Mexico 70: Wednesday 17th June 1970 and Italy vs West Germany is a World Cup classic

Mexico 70 1970 World Cup Italy vs West Germany

Welcome back to our day-by-day account of Mexico 70, the 1970 World Cup. If you have missed any of this fantastic series so far you can catch up here. Every single day, Pete Spencer will be telling you the story of the Greatest Show on Earth.


Wednesday 17th June 1970

Yesterday we covered one of the Semi-Finals, with Brazil booking their place in Sunday’s Final. Today we look at the all-European encounter between two times winners, Italy against the team that won in 1954, West Germany. The Germans were playing away from León for the first time, Italy their first match away from Toluca. Italy were the reigning European Champions, the Germans had the top scorer in the competition. Who would come out on top?


Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 102,444

ITALY (1) (1) 4 (Boninsegna 8, Burgnich 98, Riva 104, Rivera 111)

WEST GERMANY (1) (1) 3 (Schnellinger 90, Müller 94, 110)

ITALY: Albertosi; Burgnich, Cera, Rosato (Poletti), Facchetti; Bertini, Mazzola (Rivera), De Sisti; Domenghini, Boninsegna, Riva

WEST GERMANY: Maier; Vogts, Schnellinger, Schulz, Patzke (Held); Beckenbauer, Overath; Grabowski, Seeler, Müller, Löhr (Libuda)

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If the Germans had been rather smug in being able to play at a familiar venue against England in the Quarter-Finals, they weren’t so enamoured at having to travel all the way to the capital for the Semis.

But Italy had to travel too. Just not as far. The Italians preferred Mexico City to Toluca as it was a lower altitude.

In the build-up, this game was seen as the poor relation to the other tie. All the talk was of a repeat of the 1950 Final, yet here we had the current European Champions and the current World Cup runners-up.

As had happened during the whole tournament, there was no staggering of matches on the same day. Consequently, both games kicked off at the same time.

The Germans were quite envious of the Italians, with two of the squad (Schnellinger and Haller) playing their club football there. Yet they were the favourites based on the rather insipid football the Italians had exhibited during the group stage. The fact they were ruthless against the hosts in the Quarters had rather gone unnoticed.

West Germany had knocked out the world champions. Not only that, they’d come from two goals down to do it. It had come at a price though, as the game went into extra time. How much of a factor would that be in this heat?

The Germans felt the locals were on their side, and at least the ground would be back to something nearing capacity after barely 26,000 turned up for the Uruguay v USSR Quarter-Final.

This had been a fantastic World Cup, possibly the best since 1954? Yet there was a certain irony in the prospect of the Final being contested by two teams from the one group which had little to admire from the football it played.

Italy went in unchanged, the fourth game running. Only 12 players had started during this tournament as once again it was expected Rivera would replace Mazzola at half-time.

Perhaps uncharacteristically, West German coach, Helmut Schön made three changes. Jürgen Grabowski, who’d made a sub appearance in every match so far, started in place of Reinhard Libuda wide on the right.

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But it was in defence where the most change was seen. Out went Horst-Dieter Höttges and Klaus Fichtel and in came Willi Schulz and Bernd Patzke. Fichtel and Höttges had played every game, although Höttges was yet to finish one. Schulz started against Morocco and came on as a sub for Höttges against England. Patzke was making his first start of the tournament having replaced Höttges at half-time against Peru.

Neither Schulz nor Patzke were particularly raw with the latter making his 21st appearance and Schulz playing his 66th game for his country.

The referee was Arturo Yamaski, a Peruvian who had emigrated to Mexico and also held a Japanese passport. This was his fifth World Cup match of his career but surprisingly his first in this tournament.

If you don’t know anything about this game already, the fact it became known as “The game of the century” should give you a clue of what you’re about to read.

Italy made most of the running in the early stages and got their reward after just eight minutes. Boningsegna picked the ball up about 30 yards from goal. Surrounded by players, he tried to play a one-two with Riva but the ball bounced off him and then Vogts, ending up back at the Cagliari striker’s feet.

Rather than bother trying to find another teammate, Boninsegna decided to lash it into the goal from outside the box.

The ideal start for Italy and just the nightmare the Germans had worried about. In their opening game of the tournament Italy scored after just 13 minutes and then defended for the rest of the game. In fact, they defended for the next two matches to get out of the group. Burgnich, Facchetti and Bertini all played for Inter, with Rosato playing for Milan. They knew what it was all about. This was a side with qualifications in defending and the Germans now knew they’d have to do all the work.

Metaphorically the Italians were just going to put their slippers on, light their pipe and sit back in their favourite armchair whilst watching the Germans run round like headless chickens trying to find a way past.

Boninsegna was a great story. He made his debut at the age of 24 against Switzerland in November 1967. He wasn’t seen again in an Italian shirt until the opening match of this tournament. He was only brought into the squad after Anastasi was injured on the eve of the tournament. Four games later he was in a World Cup Semi-Final. Eight minutes into that match he’d scored his first goal for his country.

For a few minutes, it was the Italians who pressed more for another goal, but eventually, Beckenbauer got into the game. He went on a surging run from just inside the Italian half, into the area where Facchetti came across from left-back.

