Euro Moments: Was the unstoppable 1972 force the best German team ever?
Inspired by goals of Gerd Muller and the class of Günter Netzer, Germany won the finals
Germany’s Gerd Muller celebrates scoring during the 1972 European Championships. Photo: Getty Images
Not everybody embraced the European Championships from its inception and having only entered for the first time in 1968 when a group stage scoreless draw in Albania prematurely ended their involvement, West Germany properly announced their arrival at the party in 1972.
Gerd Müller’s goals had propelled them to the finals this time with four in a qualifying group that the Germans came through unbeaten and though Günter Netzer was actually the star of the show, he scored again at Wembley where a 3-1 victory essentially decided the team’s quarterfinal against England.
The Belgians beat holders Italy at the same stage, a win that, with the other prospective hosts all going out, gave them the opportunity to stage the tournament.
That, they hoped, would enable them to emulate the Spanish and Italians by lifting the trophy on home soil. Sadly for them, Müller and the rest of the Germans had other ideas.
The locals actually played pretty well in Antwerp but they needed to take what chances they created and they simply didn’t do that. The Germans, by contrast, created so many that it seemed only a matter of time before they got the goals they needed. In the end, Müller got both in a 2-1 victory, the first coming when he got ahead of Jean Thissen to head Netzer’s lob over the defender and goalkeeper Christian Piot; the second after Netzer’s through ball allowed the striker to run in behind Thissen and fire home.
In the final, the Germans blew the Soviets away; outplaying them in every area of the pitch with a display of passing brilliance as Franz Beckenbauer ran things towards the back and Netzer towards the front.
“We didn’t fear the Russians in the final,” said Müller, who was to score another couple of goals to bring his overall tally for the competition to nine. “Everything worked well. The team worked, the coach worked, it was great. The team was on a roll and we won. That final was the best of the lot.”
It was, some contended, the first great display of total football and Beckenbauer claimed afterwards that this was his nation’s greatest side. He was not alone.
“I think we put in a good performance against West Germany,” said Belgian skipper Paul van Himst. “For us, we played a really good match, unfortunately we conceded two goals, but against teams like that...”
“With Gerd Mueller, Franz Beckenbauer, Gunter Netzer, Sepp Maier in the goal, it was the best ever German team I think.”