Euro 1976 seemed set to give us another chapter of an unfolding football rivalry as West Germany and the Netherlands found themselves together at the latter stages of a European Finals for the first time. The 1976 edition was held in Yugoslavia and the home side were accordingly handed the immeasurable task of overcoming West Germany in their bid to reach the third final in the history of the competition.
Much of how football has been played in the last few years (think Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona success), tactically speaking, can in some sense be traced in the brand of football that the ’70s Dutch side were playing. In 1970, Ajax had reached their second European final in as many years and were about to embark on a two-year unbeaten streak with coach Rinus Michels intrinsic to their success.
Michels had helped establish a brand of football, or rather “Total Football,” which became synonymous with the national team. Total Football held that each and every player on the pitch be technically capable of carrying out the duties of one another, this of some of the finest passers in the game today also being goalkeepers. There had been signs of what was to come in World Cup 1974 already as Rinus Michels had led the likes of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens to their first Final in history. The Netherlands had eventually lost to West Germany, but there was more disappointment to follow at Euro 1976.
Many had anticipated a Netherlands vs West Germany final at Euro 1976 and had carelessly written off what was an experienced and more than capable Czechoslovakia. The Dutch had been accused of complacency against the Germans at the World Cup Final and it seemed to be their undoing once more this time around.
In the midst of a torrential downpour in Zagreb the Dutch side, orchestrated by the magnificent Cruyff, simply let the game slide. After taking a well-earned lead, Czechoslovakia were reduced to 10 men after Jaroslav Pollak received his second booking. With the man advantage, the Dutch quickly gripped control of the game and went level through an Anton Ondrus own goal – only for the game to turn on its head minutes later. Only minutes after the equalizer, Johan Neeskens received his marching orders. Rinus Michels must have been ruing this opportunity as the sides were once more all square, both in terms of goals and personnel.
With the game sloshing on into extra time it was a tall order for the depleted Dutch side to physically compete after substitute Wim van Hanegem also saw red. With the conditions always likely to tempt some ambitious tackles, Czechoslovakia kept their nerve and sent the Netherlands packing. In a hard-fought game, the Czechs ran away deserved winners at 3-1 in extra time.
Having witnessed the Netherlands bow out of the competition only the night before, West Germany had no intention of taking Yugoslavia lightly, but it would prove to be a very difficult game. In front of a raucous home crowd at the Red Star Stadium in Belgrade, Yugoslavia had a dream start. The World Champions wanted to extend their dominance over European and indeed World football but they found themselves overran in the first half as an inventive Dragan Džajić and Slaviša Žungul orchestrated a tremendous start for their side.
By half time the home side had cemented a two-nil lead and looked set to shock their German counterparts. And then came one of the most inspired managerial substitutions to date. Behind 2-1 with only eleven minutes left to play, Helmut Schon replaced Herbert Wimmer with Dieter Müller who, on his debut, turned the game on its head. Within three minutes the 1.FC Köln striker had struck before completing his hat trick in extra time to send West Germany through to another Final on a 4-2 win.
The 1976 Euro final would be remembered for the brilliance of one man: Antonin Panenka. Although he’d led a modest career thus far with Bohemians Praha, Panenka was indeed touted as a dead ball specialist. His ability to conjure the unlikely in moments where the game stood still set him apart as a footballing technician that was more than capable of inflicting a damning blow.
After overcoming the home side and perhaps unearthing another international star in the making, it would not be the style of West Germany to then go on and underestimate Czechoslovakia. The Germans were cautious in their approach but found it very difficult against a Czech side that took advantage of an early mistake. The defending champions got off to a disastrous start when Berti Vogts tossed possession away in a dangerous area after eight minutes. Koloman Gögh’s effort couldn’t quite get the best of goalkeeper Sepp Maier, but Zdeněk Nehoda was on hand from the right to cross for the oncoming Jan Švehlík who put his side ahead.
Just as West Germany seemed to compose themselves after going behind, a poor clearance from Marián Masny’s free-kick gave Karol Dobiaš the opportunity to angle a shot past Maier. West Germany was not lacking in spirit however and quickly regained themselves to draw one back within three minutes. The world and European champions were firmly back in the game when Rainer Bonhof’s cross found Müller, whose acrobatic volley sprang into the net.
With those characteristic Franz Beckenbauer long runs from deep, the Germans looked set to overpower their opponents, as an inspired Ivo Viktor kept frustrating them. The Czech goalkeeper well past his prime at 34 continued to make save after save until finally with only minutes to spare West Germany drew level. Hölzenbein’s header from a Bonhof corner sent us hurtling toward yet another period of extra time. Having chased the game for long periods, West Germany were simply unable to summon the energy to get ahead and sides found themselves readying for the cruelest of conclusions: A penalty shootout.
After Uli Hoeness’ effort flew over the bar in West Germany’s fourth attempt, we bore witness to a name that went on to become a verb. Antonin Panenka panenka’d to win the match for Czechoslovakia – chipping the ball with a gentle touch from underneath rather than shooting it with full force. The beautiful unerring effort fooled Sepp Maier as the ball strolled into the net.
The young man who was an unfamiliar name before this tournament would see his surname and indeed his genius live on long after he had hung up his own boots. “If it were patentable, I’d have it patented,” Panenka joked after the game.