Beckenbauer hit the turf, Facchetti signalled a dive and the ball ran out for a goal kick. The Germans were incensed. Maybe this was payback for Beckenbauer scything down Colin Bell in the penalty box against England when the ref just waved play on?

The rest of the half settled into a pattern of German attack and Italian defence. Eventually, they had to resort to shots from outside the area. One effort from Grabowski brought out a very good save from Albertosi, as he tipped it over the bar.

Half-time came with Italy still leading by one goal. As expected Rivera came on for Mazzola, which given Italy didn’t need to attack much more, seemed a bit of a waste with the defence working the hardest.

By the hour Schön had played his two substitute cards. Sigi Held, who played in the ’66 Final, came on for Patzke. A striker for a defender. Libuda replaced Löhr. Grabowski moved to the left wing to accommodate him.

Libuda made an almost instant impact. Twisting and turning Facchetti on the right edge of the area, he chipped the ball towards the goal forcing Albertosi to again tip it over the bar as it threatened to creep in.

The Overath hit the bar after good work down the left from Grabowski. They were banging on the door.

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Then West Germany had their moment, or so they thought. Beckenbauer picked the ball up in midfield and went on one of those familiar runs towards the area. He skipped past De Sisti and knocked the ball past Cera, stood on the edge of the box. As he went past the Italian turned his back and Beckenbauer tripped over him.

The Germans demanded a penalty. The Mexican-Peruvian-Japanese ref signalled a free-kick. The Germans surrounded him, remonstrating with him to change his mind. Replays showed the challenge was just outside the box. The ref had it spot on.

Beckenbauer had landed so badly he dislocated his shoulder. Exactly what Schön didn’t want as he’d used all his subs. Beckenbauer would either have to go off or just grin and bear it. Eventually, the physio put his arm in a sling and he cast a sorry figure wandering around the pitch aimlessly for the rest of the match.

But how much time was there?

West Germany wasted the free-kick as Held put it wide. They were now becoming increasingly desperate with not only the kitchen sink, taps, waste disposal and a whole sideboard being thrown in the Italians’ direction.

Overath played Held in on the left of the box. He had time and space to shoot. He beat the keeper but Rosato knocked it off the line. Seeler then appeared to be brought down under a challenge from Bertini, but perhaps his theatrics gave him away. Müller then blasted over from six yards.

Seeler then engineered the award of a free-kick right on the edge of the area again. Overath hit it straight against the wall before Beckenbauer played a limp shot along the ground which Albertosi gratefully picked up.

The Italian keeper calmly rolled it a few yards then picked it up again to get ready to launch it downfield. Grabowski had moved in to narrow the angle but as the keeper picked the ball up turned his back, believing the end of any advantage.

Inexplicably, Albertosi’s kick hit Grabowski on the back and bounced towards the open goal.

For a brief moment, time stood still. Müller, as expected, was alert to the opportunity and was making a bid to make sure the ball went over the line. Albertosi was desperately scrambling back to stop it going over the line. Both men had about 6-7 yards of ground to cover. Who would get there first? Or would the ball beat them?

If you remember the pitches from the 1986 World Cup then you’ll know they had a lot of grass on them. This was no different back in 1970 so this held the ball up for a split second as Albertosi just got his foot to the ball first before Müller and the ball was cleared.

What a way it would’ve been for Italy to concede after their defence had performed so heroically all game.

The game was heading towards time the ref was adding on for stoppages. No boards in those days so no one, except him, knew how long there was left. West German defender, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger thought that was it.

At the time the dressing rooms at the Azteca were all down one end, the Italian end. He maintains he was making his way towards them believing the game must be near the end. Hence why he was stood in the middle of the Italian box. Perhaps because he was a gangly defender, the Italians didn’t take him seriously. As he played alongside Rosato at Milan, he may have just moved there to talk to his mate.

Anyway, the Germans weren’t complaining. Grabowski got down the left and crossed into the box. Whenever he’d done that all match, both Seeler and Müller had been closely marked there. They were this time too. But Schnellinger wasn’t.

He lunged at the ball and met it on the volley to direct it past Albertosi from close range. It was only the second goal the Italian keeper had conceded all tournament, and it came when there was barely time to restart the match. The Italians were now incensed. They kept asking Schnellinger why he scored when he’d spent the last six years in the same league as them, as if that should matter.

In Andrew Downie’s book The Greatest Show on Earth, Mazzola says he went up to the German and said;

’You play in Italy and then you score that goal against us’, and he replied ‘I was on my way to the dressing room, I thought the game was over and I was going to the dressing room when they gave the corner’. We dropped our guard because we thought we’d won.”

It was actually a throw-in which had been awarded, on the left wing but it’s still a funny line.

This was his fourth World Cup, his 45th appearance for West Germany and the very first time he’d ever scored for them. The Germans were getting a reputation for late goals. Haller scored in the very last minute in the ’66 Final to force extra time. Four years later Schnellinger, who played in that game, had done the same. What drama.

