With coach Helmut Schön set to retire after the tournament, the finals of the 1978 FIFA World Cup were to be a disappointing closure on what had been a long and successful career. As holders of the trophy expectations had been high, but the retirement of Franz Beckenbauer from the national side the year before had been a key moment in what was the gradual decline of the great Nationalmannschaft of the 1970s. This chapter culminated in the Nationalmannschaft’s second phase elimination and defeat at the hands of old rivals Austria – in what would thereafter be as Der Schmach von Córdoba.

The German side that went to Argentina in 1978 were neither impressive nor poor; they were simply one of many fairly ordinary teams in what was for the most part a mediocre tournament. Their first five games had only produced one victory – the 6-0 thrashing of Mexico – but they had at the same time kept four clean sheets.

Coming into their final second phase match against Austria, Schön’s side were on two points with both the Netherlands and Italy on three. Having beaten the Austrians 5-1 in their opening group fixture, the Dutch already had one foot in the final; any win in their final game against Italy would have taken them into the final, and barring Germany scoring five against Austria even a draw would have been enough to see them through. Italy meanwhile had to win to make the final – a draw wouldn’t have been enough on account of their inferior goal difference – while Germany had to beat match or beat the Oranje’s score against the Austrians while hoping that the other fixture ended in a draw. In short, Germany’s chances of making the final even before a ball was kicked were at best remote.

Irrespective of what happened in the other game, it was clear that the Germans had to chase the game and go for the win – and they got the best possible start in the nineteenth minute when the young Bayern München striker Karl-Heinz Rummenigge put them a goal to the good. They took this lead into the break, but in the other game in Buenos Aires the Italians were leading the Dutch by a single goal – meaning that even if Germany scored another dozen it would still not be good enough to make the final.

Four minutes into the second half in Buenos Aires, the Dutch equalised against Italy. Suddenly, Germany were back in with a distant shout – but they needed to score at least three more goals if they were to have any hope of overtaking the Oranje on goal difference. However German hearts sank with just under an hour gone, when Berti Vogts – in what was to be his final appearance in the Schwarz und Weiß – put the ball into the back of his own net to bring the Ösis back into the game, before Hans Krankl then put them ahead some seven minutes later. Although Bernd Hölzenbein levelled the scores at 2-2 with eighteen minutes left, the Mannschaft needed something approaching a miracle.

When the Dutch went 2-1 up in the 79th minute of their game in Buenos Aires, any hopes German fans might have had for a place in the final disappeared completely, with the only consolation being a place in the Kleine Finale – which in truth probably wasn’t really worth the effort. With three minutes left, the scene was now set for Krankl to score his second and with it deliver the decisive and humiliating blow. As the mustachioed Krankl wheeled away in wild celebration, the reality was now dawning on Schön’s side that they were going home. With the Austrians.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is foiled by Herbert Prohaska in Córdoba, as Helmut Schön’s illustrious spell in charge ends with a humiliating whimper

The shame was not so much the act of being beaten, but being beaten by Austria – a team that had already been eliminated. A team that had been soundly thrashed by the Dutch. A once-great team that now saw any sort of competitive victory over Germany as a high point in its footballing history.

For the Austrians, Córdoba signalled a great moment in their footballing history. Or at least it sounds like that when you listen to the rather insane commentary of the wonderfully-named Edi Finger when Hans Krankl scored the winner – which had overtones of Herbert Zimmermann’s famous lines of 1954. Indeed, in Austria the match became known as the Wunder von Córdoba.

While many Austrians will forever claim that they and they alone spoiled the German party in 1978, the results themselves indicate that the Mannschaft’s quest to retain their world crown didn’t end on 21st June in Córdoba – but three days earlier in the same stadium when they allowed the Dutch to grab an 82nd minute equaliser. Had they gone into their final game in first place in the group with their fate in their own hands, things may well have taken a different turn.

First Phase Group 2 v Poland, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, 01.06.1978
Poland

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Zimmermann – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Abramczik, Beer, K. Fischer, Flohe, Ha. Müller

Poland: Tomaszewski – Maculewicz, Gorgoń, Szymanowski, Żmuda – Masztaler (84. Kasperczak), Nawałka, Deyna – Lato, Lubański (79. Boniek), Szarmach

Referee: Ángel Norberto Coerezza (Argentina)
Assistants: Arturo Andrés Ithurralde, Miguel Comesaña (Argentina)

Yellow Cards: Vogts / van Hanegem, Neeskens, Cruyff
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 67,579

First Phase Group 2 v Mexico, Estadio Olímpico Chateau Carreras, Córdoba, 06.06.1978
Mexico

