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Most dramatic game in World Cup history : "They asked, 'Why didn't you just knock him out?'"
Willi Schulz, 81, was one of the toughest and best German defenders of his time. Schulz played for Schalke 04 and HSV. For the German national team he took part in three world championships, including in Mexico in 1970, where he and his team met Italy in the semifinals. The game, which took place almost exactly 50 years ago, is considered the most dramatic game in World Cup history. Schulz tells in an interview how he experienced it.
Mr. Schulz, you once said: “A footballer never forgets big, outstanding games, even decades ago.” How often do you think of the 1970 World Cup semi-final against Italy after half a century?
To be honest, rarely. The repression actually worked quite well for me. But unfortunately people like you tickle the memory again at regular intervals.
It didn't start well at the time. After just eight minutes you were 0: 1 behind.
Yes, unfortunately. We were actually pretty well prepared. Above all, our “Italians” on the team, Helmut Haller, who played for Juventus at the time, and Carlo Schnellinger from AC Milan, had told us a lot about our opponents. Italy had played the three games of the preliminary round with a goal difference of 1-0. We knew that falling behind them was, in principle, fatal. But that's exactly what happened.
The goalscorer was “of all people” your direct opponent: Roberto Boninsegna.
A cross-dangerous man. And above all a really good footballer. Next to Pelé, maybe the best I've played against in my career.
Pelé, with whom you crossed blades three times, said of you: "Life could be so beautiful if it weren't for this saber-legged Schulz." One looks in vain for a comparable quote from Boninsegna.
That is probably the case then. I can live with that. Boninsegna did not hesitate long, took every opportunity to graduate. When he hit, he actually wanted to play one-two with Luigi Riva. Riva's guard Berti Vogts intervened, but involuntarily gave Boninsegna the perfect ball. Franz Beckenbauer and I were both late. A dry left-hand shot in the lower left corner - and we had a mess.
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The Italians sealed off. The infamous Catenaccio. A festival for fans of tactics and friends of sophisticated defensive football. A horror for everyone else. Your then DFB co-trainer Jupp Derwall gave you the apt nickname “Zero-to-Zero-Willi”. How did you perceive the opponent's game?
Of course it annoyed me. But also enthusiastic. In retrospect, it is always said: Back then, the Italians only chopped down, acted theatrically, stolen time and destroyed the game. But that's not true. They were all excellent technicians. The sudden changes in tempo, the rapid advances by Facchetti or Domenghini. Great! One would call it masterful switching game today. We were really busy at the back, believe me.
In the first few minutes you cross the middle line a few more times. Later not at all. As you played the game longer, did you notice that the ball just didn't want to go in, didn't your feet itchy to join in?
No. I had a very clear tactical requirement. And that was called: Cover Boninsegna. I had painfully felt
what happens if you leave even a little space for it. So I was quite capable of learning. Berti did gymnastics from time to time and then of course our sweeper Carlo Schnellinger later.
Even after his redeeming equalization in the final minute of regular time, the opposing half remained taboo for you. They cannot be seen in any of the many cheering photos. Unlike her goalkeeper, who sprinted 100 meters to congratulate the goalscorer.
Sepp still had air, he just walked around in his penalty area before. I deliberately avoided it and saved myself the grains. I knew: there was still something to come.
As a matter of fact. Since you remember so well, we unfortunately now have to talk about the 111th minute again.
I feared it. Well, it's no use. What do you want to hear? I still see myself running to the goal line with Boninsegna. He had the ball, but there was no immediate danger.
In the video you can see that you want to tackle, but then you hesitate for a moment. Gerd Müller's motto was: "If you think it's too late anyway" ...
Right. Maybe I should have internalized that better. Later in the cabin it was said, among others from Gerd: “Man, the whole game you polish his bones! Why don't you have him
just blown away? "
What did you think? Why weren't the famous Schulz‘ saber legs used at that moment?
That was because of this referee. Yamasaki. Where did that come from again?