Soon after the 90 minutes were up and both sets of players slumped to the ground after a pulsating match. But there was still 30 more minutes to come.

The Italians then made their final substitution bringing on Fabrizio Poletti for Rosato. It had been five years since he made his debut for Italy yet this was only his fifth cap.

Within minutes of the first period of extra time Müller with another trademark leap, headed down and forced Albertosi to make a sharp save right at the base of his near post.

Then the Germans had a corner on the right which Libuda floated towards the edge of the area. Seeler headed it back in but for some reason the Italians were hesitant. They let the ball bounce and Poletti looked to try and turn it back to his keeper. But Müller was far sharper and he nipped in. It’s not clear who got the final touch, but it certainly wasn’t Albertosi as the ball ran agonisingly slowly over the line.

West Germany, having been behind for 82 minutes were now in front, four minutes into extra time. They’d come from behind against Morocco, they’d done the same against Peru, then England, and now incredibly they’d done it again in the Semi-Final.

Could they now defend as the Italians had?

Four minutes later we had the answer. No. Vogts gave away a silly free-kick when he misjudged the bounce from a long kick by Albertosi. The free-kick was chipped into the box by Rivera. Held let it bounce off his chest and the ball fell kindly for Burgnich, who gratefully thumped it home.

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Burgnich had been at the ’66 World Cup and was part of the Italy side which won Euro ’68. It was only his second-ever goal for his country and what a time to get it.

If the Italians had been deflated after going behind, having led for so long, they’d summoned enough strength to get back on level terms.

With two sets of tired players on the pitch, the game now became end-to-end. Held took on, and beat, Poletti but right on the edge of the area Bertini’s desperate lunge brought him down.

The Germans wanted a penalty but once again replays proved the referee was correct in awarding a free-kick. With the wall nowhere near 10 yards away, Overath decided to take the free-kick passing square to Grabowski but predictably it was charged down.

The ball found its way out to the right where Libuda beat one man then fell over the next. The ref waved play on and with the Germans having sent men up for the free-kick were now exposed at the back.

Domenghini down the left found Riva all on his own in the middle. He controlled it, took it onto his left and fired it past Maier into the far corner. The German keeper was protecting his near post, thinking that’s where the Italian was going to put it.

It was a tired goal but none of the Italians cared. They were back in front. They looked out of it when Schnellinger broke their hearts with his equaliser. When Müller put the Germans in front it looked like a repeat of the León against England. Yet now they’d gathered their strength and kept going and now they were back in front.

Surely that was it for the Germans? There was just 15 minutes left.

Four minutes into the second period, Held was still full of running. He tried to play Müller in but the pass was too heavy and Burgnich easily shepherded it back to his keeper. Yet once again Albertosi was far too lax.

On the run, he picked the ball up and instead of stopping and taking the sting out of the attack, he rolled it to Poletti. One problem, Poletti wasn’t looking. So the ball just hit the back of his legs and landed at Müller’s feet. Of course, the German was still alert to the situation, he was that kind of player. Albertosi had to foul him to avoid any danger and now the Italians were needlessly under pressure.

Grabowski floated it into the area where Seeler got his head to it first. He headed it down hoping to get it to bounce over the keeper but Albertosi was equal to it and tipped it over for a corner.

The corner was taken short to Libuda whose cross found the head of Seeler at the far post. For such a short man he had a terrific spring and once again got his head to it first to head it back into the six-yard box. Müller again was the most alert, as he headed in from four yards out.

Now things were level for the third time. Müller had 10 for the campaign. He would become the last player in the history of the tournament to reach such a tally.

From the kick-off, Italy got the ball to Boninsegna down the left. He turned a very tired Schulz and was away. He pulled it back to the penalty spot where, darling of the Italian fans, Gianni Rivera was free and he calmly slotted it in.

From behind the goal you get the best view of the coolest head in the ground. Maier scrambled across his area as Boninsegna crossed it, so Rivera just cooly placed it to the side Maier had come from. The sight of the German desperately stretching out a foot hoping to stop it, knowing he had no chance, made a great picture for Italians.

In essence, there had been six goals in 22 minutes of playing time. If the heat wasn’t bad enough the football was clearly taking people’s breath away.

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Like heavyweight boxers slugging it out to the finish, neither side was prepared to give in.

But of course, there’s always the final punch, and try as they might the Germans knew they had nothing left. The extra 30 minutes against England had caught up with them.

The Italians held on to win this time and had reached their third World Cup Final.

The game had been breathless, absorbing and worthy of the claim of being the game of the century. There’s a plaque outside the stadium confirming this, Partido del Siglo.

The Italians were ecstatic in their victory although one suspects the Brazilians were quite happy with it too, as they’d been able to rest up for those extra 30 minutes watching them empty themselves in the heat.

The Germans shouldn’t have been too downhearted. They were underdogs against England and came through that. They’d contributed to one of the greatest games ever.

When they arrived back in Frankfurt there were 60,000 people to greet them. The players knew they wouldn’t have to qualify for the next tournament as it was in their home country.

The rest of the world tried to spend the four days before the Final trying to catch its breath.

Join us tomorrow!