6-0 (4-0)
D. Müller 14., Ha. Müller 29., Rummenigge 38., 71., Flohe 44., 89. / –

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Dietz – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Kh. Rummenigge, Flohe, K. Fischer, D. Müller, Ha. Müller

Mexico: Reyes (39. Soto) – Martínez, Tena, Ramos, Vázquez – López (46. Lugo), de la Torre, Cuéllar – Sánchez, Rangel, Mendizábal

Referee: Farouk Bouzo (Syria)
Assistants: José Antonio Garrido (Spain), Francis Rion (Belgium)

Yellow Cards: Bonhof / Vazquez
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 35,258

First Phase Group 2 v Tunisia, Estadio Olímpico Chateau Carreras, Córdoba, 10.06.1978
Tunisia

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Dietz – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Kh. Rummenigge, Flohe, K. Fischer, D. Müller, Ha. Müller

Tunisia: Naili – Dhouib, Jebali, Laabidi, Kaabi – Ghommidh, Gasmi, Ben Rehaiem – Lahzami, Akid (82. Raouf Ben Aziz), Dhiab

Referee: César Guerrero Orosco (Peru)
Assistants: Miguel Comesaña, Luis Pestarino (Argentina)

Yellow Cards: Ha. Müller / Dhiab
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 30,667

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
PolandPoland (Q)321041+35
GermanyGermany FR (Q)312060+64
TunisiaTunisia311132+13
MexicoMexico3003212-100

Other results: Tunisia 3-1 Mexico; Poland 1-0 Tunisia; Poland 3-1 Mexico.

Second Phase Group A v Italy, Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, 14.06.1978
Italy

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Dietz – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Kh. Rummenigge, Flohe (68. Beer), K. Fischer, Zimmermann (53. Konopka), Hölzenbein

Italy: Zoff – Tardelli, Scirea, Bellugi, Cabrini – Gentile, Benetti, Antognoni (46. Zaccarelli) – Causio, Rossi, Bettega

Referee: Dušan Maksimović (Yugoslavia)
Assistants: Alfonso Gonzalez Archundia (Mexico), Miguel Comesaña (Argentina)

Yellow Cards: – / –
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 67,547

Second Phase Group A v Netherlands, Estadio Olímpico Chateau Carreras, Córdoba, 18.06.1978
Netherlands

2-2 (1-1)
Abramczik 3., D. Müller 70. / Haan 27., R. van de Kerkhof 82.

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Dietz – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Abramczik, Beer, D. Müller, Hölzenbein, Kh. Rummenigge

Netherlands: Schrijvers – Krol, Poortvliet, Brandts, Wildschut (79. Nanninga) – Jansen, Haan, W. van de Kerkhof – R. van de Kerkhof, Rep, Rensenbrink

Referee: Ramón Ivanoes Barreto Ruiz (Uruguay)
Assistants: Miguel Comesaña (Argentina), Arnaldo Cézar Coelho (Brazil)

Yellow Cards: Maier / Nanninga, van der Kerkhof
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 40,750

Second Phase Group A v Austria, Estadio Olímpico Chateau Carreras, Córdoba, 21.06.1978
Austria

2-3 (1-0)
Rummenigge 19., Hölzenbein 72. / Vogts og 59., Krankl 66., 87.

Germany FR: Maier – Vogts (c), Dietz – Bonhof, Kaltz, Rüssmann – Abramczik, Beer (46. Ha. Müller), D. Müller (61. K. Fischer), Hölzenbein, Kh. Rummenigge

Austria: Koncilia – Sara, Obermayer, Pezzey, Strasser – Hickersberger, Prohaska, Krieger – Schachner (72. Oberacher), Krankl, Kreuz

Referee: Abraham Klein (Israel)
Assistants: Alojzy Jarguz (Poland), José Antonio Garrido (Spain)

Yellow Cards: Abramczik / Sara, Prohaska
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 38,318

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
NetherlandsNetherlands (QF)321094+55
ItalyItaly (Q3P)311122+/-3
GermanyGermany FR302145-12
AustriaAustria310248-42

Other results: Austria 1-5 Netherlands; Italy 1-0 Austria; Italy 1-2 Netherlands.

§ For the first time, the penalty shootout method was introduced into the rule book for the World Cup, replacing the immediate drawing of lots for a knockout match that had been drawn after extra time. However with the only two such matches in the 1978 tournament being settled before or in extra time (the third place play-off and final) the method was not employed. The first-ever World Cup penalty shootout would take place four years later in Spain, when Germany met France in what was a legendary semi-final encounter.

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