|HOST COUNTRY - BELGIUM
The final tournament of UEFA's fourth European Football Championship was held in Belgium between June 14 and 18, 1972, and like its three predecessors involved just the four teams left in the competition after the qualifying stages, in two semi-finals, the third place match and the final itself.
As before, the hosts were only announced after the qualifying round, meaning that they too had to qualify for the final stage. The Belgian FA was awarded the honor of staging the finals in 1972, and nominated a different stadium for each game. Antwerp's Bosuilstadion and the Stade Emile Verse in Anderlecht, Brussels, each hosted a semi-final, while the third place play-off took place in Liege at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne.
The venue for the final would earn its unwanted place in football infamy 13 years later, but in 1972 the Heysel Stadium was still regarded as a prestigious Brussels setting for a showpiece occasion.
|IN THE NEWS IN 1972...
|* The Apollo program concludes after astronaut Eugene Cernan becomes the last person to walk on the moon
* Francis Ford Coppola's film 'The Godfather' is released
* The Watergate scandal begins when five White House operatives are arrested for burglary of the Democratic National Committee's offices, but Richard Nixon wins the US presidential election by a landslide
* Eleven Israeli athletes are murdered when members of terrorist group Black September invade the Olympic Village in Munich
* Belgium's Eddy Merckx, widely regarded as the greatest cyclist of all time, sets a new world hour speed record in Mexico City
The other undefeated sides were West Germany, Yugoslavia, World Cup runners-up Italy, and the USSR, who qualified at the expense of Spain (one of whose scorers in an opening 4-0 victory over Northern Ireland was Luis Aragones - destined to coach them to Euro 2008 glory).
Hungary, Romania (who edged out Czechoslovakia on goal difference) and Belgium - whose one defeat was at the hands of Scotland - were the other qualifiers.
In the quarterfinals, it took a third game to separate Hungary and Romania, the Magyars eventually winning 5-4 on aggregate. Holders Italy could only draw 0-0 at home to Belgium, who won the return leg 2-1. The USSR held Yugoslavia to a goalless draw in Belgrade before winning 3-0 in Moscow.
When England was drawn against West Germany, manager Sir Alf Ramsey predicted it would win not only the tie but the championship. He was spectacularly wrong on both counts. The Germans had already avenged its 1966 World Cup final defeat by England, beating them 3-2 in the heat of Leon in the 1970 World Cup.
Now back at Wembley, with Gunther Netzer a midfield revelation, they simply outclassed Ramsey’s side, who was flattered by the 3-1 first leg scoreline. West Germany was clearly in the ascendancy; England patently in decline. A goalless second leg in Berlin confirmed Helmut Schoen’s side as semi-finalists.
Paul van Himst
A late Odilon Polleunis effort was mere consolation after the prolific, predatory Gerd Muller had struck twice in a 2-1 win for West Germany, who controlled long phases of the match with sweeper Franz Beckenbauer dictating the pace from the back and Netzer pulling the strings in midfield.
The Belgians, coached by Raymond Goethals, went on to secure third place, defeating Hungary 2-1. First half goals from Raoul Lambert and Paul van Himst (the latter named by Belgium’s FA in 2003 as the country’s most outstanding player of the last 50 years) meant Lajos Ku’s 53rd-minute penalty was too little, too late for Hungary.
USSR 0-3 West Germany
In a taste of things to come, a German side containing many of the key members of the 1974 World Cup-winning team put on a masterclass in the Brussels final, leaving Alexandr Ponomarjev’s Soviet side, with its packed defence, duly humbled.
Two years later the Netherlands and West Germany would showcase their own distinct styles of ‘Total Football’; in 1972 it seemed the blueprint was wholly Teutonic.
Exhibiting a subtle balance of economy and extravagance (at one point the USSR chased shadows as their opponents strung together 30 consecutive passes), the Germans underlined their superiority with three unanswered goals.
Their three most influential stars were all involved in the first goal, ‘Der Kaiser’ Beckenbauer bringing the ball out of defence in typical fashion to find German Footballer of the Year Netzer. His volley struck the post and rebounded to ‘Der Bomber’ Muller, who gratefully despatched it in the 27th minute.
Although Murtaz Khurtsilava hit the woodwork for the USSR, Herbert Wimmer doubled West Germany’s lead in the 52nd minute, before Muller put the issue beyond all doubt with his second six minutes later.
Some pundits still reckon Helmust Schoen’s 1972 winners are the best side the European Championships have ever seen; praise indeed.
|PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
It might have been Beckenbauer or Netzer, players whose talents were displayed with an almost arrogant flair; but goals win matches, and Gerd Muller was the goal-poacher supreme. He followed his six goals in the qualifying tournament by hitting a further four (a new tournament record) in the finals.
"We didn't fear the Russians in the final," Muller, pictured right as he is today, reflected later. "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."
The Bayern striker totaled a phenomenal 68 goals in 62 internationals, 365 goals for his club in 427 Bundesliga matches and 66 goals in 74 European club games – in an era of tight, highly organized defenses.
After he retired from playing, Muller suffered from alcoholism before being encouraged by his ex-teammates to undergo rehabilitation. When this proved successful, he was offered a coaching job by Bayern Munich II, where he still works today.
|MOMENT OF THE TOURNAMENT
Playmaker Gunther Netzer had the footballing world at his feet in 1972. His sensational passing and free-kicks - so profitable for his team – were never better exemplified than in the semifinal against Belgium when he set up the second goal with a glorious ball into the penalty area that Muller controlled before finishing past Christian Piot.
Sadly, after Real Madrid signed him from Borussia Moenchengladbach in 1973 (partly in response to Barcelona's capture of Johan Cruyff), Netzer lost form and was merely a squad member as West Germany won the 1974 World Cup.
|MATCH OF THE TOURNAMENT
It may have been one-sided, but the final provided an object lesson in how to render a packed defense obsolete and immobile. West Germany might well have won by more; their superiority at times tempted them into overplaying their hand. But 3-0 was an emphatic enough way to win Europe’s showpiece international final, the margin of victory fully deserved.