Classic Azzurri Matches – Italy v West Germany 1970
There are certain sporting events which supersede their billing as a form of entertainment. Sporting events which define more than just an afternoon, but a whole year, and in even more extraordinary cases… a generation. These moments re-instill our faith in sport. They make the general public believe in the honest intentions of sportsmen and women around the world, as for once it can be perceived that these people are not excelling for their own eternal glory; but for their nations.
The FIFA World Cup, is the ultimate platform for football players to present their intentions as professional athletes. In front of the watching world, a certain genre of footballer is able take this opportunity to prove their worth both as a sporting entity, and as a man.
In 1970, the Estadio Azteca became the venue for the sporting bildungsroman of twenty-two men; eleven in white, eleven in blue. These men from Italy and West Germany provided the 20th century with one of its defining moments… the “Game of the Century”.
Italy, who were reining European champions going into the World Cup, did not begin the tournament in a fashion fit for a continent’s finest. A solitary goal from Calgari’s Angelo Domenghini, was enough to narrowly defeat Sweden in Tuloca. This proved to be the Azzurri’s only goal and victory in the group stages, as Ferruccio Valcareggi’s men stumbled into the quarter finals with goalless draws against Uruguay and Israel.
Although the mercurial pair of Gianni Rivera and Luigi Riva were yet to etch their names upon the fields of Mexico; the impenetrable “Parades de Campeche” of Tarcisio Burgnich, Giacinto Facchetti, Pierluigi Cera and Roberto Rosato, meant that once the goals began to cascade, the Azzurri would be a near unstoppable force.
Unfortunately for Mexico, Rivera and Riva announced themselves in the quarter finals, when Italy’s stars aligned.
A 4-1 victory over the host nation, proved to the rest of the world that Valcareggi’s Italy were contenders. They were not just an immovable object, but one with a creative spark; the class of 1970 were a vintage group of calcio studenti, with a willingness to win unrivaled by any Italian national team for nearly forty years.
Whilst the Azzurri’s title credentials only came to the fore during the knockout stages;West Germany were able to prove their worth throughout the group stages. The West German’s attacking capabilities grabbed the European headlines during the early stages of the competition. Gerd Muller’s incredible haul of seven goals in the group stages, along with an extra time winner in the quarter final tie against England, made the burgeoning bomber, one of the stand out performers in Mexico. Along with Muller, veteran goal machine Uwe Seeler and the irrepressible Franz Beckenbauer; were liable to actualize the impossible to provide the West German populace with something other than Capitalism to shout about.
On the 17th June under the glaring eyes of Tonatiuh, and in front of 102,444 spectators;Italy and West Germany met in the semi finals of the FIFA World Cup.
Moments before the players took to the field, a lively norteno made anxious the haze of the sun, reflecting a simultaneously solicitous and party-like atmosphere in the steep stands of the Azteca. However, once Giacinto Facchetti and Uwe Seeler led their troops into the centre of the field for the customary standing to attention; the norteno faded into a military banda. 102,444 people realised that the twenty two men who had entered the amphitheatre were ready and willing to give everything for their cause.
The game began in a fiery fashion, with crunching challenges from Berti Vogts and Burnich signalling the beginning of the battle. However, there was a lack of cohesion in both ranks during the opening exchanges. A lengthy delay before kick off to synchronise the two semi final’s kick offs, looked to have brought anxiety to the fore until Giancarlo Di Sisti’s pass found Roberto Boninsegna just inside the West German front.
Boninsegna, coming off the back of a fruitful first season at Inter, proceeded to run at West Germany’s defence. With the drop of a shoulder he slipped passed Hannes Lohr and attempted to thread the ball through to his striking partner Riva. Although unable to do so, the ball kindly fell back into Boninsegna’s path and his 25 yard strike flew past the hapless Sepp Maier.
This eighth minute goal was a wake up call for West Germany, who straight from the re-start almost leveled the game. A quick Beckenbauer free kick caught the “Parades de Campeche” out whilst their vision was blurred by euphoria, as his through ball almost fell to the prolific Gerd Muller.
The Azzurri resorted to their natural siege tactics, leaving Riva in solitude high up the field, and relying on the “Parades de Campeche” to build a trench along the 18 yard line. Even these deep trenches however, could not contain the brilliance of Beckenbauer, who found his way over these trenches with a trademark lung-busting run into the penalty area. Just as the West German number four was about to strike the ball, Facchetti’s legs tangled with Beckenbauer’s and the whole of Italy’s hearts skipped a beat. The rapturous penalty appeals by West Germany were surprisingly waved away however, and normal aortic activities resumed in the peninsula.
Italy almost shot themselves in the foot once again mid-way through the first half. With West Germany presumably waiting for one of Muller, Beckenbauer or Seeler to actualize the impossible, it took the left foot of Italy’s Mario Bertini to trouble Enrio Albertosi’s goal line. After a cross from Lohr on the left hand side of the penalty area, a poor first touch by the prodigal Muller was prevented from landing at the feet of Seeler by the out stretched leg of Bertini; but his clearance almost inadvertently leveled the game, as the ball flew inches over the crossbar.
The West German bombardment increased in intensity after Bertini’s near fatal error. Firstly, a trademark oscillating volley from Muller troubled the psychological entities of the Azzurri faithful. Although the ball shot just wide of the post, this was not the end of the first half’s psychological torture of the Italian population; as an effort from 25 yards out courtesy of Jurgen Grabowski, had to be cleverly tipped over by Albertosi.
