A test of endurance and will
Those old enough to remember the 1970 FIFA World Cup ™ semi-final will not have forgotten one of the most dramatic matches of all time - the epic clash of styles between the opportunism of 'Gigi' Riva's Squadra and the will to win of Kaiser Beckenbauer's Mannschaft. The match had club rivalry too, with the Inter trio of Facchetti, Mazzola, and Riva facing old foes in the shape of Bayern's Maier, Beckenbauer and Muller. It was also a duel between two formations whose hallmark was a balance between defensive steel and inspired forward play.
Boninsegna opens the scoring
The two giants of Europe were doing battle to decide who would line up in the final against the winner of the all South American tie between Brazil and Uruguay, played at Guadalajara on the same day. The Italians had been crowned European champions two years earlier, while the Germans had finished runners-up at the last FIFA World Cup ™ in England. At the start of the game, stifled by the high stakes and the oppressive heat of Mexico's brand new Azteca Stadium, both sides kept it tight, content to sit back and ease their way into the game. The spectators were also unusually subdued, and even the ball seemed lifeless, prompting Sepp Maier to ask for it to be changed early on.
But it was the Italians who turned this false rhythm to their advantage, springing a surprise on the West German team led by the old lion Uwe Seeler. In the eighth minute, Roberto Boninsegna exchanged a defence-splitting one-two with Luigi Riva before dispatching an unstoppable half-volley from 16 metres out which left Sepp Maier rooted to the spot. Game on.
The Germans responded immediately, with the main threat coming from rising star Franz Beckenbauer, first with a pass into space which Gerd Müller just failed to reach, then a 40-yard burst of acceleration before he was stopped in his tracks by a questionable challenge from Squadra Azzurra captain Giacinto Facchetti.
Although the Mannschaft clearly dominated the first period, the Italians often looked comfortable at the back, mopping up the somewhat predictable assaults of Seeler and Co. At the tender age of 34, the tireless Seeler was taking part in his fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup ™, and it was the Hamburg striker's ability to get his head to almost every free kick that constituted the main threat to the Italians in the opening half-hour.
But little by little, his strike partner, 'Bomber' Muller started to make his presence felt at the heart of the Italian defence. First he just failed to control a curling cross from the ever-present Wolfgang Overath, allowing Mario Bertini to come out and claim. His 20-yard half-volley on the turn just two minutes later (31') then drew the Fiorentina keeper into a smart save. Bertini had been picked instead of Dino Zoff by coach Ferruccio Valcareggi, much to the displeasure of the Friulian's supporters, and he was soon called into action again, this time turning an even better-struck shot from Jürgen Grabowski round the post for a corner.
The second half followed the same crescendo-like rhythm. Seeler, put through cleverly by the Kaiser, lost out in a one-on-one duel with Albertosi, and Grabowski was thwarted by the Florentine guardian on the hour mark. The Germans then failed to capitalise on an under-hit backpass from Bertini. Muller robbed Albertosi, Grabowski gathered and laid it back into the path of Overath, but his shot cannoned back off the crossbar with the Italian keeper stranded.
Injury time equaliser
West Germany were throwing everything forward now, but just couldn't find a way through. In the 67th minute Beckenbauer charged forward only to be bundled over by Pierluigi Cera. Penalty...surely! But no, Arturo Yamakasi decided the foul had been committed outside the box. As the furious German side crowded around the ref, Beckenbauer stayed down, his right shoulder pulled out of joint, and since the Mannschaft had already made their two substitutions, the Kaiser had to stay on the field. Tension mounted with each passing second, Siegfried Held walloped a volley past Albertosi only to see Roberto Rosato acrobatically clear off the line. Seeler and then Muller fluffed chances in quick succession.
The clock ticked on. Just a few more minutes and the Squadra Azzura would be home and dry. But just as they had shown against England in the quarter-final, Beckenbauer and his team-mates just did not know when they were beaten: in injury time, after two further close calls in the Italian goalmouth, the hard-working Grabowski swung in a cross from the left which was met by defender Karl Heinz Schnellinger at the penalty spot. Albertosi was beaten all ends up and the Italians held their heads in disbelief.
A ding-dong battle
And so began probably the most memorable period of extra-time in footballing history. Beckenbauer set the tone by taking the field with his arm in a sling - which did nothing to stop him tearing towards goal whenever he got the ball. Helmut Schoen's men now had the bit between their teeth. Muller intercepted a Poletti back pass and poked the ball home just before Albertosi could grab it. The 100,000 fans packed into the Aztec stadium were in raptures.
German joy was short lived, however. Just 9 minutes into extra time, Gianni Rivera, the Golden boy from AC Milan, sent over a free-kick which was cleared by Held to an advancing Tarcisio Burgnich, who beat Maier easily from the 6 yard box. The European champions were back level. And just before the teams changed ends, Italy went one better when Angelo Domenghini crossed from the left for the inevitable Luigi Riva to run on and score. It was Gigi's 22nd goal in just 21 outings for his country.
There was no let up in the action in the second period of extra-time either. The pace of the game was furious with both sides looking capable of scoring each time they went forward. Germany soon hit back when another Seeler header was pounced on by the ever-opportunistic Muller, who once again steered it home. Rivera, standing at the far post held his head in disbelief. The great Gerd had just scored his tenth goal of the tournament, while Beckenbauer, grimacing with pain, could have been forgiven for not celebrating too overtly.
26 players go down in history
But the Italians were not to be outdone by this umpteenth German fight back . Almost immediately from the restart, Boninsegna reached the byeline on the left and knocked the ball back for Rivera. The 1969 European footballer of the year sent Maier the wrong way to score the fifth extra-time goal. The AC Milan marksman, who had only come on after 60 minutes, had shown that he could indeed partner Riva upfront, as the tifosi had been demanding since the tournament began.
The game had now reached fever pitch. After 2 gruelling hours of football under the Mexican sun, the two exhausted teams finished the game almost in slow motion. The Italians, past masters at killing time, stayed down after every tackle, fired the ball high into the stands and contested every decision the referee made. At the final whistle, the players fell into each others arms and then to the ground in exhaustion. By now it no longer seemed to matter who had won and who had lost. The crowd fell silent in admiration, privileged no doubt to have witnessed an unforgettable spectacle.