Monday 22 June 2020, 08:03

East Germany edge battle of brothers

  • ​East and West Germany met for the only time on a football field

  • Political tension meant that players were banned from swapping shirts

  • The only goal provoked gravestone thought

Have you ever seen a FIFA World Cup™ match between Brazil and Brazil, France versus France, or Italy versus Italy? Probably not. Then perhaps you will appreciate the uniqueness of the encounter of 22 June 1974, when East Germany met West Germany in the first round of the tenth finals in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion.

It would be the only ever meeting between two nations separated following World War Two, with few predicting that the 90 minutes and sensational result would claim such a special place in the annals of football. That said, the match always promised to be explosive, one example of this being the fact the players could not even swap shirts on the pitch after the final whistle in view of the political sensitivities of the time.

However, once inside the tunnel to the dressing rooms, West Germany’s Paul Breitner did approach match-winner Jurgen Sparwasser to offer an exchange, with the two jerseys remaining forgotten for 28 years until the players donated them to a charitable cause.

The stakes

Both teams had already qualified for the second group stage, so the prize in this ‘battle of brothers’ was to top the sides’ first-round group and claim no small amount of prestige. After 1-0 and 3-0 victories over Chile and Australia respectively, West Germany needed only a draw to claim first place. For Georg Buschner’s Germany DR, a 2-0 defeat to Australia and a 1-1 stalemate against Chile meant that only victory would suffice.

Around 60,000 fans, including 1,500 East Germans, packed into Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion to see the two teams go head-to-head for the first and last time in football history. The roles were clearly defined: in one corner, World Cup debutants East Germany and in the other, Switzerland 1954 winners and reigning European champions West Germany.

The story

The match was characterised by mutual respect from the outset. With defeat unthinkable for both protagonists, the teams largely nullified each other and penalty-box action was scarce. The game was played with commitment and competitiveness but with a spirit of fairness, Uruguayan referee Ramon Barreto Ruiz producing just three yellow cards – all for East German players.

In the 39th minute Germany FR sharpshooter Gerd Muller had his team’s only real goalscoring opportunity, receiving the ball with his back to goal before unleashing a shot on the turn that struck the upright. Hans-Jurgen Kreische should have given Germany DR the lead in the first half but contrived to fire over Sepp Maier’s crossbar from five yards after getting on the end of a cross from the left-hand side.

In the closing stages, both parties appeared content with the goalless draw. And then it happened, in the 77th minute. Germany DR goalkeeper Jurgen Croy released Erich Hamann down the right-hand side before the midfielder, who had only been on the pitch for ten minutes, raced forward 30 yards unchallenged until confronted by Franz Beckenbauer. However, the West German libero was tentative in closing his man down, allowing Hamann to flight in a cross to the edge of the penalty area.

There right on cue was Jurgen Sparwasser, who somewhat fortuitously controlled the ball using his head, shoulder and chest. Opposing defenders Berti Vogts and Horst-Dieter Hottges seemed so surprised by the manoeuvre that Sparwasser was able to surge into the box and slot the ball home to seal a sensational 1-0 victory for the FIFA World Cup newcomers. It was the first goal Germany FR had conceded for 481 minutes and Sparwasser’s only ever goal at a FIFA World Cup finals.

The star

Sparwasser, scorer of that priceless winner, will be forever synonymous with this historic encounter in Hamburg and his strike against the ‘big brother’ made him one of the most famous sportsmen to emerge from Germany DR. The 26-year-old student and qualified mechanical engineer made 53 appearances for his country, scoring 15 goals, and was honoured with a bust at the EXPO 2000 in Hanover.

What they said

“If one day my gravestone simply says ‘Hamburg 74’, everybody will still know who is lying below.” Jurgen Sparwasser, scorer of Germany DR’s winning goal.

“The goal from Sparwasser woke us up. Otherwise we would never have become world champions.” Franz Beckenbauer, Germany FR sweeper

What happened next

Top spot in the group would, nonetheless, prove to be something of a hollow victory for Germany DR. In the second group stage, they were drawn against the improbably difficult trio of holders Brazil, Argentina and eventual runners-up Netherlands, a 1-0 defeat, 1-1 draw and 2-0 reverse respectively sending them out of the tournament in third place.

Germany FR, for their part, strode through their group after picking up wins against Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland by scores of 2-0, 4-2 and 1-0 respectively. Having booked their place in the Final, they sank a hugely talented Netherlands 2-1 to be crowned world champions for the second time.

And while the tournament proved to be Germany DR’s only appearance at a World Cup, the Federal Republic have to date never failed to qualify for global football’s top table and claimed a third world crown on Italian soil in 1990.