Germany Coach Keeps Penalty Takers Secret in Echo of 1974 Chaos

Paul Breitner
West German defender Paul Breitner ties the score at 1 on a penalty kick as he beats Dutch goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed, on July 7, 1974 in Munich, during the World Cup soccer final. Source: AFP/Getty Images

German soccer players are perceived -- especially by the English -- as being totally steadfast when faced with taking a penalty kick. It wasn’t always so.

At the 1974 World Cup, coach Helmut Schoen couldn’t convince anyone, including captain Franz Beckenbauer and striker Gerd Mueller, to take a spot kick. So when no one would step up when the host nation was awarded one in the final against the Netherlands, defender Paul Breitner grabbed the ball. He scored and Germany went on to win 2-1.

“I scored this penalty because I was able to do what people said the best footballers can do and not think,” Breitner, 60, said in an interview in Munich.

Current Germany manager Joachim Loew said he hasn’t yet told his players who will take a penalty kick should his team be awarded one in tonight’s European Championship match against the Netherlands, even if he’s already decided himself who will be handed the task.

“I’ll be a little bit more organized,” Loew told reporters yesterday. “I will tell them, but today I will not say who will take the penalty.”

If Denmark beats Portugal in today’s first match, Germany will eliminate the Netherlands with a win at the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Denmark upset the Dutch 1-0 in the opening round of games, while Germany beat Portugal 1-0.

Germany is seeking a record-extending fourth title at the quadrennial tournament, having won in 1972, 1980 and 1996. The Dutch won the 1988 edition for their sole success at a major soccer tournament.

Shootout Success

According to website Penalty Shootouts, Germany deserves its reputation for fortitude in shootouts. The country has won 71 percent of its shootouts, second only to Argentina (73 percent) among teams to have played in a World Cup final. The Dutch have won 20 percent of theirs, while England languishes with a 17 percent success rate. The Germans are 2-0 against the English in shootouts.

Still, the most recent result suggests the aura of invincibility may be slipping. Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who sat beside Loew at yesterday’s news conference, missed in a shootout in his home stadium to give Chelsea victory in last month’s Champions League final.

With players including Johan Cruijff, Johnny Rep, Johan Neeskens and Ruud Krol, the Netherlands, with its brand of “total football,” was favored to beat host West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final in Munich.

Breitner’s Penalty

The Dutch took the lead from the penalty spot in the second minute through Neeskens. The Germans had the chance to tie it after 25 minutes when Bernd Hoelzenbein was fouled in the penalty area.

Yet no one would volunteer to take the kick. Furious, Breitner snatched the ball, brushed aside a protest from teammate Wolfgang Overath and struck a low shot into the left corner. Mueller scored the winner just before halftime.

Breitner said he has no memory of the event. He said he went into a cold sweat and started screaming at his wife in the kitchen after watching a re-run of the game on television the morning after the final.

“I have no idea what happens in this two minutes,” he said. “If I had started thinking about my responsibility, the 80,000 people in the stadium and the 1.5 billion people at the TVs worldwide I would’ve turned crazy and I’m sure I would have missed this penalty.”

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