Germany at the 1986 World Cup – Part III: Maradona and the Final

In the final piece of our three-part series profiling Germany’s 1986 World Cup campaign in Mexico, Robert Fielder take a look at one of the most memorable finals of all time in his thrilling Complete History of the World Cup.

The 1986 World Cup still remains perhaps Diego Maradona’s finest hour as a footballer and against Germany he encountered one of the biggest challenges of his career.

Before the final Franz Beckenbauer described Argentina as being near to perfection and lacking any obvious weakness. He was surely being kind but the Albiceleste had been an impressive unit en route to the competition’s denouement. Defensively a record of just three goals conceded in their six games was testament to the solidity Carlos Bilardo had created, while going forward the pairing of Jorge Burruchaga and Jorge Valdano, allied of course with the supreme gifts of Maradona, had proven a potent mixture. The conditions would undoubtedly favour the Argentines with the match kicking off at midday to suit European TV schedules and the sun beating down on the players’ backs.

Wearing an unfamiliar green kit, the West Germans kicked off and won the first corner of the game, taken by Brehme and headed easily away by Maradona at the near post. The Argentine skipper was far happier taking set-pieces than defending them, though he was similarly frustrated by a corner of his own soon afterwards which nobody could make meaningful contact with. His temper was raised again by a booking for dissent after a free-kick, taken by Brehme and easily saved, was ordered to be retaken for encroachment. It had originally been awarded for a foul on Briegel when the giant German went down softly on the edge of the area and tried to con the referee by rolling into the box.

In 1966 Beckenbauer himself had been tasked with man-marking Bobby Charlton in the World Cup final, with the result that the best player of each side negated each other. So here he utilised Matthäus, not quite developed into the marauding midfielder he would become, to stifle the influence of Maradona. That plan took a blow when Matthäus was booked for a foul on the Napoli star after 21 minutes, the referee playing advantage until seconds later Cuciuffo was brought down. From the following free-kick Burruchaga swung a deep ball into the area which Schumacher moved forward to collect. After a tournament with few mistakes the German goalkeeper faltered at the crucial time, failing to claim the ball and allowing José Luis Brown to nod softly into the empty net. The man without a club, who was only playing due to the absence of Passarella, had been consistently titanic in the Argentine defence and here he got his reward with a first goal for his country.

Throughout the tournament the West Germans had adopted a counter-attacking approach, sitting back and picking off opponents when the opportunity arose. Now such a scheme was put to the test and the Germans looked short of ideas on how they could exploit Argentine weaknesses. The one opening they were able to create in the remainder of the first half came from a long ball forward from Karlheinz Förster, headed across goal by Berthold and which Rummenigge could only direct over the bar as he stretched. Otherwise it was an opening 45 minutes which lacked fluency from both teams. The uneven playing surface disrupted passing rhythms and the high line employed by the opposing defences meant a succession of offsides further unsettled the game.

The West German reaction at half-time was to introduce Völler in place of Allofs who had failed to leave a footprint in the first half. Despite their positive intent the West Germans found themselves forced to defend when nice interplay between Batista and Maradona set Burruchaga through on goal. With two colleagues alongside him the Nantes midfielder bore down on the box but Ditmar Jakobs inital tackle slowed him down and allowed Karlheinz Förster to get back and make a decisive intervention when the Argentine looked set to pull the trigger.

As the West Germans slowly began to build some pressure they were hit by a rapier-like counter-attack. Maradona started the move in midfield with a pass to Enrique who in turn played in Valdano who was cutting inside from the left. Schumacher advanced to try and cut down the angle but the deadly finish of the Real Madrid forward was bent inside the post and beyond the reach of the German. Quickly two chances arose for the Argentines to kill the game. Firstly, Valdano headed narrowly wide from a fine position after he got above Briegel in the air.  Moments later a terrible offside decision was given against Enrique after Burruchaga’s through pass had put him clean in on goal, Enrique timing an excellent run that was a good 10 yards onside.

Having ridden their luck the West Germans were handed a dose more. When they won a corner, taken by Brehme, Völler was well placed to flick on and Rummenigge forced the ball past Pumpido. They repeated the trick eight minutes later in remarkably similar style. A corner from Brehme was this time headed back across goal by Berthold and Völler was the beneficiary to nod past Pumpido. It capped an improbable but impressive comeback, for at 2-0 the West Germans had shown almost no sign of having the cutting edge that might win the game. Now, with Rummenigge still not fit and Magath having been replaced with Dieter Hoeness they had somehow forced the equaliser.

All the momentum appeared to be with the Europeans, so buoyed were they by the dramatic change in the status quo. If anything it was such enthusiasm that cost them. Having been set merely on avoiding defeat they now looked to win the match in normal time, pouring forward in pursuit of the vital winner. The one man who didn’t look ready to surge forward, or indeed do anything with intensity, was Briegel. One of the fittest men among the German squad, his lethargy had been evident even before the second goal. With his teammates pressing forward he hung back and allowed Maradona to stab a pass forward for Burruchaga who was played onside by Briegel. With Schumacher unusually tardy in realising the danger Burruchaga strode through, picked his spot and slotted the ball past the onrushing goalie. Still there was time for another Maradona run which might have provided a penalty. Having come back once the Germans looked spent and unable to rise from the dead again. Despite the scoreline it had not been a classic final, but the second half had provided drama and excitement, as well as the ultimate reward for the brilliance of the Argentine number 10.

Despite their disappointment, there was much for Beckenbauer and his team to take from the tournament. Nobody had expected such an extended run, particularly after defeat to Denmark, but they had shown tremendous mental strength and desire to battle their way to the final. There the resilience to come back from a 2-0 deficit had proven beyond doubt that they could hold their own against vaunted opposition, even if a momentary lapse of concentration had cost them. While the likes of Rummenigge and Schumacher might not be available for the next finals, the emergence of Brehme, Matthäus and Völler as players of international class hinted at bright years ahead.

From that point of view the DFB can look to the finals of 1986 as providing great optimism for those in Brazil this year. The World Cup in South Africa provided the grounding on the international stage that players such as Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller needed in tournament football. The defeats to Spain in the World Cup and the European Championship might have been painful but there is no doubt that Löw and his squad will have learnt from them. If they remember South Africa not as a setback but as a platform for greatness, there is no reason they can’t conquer the world in 2014.

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