Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, 29.06.1986

2-3 (0-1)
Rummenigge 74., Völler 80. / Brown 23., Valdano 55., Burruchaga 83.

So to the final of Mexico ’86, played in front of over a hundred thousand people in a baking hot Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Facing Germany were an Argentina side that had started rather anonymously, but had grown in stature throughout the knockout phases as Diego Maradona had started to find a rich vein of form. After an inconspicuous group phase and a scrappy 1-0 win over Uruguay in their first knock-out game, Maradona had burst into life, inspiring his side to wins over both England and Belgium where he scored all four goals – including one particularly infamous one with his hand.

Maradona was clearly the man to be watched, and Beckenbauer’s immediate task was to nullify his effectiveness by assigning him a man-marker. The Bundestrainer’s choice of man-marker was more than a little leftfield; while one might have expected someone like Wolfgang Rolff, Norbert Eder or the recalled Thomas Berthold to fill this role, the man tasked with eyeballing Argentina’s little maestro was himself an attacking player, Lothar Matthäus.

For the seventh match in succession Beckenbauer applied a number of small tweaks to the starting eleven, employing the same line-up as in the quarter-final against Mexico, but with Norbert Eder switching places with Andreas Brehme. Brehme was joined in what was a three-man defensive line ahead of sweeper Ditmar Jakobs with both Hans-Peter Briegel and the ever-present Karl-Heinz Förster, while Eder joined a midfield quartet alongside Matthäus, Magath and Berthold. The forward partnership of Rummenigge – still not fully fit – and Allofs started their third match in a row, with Rudi Völler again on the bench.

It was clear from looking at this formation that Beckenbauer’s plan was one of containment and counterattack: the four-man midfield consisted of defensive midfielders as opposed to the likes of the whippet-like Pierre Littbarski or the dynamic youngster and tournament bench-warmer Olaf Thon, and the one attack-minded member of the midfield four – Matthäus – had been given the ultimate defensive duty in keeping track of Maradona. With no obvious link between midfield and the forwards, it fell to skipper Karlheinz Rummenigge to plug the gap.

The opening twenty minutes was somewhat cautious, with both teams finding their bearings in the midday Mexican heat. Despite their defensive formation, the Germans – wearing their green second kit – made some good impressions going forward: a bustling run from Briegel saw the award of an indirect free-kick at the edge of the box, but Brehme’s shot was weak and directed straight at Argentinian ‘keeper Nery Pumpido. However the Brazilian referee had noticed the defence encroach on their ten yards – the Germans were to get a second crack, and Maradona found himself in the book for complaining. Unfortunately the second effort was rushed and smacked straight at an advancing defender, though one might argue that the Argentinians were again astonishingly quick in making up the ground.

Most of the early key tussles were in the middle of the field: Lothar Matthäus immediately made his presence known, and Diego Maradona found himself being quickly closed down every time he sought to find even an inch of space. However, a great player doesn’t necessarily have to make or score goals to make an impact: and so it was with Maradona, who broke down on the right only to be chopped down by his marker who received a crucial yellow card. From the resulting free-kick Jorge Valdano hit what looked to be a rather hopeful cross – which remained hopeful until Toni Schumacher charged out and flapped at thin air. With the German ‘keeper floundering in no-man’s land, it was left up to the unsung defender José Luis Brown to head Argentina into a twenty-third minute lead.

As in the opening game against Uruguay, Germany were behind as a result of what could only be described as a moment of inexplicable madness; watching that Valdano cross again and again, I still cannot see why Schumacher makes the decision to try and punch. I often find myself rewinding the footage in the hope that he might one day stay on his line, only to keep seeing him leap into the air and end up looking like a beached porpoise. Schumacher’s own honest critique tells the story:

Then comes that fatal free kick, a cross that will lead to the first goal. An Argentinean lines up the ball. My prey! It comes flying in my direction. I move out towards it, determined to catch it.

‘This one’s yours! You’re going to get this one!’

