Germany at the 1986 World Cup – Part II: Platini, Mexico & The Road to the Final

Continuing our two-part series about Germany’s 1986 World Cup campaign in Mexico, taken from Robert Fielder’s excellent “The Complete History of the World Cup,” we take a look at the knockout stages of the tournament and Germany’s path to yet another World Cup final.

After surviving the Group of Death, Franz Beckenbauer’s Germany came up against surprise package Morocco, who topped a group with England, Poland and Portugal,  a fiesty encounter with hosts Mexico and a French side looking for revenge following the controversial incident four years earlier.

See Part I here.

Second place in the group stage meant that Germany were forced to face the winners of a strong pool which included England, Poland and Portugal. Strangely it was Morocco who topped it, providing what looked on paper a less than ferocious test. Yet Germany’s pedigree against North African opposition was a questionable one, having drawn with Tunisia in 1978 and lost to Algeria in 1982. Here they received an almighty scare and left it very late to claim the win.

Another roasting hot afternoon hampered the efforts of both sides and neither was prepared to be too adventurous or risk conceding. The first half was barren in terms of chances with the exception of one glaring miss by Rummenigge. A drilled cross from the left flank by Allofs found the West German skipper unmarked at the back-post with what appeared to be an open goal to aim at. Tremendous credit must go to the Moroccan goalkeeper, Zaki, for the speed with which he reacted to produce a miraculous save but had Rummenigge been slightly more clinical it would have been a certain goal.

Beckenbauer reacted to the dearth of scoring chances by introducing Littbarski in place of Völler at the interval and the lively dribbling, deftness of touch and invention of the winger made a difference. Despite that, openings were still hard to come by and a bicycle kick from Rummenigge which flew over was the only genuine effort as the match neared its conclusion. Much praise for the lack of attacking pressure applied by Morocco must go to Karlheinz Förster. The centre-back, regarded by many shrewd pundits as the finest in the world, completely nullified the previously sprightly North African forward line and made Schumacher’s afternoon one of the easiest of his career.

Finally, with the match nearing extra-time, an injection of pace manifested itself in the German play. Matthäus was placed one on one with the goalkeeper from Allofs’ lay-off but again Zaki was quick off his line and made a valiant intervention. Seconds later a free-kick was awarded for a foul on Rummenigge midway into the Moroccan half. Zaki lined up his wall precisely but they disintegrated as the set-piece was being prepared; Matthäus spotted the chink in the Moroccan armour and blasted his shot low, into the corner that the wall had been covering, and stole the game. It was incredibly harsh on Zaki, whose heroics had deserved more, but Morocco had paid the price for a lack of focus at the crucial time.

The Germans’ reward for the victory was a quarter-final against hosts Mexico. As with the clash with Morocco, it was not a game which would live long in the mind of the neutral. In a tussle that was marred by play-acting and petty fouls, both teams struggled to establish any rhythm about their play and their workmanlike efforts lacked the grace and guile that one would expect at this level. Neither side had too many glaring chances; a free-kick from Allofs which dipped just over and another fierce attempt from the striker, parried away by Larios after Rummenigge’s cushioned header, were among the best for West Germany. For Mexico a low strike from Serbin was well saved after he had cleverly peeled away from a free-kick.

The second half came to comparative life when Thomas Berthold was sent off. Having been fouled by Quirarte, the full-back retaliated with a punch that failed to connect and was pathetically dismissed. In truth Quirarte, who had already been booked, really should have followed him for his more cynical offense, but somehow the Colombian referee let him off. Now facing ten men the Mexicans opened up and pressed their claim. A shot from Aguirre was blocked by Brehme on the line and Sánchez scored from the resulting scramble, only to be judged offside. Sánchez was equally disappointed when a penalty claim was turned down but Aguirre continued to be heavily involved as his volley was turned onto the crossbar by Schumacher with time running out.

In extra-time Aguirre’s involvement proved costly when he was sent off for a deliberate body-check on Matthäus and despite the reduced numbers, neither team was able to force a goal. Home advantage should have proven a distinct plus in the resulting shoot-out, the fervent fans able to distract the German kickers, but that was wishful thinking. After Allofs, Negrete and Brehme had all scored, Quirarte saw his weak strike saved by the legs of Schumacher. Matthäus was typically emphatic from 12 yards and that only increased the pressure on Serbin whose insipid shot was comfortably kept out. The decisive spot-kick fell to Littbarski and he thundered his effort into the corner to take West Germany through to yet another semi-final.

There they would play France, a repeat of the memorable match in Seville which had been famous for, among other things, Schumacher’s brutal “challenge” on Patrick Battiston, that knocked out the French full-back. As a result there was plenty of talk of revenge in the pre-game sparring but it was hardly a particularly aggressive contest.

It helped significantly that the West Germans were gifted a lead with less than ten minutes gone. A foul by Battiston on Rummenigge on the edge of the area led to a free-kick which was nudged by Magath to Brehme; his innocuous strike was at least on target but Bats allowed it to sneak under his body and into the net. It was reminiscent of the way that Luis Arconada had allowed Michel Platini’s free-kick to evade his best efforts in the final of Euro 84, but here the French were less satisfied with the outcome. Quickly a chance fell their way to level the scores. Alain Giresse dinked a clever free-kick to Platini, the captain spinning nimbly and hitting the ball on the volley. Schumacher managed to keep that effort out but palmed the ball straight to Max Bossis who missed the target from five yards. Fortunately the defender was given offside but one wondered if the linesman had put up his flag in sympathy at the magnitude of the miss.

As the half wore on the Germans maintained their strangle hold on the course of the match. Rummenigge, Matthäus and Rolff all had strikes at goal that required Bats to be at his best, and the French keeper did not seem to be unduly effected by his earlier blunder. The pick of Bats’ stops came at the start of the second half when Rolff again ventured forward and loosed a powerful drive towards the top corner which was excellently turned over by the French custodian. Now Les Bleus injected some urgency and when Stopyra cut inside Jakobs it required an adept stop from the previously idle Schumacher.

Despite the replacement of Rummenigge (clearly not fit but required to play given his experience and leadership) with Völler early in the half, the French continued to enjoy the better of the play. A goal by Platini was correctly disallowed for offside and with time running out Bossis wasted a prime chance from 12 yards out after a looping header by Fernández had left him well placed in the area. From that wasted opportunity the West Germans countered on France as they tried to chase the game; a long ball downfield from Schumacher finding Allofs who in turn played a pass to the unmarked Völler. As Bats raced from his goal, Völler neatly lifted the ball over the goalkeeper’s head, firing into the empty net to settle the match.

It had been a strangely inhibited performance from the French who failed to replicate the brilliance of the passing they had displayed earlier in the tournament. Although both teams had faced a similarly arduous route to the semi-finals (in terms of conditions if not the calibre of opposition), the Germans appeared better prepared for another draining encounter.

An encounter against the one and only Maradona….

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