Although West Germany had a firm hold of the initiative, a neat pass inside of the full back by Boninsegna gave Sandro Mazzola a golden opportunity to double his nation’s lead. Mazzola’s decision to use the outside of his right foot for the one-on-one, instead of his left (which logically made more sense), proved decisive as his shot ballooned into the stratosphere; hitting Citlalicue in the process.
Italy finished the first half with the one goal lead intact, but with her population reeling from four moments of severe aortic discomfort. So far, Ferruccio Valcareggi’s tactics had worked; but with the West German’s attack growing in stature, the “Parades de Campeche” could be liable to fall during the second half.
Surprisingly, it was the Azzurri who carved out the first clear cut chance of the second half. After a careless pass by Lohr, Angelo Domenghini picked up the ball and scurried down the right hand side of the field. On sighting Riva unmarked at the back post, Domenghini wrapped his foot around the ball and delivered an exceptional cross into the Calgari striker’s path. Unfortunately for Italy however, Riva’s diving header was well read by Sepp Maier, who comfortably saved his effort.
A glorious opportunity to level the semi final, fell to Wolfgang Overath on the hour mark. Grabowski’s pull back, though perfect in weight and range, was rifled at the crossbar from just inside the penalty area, when an equaliser seemed a certainty.
However, whilst West Germany were gaining momentum, Xolotl, the God of misfortune, was plotting the downfall of their most prestigious talent… Franz Beckenbauer.
In typical “Der Kaiser” fashion, Beckenbauer proceeded to power through the “Parades de Campeche” with effortless grace and skill; and in typical Pierluigi Cera, the Azzurri defender cynically body checked his opponent. The manner in which Beckenbauer fell, left West Germany’s prized asset with a fractured clavicle; and due to all of West Germany’s substitutes already being utilized, Beckenbauer was forced to carry on for the rest of the game in a sling.
Franz Beckenbauer and West Germany’s misfortune provided the FIFA World Cup with one of its defining images. Like a Mayan King, Beckenbauer was willing to sacrifice his body for his beliefs and his nation. The pure intentions of “Der Kaiser” proved that this was not an ordinary game of football; it was a battle in similar vein and importance to the “Battle of Molino del Rey”.
Even without a fully fit Franz Beckenbauer, the West Germans maintained a vice-like grip on the proceedings. The constant stream of misfortune continued however, with Grabowski’s shot from the left hand side of the six yard box being exceptionally cleared off the line by Roberto Rosato, and the follow up effort by Muller uncharacteristically going over the bar. It was clear that the Azzurri were living a charmed life.
Italy’s defending, though effective throughout most of the game, oscillated widely from the sublime to the ridiculous. The oscillations were no more so rapid than when Albertosi decided to kick the ball at Grabowski, forcing himself to scamper back and perform a miracle in preventing the ball from crossing the line.
When it seemed like Italy had done enough to hold onto their one goal lead progress to the World Cup final; Xolotl took off his Italian shirt, and dawned the West German white, to gift West Germanya last minute goal. The West German livewire Grabowski’s sublime delivery from the left hand side of the penalty area, found the onrushing Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, who coolly side footed the ball into the bottom corner.
It was perceived that with the “Parades de Campeche” breached, the West German’s would mount an all out assault in extra time and romp home to victory. This seemed to be the case when just four minutes into extra time, Muller provided a goal which gave West Germany a 2-1 advantage. Substitute Fabrizio Polleti’s failed attempt of ushering the ball back to Albertosi, allowed “Der Bomber”, Gerd Muller, to steal in and grab the advantage for West Germany.
Italy looked a beaten team. In the space of just five minutes the Italian population went from the rims of ecstasy, to the depths of melancholy.
However, from the depths of the peninsula’s melancholy came an unrivalled show of character. A Gianni Riva lobbed free kick kindly fell at the feet of Tarcisio Burgnich who coolly passed the ball into the back of the net. This goal set into the motion the greatest 13 minutes in footballing history.
Whilst West Germany poured men forward to regain the lead, it was Riva who snatched a goal for his Azzurri on the break. After a strong, determined run from Domenghini, the striker found Riva with a chipped ball into the centre of the field, where he proceeded to prove himself to be Italy’s greatest ever goal scorer. The Calgari striker controlled the ball with a deft touch, then with a flick of his boot, left his marker, Willi Schulz, helpless and rifled the ball into the bottom corner. Once again the game looked to be over… but this once again was not the case.
In the second half of extra time, fatigue evidently began to take its toll, as Seeler rose above the leggy Azzurri backline to head the ball back to Muller who stretched to flick the ball into the bottom corner.
Unbelievably, almost straight from the kick off Italy retook the lead through Rivera. The mercurial Boninsegna’s run down the left hand side of the field, and subsequent pull back, fell to the feet of Rivera; with the hopes of 53.8 million people burdened on his shoulders, he stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
This goal proved decisive, the West German’s could not conjure up the strength to breach the “Parades de Campeche” for a fourth and final time.
Italy had against all odds, reached the final of the FIFA World Cup. Although Valcareggi’s side were well beaten in the final by Brazil, the class of 1970 had proved themselves to be a team with incomparable character.
There have been many great Azzurri sides over the past 80 years, but there are very few Azzurri sides who left a tournament with the amount of pride that the 1970 World Cup team did. For 120 minutes in Mexico, there were eleven Italian footballers who gave everything they had for the pride of their nation; it is a sacrifice that has rightfully been immortalised by the tag “Game of the Century”.
Follow Jack Gallagher on Twitter: @calciolovesjack