ITALY 4 - 3 WEST GERMANY
17th June 1970, Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. A crowd of over 100,000 are packed in to watch the Semi-Final of the World Cup. Television hadn’t got its claws into football by this stage, so both Semi-Finals kicked off at the same time. In Guadalajara, Brazil comfortably beat Uruguay to reach the Final. But it was the game between Italy and West Germany that came to be known as ‘the Game of the Century’.
Both teams had won their group, but the difference in their play could not be more stark. Italy had two 0-0 draws and a 1-0 win in their 3 matches, whereas the Germans had won all three games including thrashing Bulgaria, 5-2. In the Quarter-Finals, Italy suddenly found their shooting boots, beating the hosts, 4-1, thanks to 3 goals in 7 minutes during the second half. West Germany were involved in a re-match of the 1966 Final against England, this time coming from 0-2 down to win 3-2.
The match was a mouth-watering prospect with Italy, the reigning European Champions and West Germany, runners-up in World Cup 1966. Eight minutes in and Italy had made the brighter start and Inter striker, Roberto Boninsegna, pounced on a loose ball and hit a first time shot from just outside the ‘D’, which beat Sepp Maier in the German goal. This was the Italian’s first goal for his country and a great time to do it.
The Germans then pressed for the rest of the game for an equaliser, and with minutes remaining Beckenbauer was tripped on the edge of the area. The Germans were sure it was inside the area, but the referee was having none of it. Beckenbauer had broken his collarbone in the fall following the tackle. After a long time calming the players down, the free-kick was eventually taken but the Germans still couldn’t score. In the dying moments, Grabowski crossed from the left and defender, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, was unmarked in the 6-yard box and he turned the ball past Albertosi. Schnellinger, who played his club football with AC Milan, had grabbed a dramatic late equaliser.
So 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time was called for. Italy looked crushed, as they had begun dreaming of the Final, but the Germans had put so much into trying to find an equaliser that they seemed exhausted too. 4 minutes into extra time and Germany had a corner on the right, which was swung over to the far edge of the area, where Seeler headed it back into the 6-yard box. Italian substitute, Poletti chests it down towards his goal but instead of passing it back to his keeper (back-pass rule didn’t exist in those days), he hesitated allowing Gerd Muller to flick the ball into the net. The ball just trickled over the line and the Germans were now in front and seemingly in charge of the match.
4 minutes later, Italy had a free-kick which was floated into the area, the Germans failed to clear and Burgnich was on hand to equalise for Italy. The game had already swung one way then another, and more was to come.
8 minutes into extra time and Domenghini crossed from the left and his Cagliari teammate, Gigi Riva, controlled the ball on the edge of the area, beat Schulz and then fired the ball across Maier and Italy were back in front. 3 goals in 8 minutes and at the break in extra time, Italy lead 3-2.
By this time, West Germany had used all their subs so Beckenbauer had to play on with his arm in a sling, which only added to the drama. Tired players everywhere were making mistakes and it seemed like a real heavyweight boxing contest with two giants slugging it out to a conclusion.
5 minutes into the second period of extra time and the Germans have a corner on the right, it’s taken short and the cross to the far post is headed back by Seeler and Gerd Muller is first to the ball to head it past the man on the post and Germany are level again. Will they ever give up?
Italy go straight down the other end and Riva gets to the bye-line on the left wing, cuts the ball back and there is Gianni Rivera on the penalty spot and his shot beats Maier.
Unbelievably, Italy were now back in front, 4-3. That was the final blow and the Germans never recovered. They were desperate to get to the Final to have a chance of atoning for their 1966 loss, but they would have better luck next time. For Italy, it was their first Final since they won in 1934. They went on to lose to Brazil, 1-4 after scoring first.
Many who saw this game gave it the name of ‘Game of the Century’ purely for its drama and the fact that neither side would give an inch. Here are some highlights:
WEST GERMANY: Maier; Beckenbauer; Vogts, Schulz, Patzke (Held), Schnellinger; Grabowski, Overath; Muller, Seeler, Loehr (Libuda)
GOALS: Schnellinger (90), Muller (94, 110)
ITALY: Albertosi; Burgnich, Cera, Bertini, Facchetti; Rosato (Poletti), Mazzola (Rivera), De Sisti; Riva, Boninsegna, Domenghini.
GOALS: Boninisegna (8), Burgnich (98), Riva (104), Rivera (111)