He was a Peruvian born in Lima with Japanese roots. He represented the Peruvian Football Association at the World Cups in Chile in 1962 and in England in 1966, then emigrated to Mexico and whistled under the flag of his new adopted home at the 1970 tournament.
Can you see it! Quite a mess ... And so he whistled. I was sure he would give penalties here immediately. Also, I thought I was in control of the situation, but Boninsegna outwitted me. He suddenly pulled the ball into the center at a 90-degree angle. Gianni Rivera stood there all alone and shot him into the goal. 3-4, we lost for good, Italy were in the final.
Did you realize that at that moment? At least there were nine minutes left to play. And in this crazy extension everything seemed possible ...
It was clear to me: That's it now. I was ready. We had just fought our way back and then this new blow on the neck. That was too much. We were at the end of our strength and concentration. The flood of goals in overtime resulted from the increasing tiredness of all players. Like me in the scene before the 3: 4, we all only perceived the situations with a delay. Almost like in slow motion.
A flood of goals that naturally annoyed a defensive strategist like you, but enchanted the spectators in the stadium and on the television screens.
As a contributor, you hardly have any sense of the quality of the game. You are fixated on your task and perceive the crowd as a black wall. The enthusiastic German fans only told us that we had achieved great things despite the defeat when we left the Aztec stadium with drooping heads.
There is a photograph that shows you and your opponent Roberto Boninsegna swapping shirts after the final whistle. One of the most impressive images related to this game: You pat the Italian on the cheek. Almost tenderly. You also smile in a friendly manner and appear very relaxed.
In the end we were all empty. And somehow also glad that it was over. We had been clubbed very hard beforehand, using all permitted and sometimes prohibited means. Boninsegna was pretty good too, you know. But he was also able to take it and - as you later chalked up many of his teammates - didn't do any theater or act at all. That impressed me. We had respect for each other and said goodbye sportily.
Didn't they feel any resentment at all? Some of their teammates got up again after the final whistle and wanted to pay a visit to the referee's booth.
What. Certainly, I was also deeply disappointed. And of course, the referee's performance was - to be careful - not that good. But that's sport, it's also part of the game. You have to deal with that and try to make the best of it. And I think we did. Perhaps it was also because I had a bit of experience with such bitter defeats.
You mean the Wembley final in 1966. You were very close to that too. You personally in the game-winning scene, the famous 2: 3, closest of all. They almost blocked Geoff Hurst's shot, were only a fraction of a second too late.
Nice that you have to remind me of that too! At Wembley we also had a bit of bad luck with the referee. Afterwards Helmut Schön said in the cabin: “Boys, be proud! A good second is better than a bad first. ”And guess what? The coach was absolutely right. We showed our poise and maybe even gained more sympathy than if we had won the title. We were a big loser. Rags? I never had such thoughts. That doesn't suit me. Doesn't do anything either!
And in Mexico?
In principle, it was very similar. “Want to win, be able to lose,” my captain and friend Uwe Seeler always said so nicely. Apart from that: After the two exhausting overtimes against England and Italy, our chances in the final against the Brazilians would have been rather slim. This team with many world-class players like Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gérson, Tostão, Jairzinho, Rivelinho and of course Pelé was the best I have ever seen at a World Cup. So we came in a very good third in Mexico. Finished!
Not quite yet! There was one more thing: You were just a spectator in the third-place match against Uruguay. It was said that you deliberately left your football boots in the team quarters. Replacements in their size could not be found in a hurry. Helmut Schön should not have been very amused by that.
Yes / Yes. Another old story. There are quite a few versions of it. Let's put it this way: It wasn't on purpose. I was struggling with an injury all the time during the tournament. When I came back to Hamburg, I first had to have an operation on the meniscus. And whether I had one more international match or not, what's the difference? Max Lorenz also made his World Cup debut. He deserved it.
The "Century Game" was your 66th and last international game for Germany. Was it difficult to say goodbye?
Not at all. Not many are allowed to leave with such a game. It was the ideal time for me. I was facing my 35th birthday. And when I got up in the morning after a game, my bones cracked so loudly that I thought someone was walking next to me. An unmistakable sign of farewell.
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