there, even for a German, that speaks against saying it once in a while?