I rush forward. From the moment I start moving I know that I’m not going to catch anything. Every hundredth of a second seems like an eternity. I go sailing across the penalty area like Lohengrin sailing past his swan. My last hope: ‘will a German player manage to head the ball away?’

But it wasn’t to be. An Argentine head gets there first and tips the ball into the back of the net. I watch this catastrophe, dumbfounded. Buy inwardly I’m silently shouting.” [1]

The men in green did not let this get to them however – they were able to keep pressing forward, and a hopeful punt into the box from Kalle Förster saw a great head down by Berthold into the path of Rummenigge, whose attempt to hook the ball into the net with his left foot flew high over the bar. It was a difficult chance, but one that perhaps the Rummenigge of old – or even a fully fit 1986 edition – might have easily taken.

As half-time approached both Brehme and Briegel were making neat advances down the flanks for Germany, but actual chances were few and far between. Perhaps the most impressive showing was from Thomas Berthold, whose unexpected presence in the box seemed to unsettle the Argentinian defence.

Half-time saw the the introduction of Rudi Völler, who came on for the surprisingly anonymous Klaus Allofs – but before he could make any sort of impact Hector Enrique had sliced open the German defence with a killer pass to put Jorge Valdano through. Taking the pass in his stride, the classy Argentinian number seven made no mistake in stroking the ball deftly past the spreadeagled Schumacher. Less than ten minutes had been played in the second half, and Beckenbauer’s team truly had their backs against the wall.

In a desperate change of tactics, Beckenbauer threw on the blonde and balding veteran forward Dieter Hoeneß for the ineffective Felix Magath – no team had ever come back from two goals down to win a World Cup final, but the German Chef was determined to give it his best shot. Germany were now fielding a three-man attack, with the tall and powerful Hoeneß alongside the nimble Völler with Rummenigge sitting behind.

With just over a quarter of an hour remaining, Germany won a corner on the left. Then in the words of John Motson: driven, Völler, Rummenigge… Goal! Andy Brehme’s left-footed corner had found Völler at the edge of the six yard box, whose sharp nod-down found Rummenigge in the perfect position to stab the ball home with his outstretched right boot. Ja! They were back in it.

Having pulled the score back to 2-1, captain Karl-Heinz Rummenigge demands one last effort

Having finally gained a foothold in the game, Germany kept pressing forward. Less than ten minutes later, a cross from Matthäus aimed for the balding pate of Hoeneß was intercepted by an Argentinian defender, resulting in another corner on the left. This time Brehme would swing the ball in a little deeper, where Thomas Berthold was running almost backwards to nod the ball straight to Rudi Völler, who with a quick twist of his tousled head drilled the ball straight through the hands of Pumpido.

With a quick flick of Rudi Völler’s tousled head, the Mannschaft are back in it at 2-2

Unglaublich! Unmöglich! Unfassbar! Against all the odds, the Mannschaft were suddenly back in the game. Dead and buried one moment, everything to play for the next – only the Germans could pull off this sort of stunt. With less than ten minutes remaining, extra time surely loomed.

But it was not to be.

Less than five minutes later and with a moment of magic that was clearly scripted for the occasion, that man Maradona – who had been up to that point had been well and truly shackled – released a glorious through ball for Jorge Burruchaga who steered it past the advancing Schumacher. It’s a moment I have forever tried to blank from my memory – I would have just preferred to remember the last moment being the green-shirted, tousle-haired Tante Käthe wheeling away towards the touchline, right index finger raised.

Germany FR: Schumacher – Jakobs – Brehme, Förster, Briegel – Berthold, Matthäus, Eder, Magath (62. D. Hoeneß) – Rummenigge (c), Allofs (46. Völler)

Argentina: Pumpido – Cuciuffo, Brown, Ruggeri – Enrique, Giusti, Batista, Burruchaga (90 .Trobbiani), Olarticoechea – Valdano, Maradona

Referee: Romualdo Arppi Filho (Brazil)
Assistants: Erik Fredriksson (Sweden), Bernie Ulloa Morera (Costa Rica)

Yellow Cards: Matthäus, Briegel / Maradona, Olarticoechea, Enrique, Pumpido
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 114,600

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