The words East Germany throws up understandable connotations to people such as the Berlin Wall and the infamous Stasi. When it comes to sport in East Germany the main connotation is to do with underhand tactics like their doping program mainly targeting their Olympic athletes from the 1960s onwards to the fall of the Berlin Wall. However, East German football has an interesting history, with its high watermark being the 1974 World Cup.
Not only did they qualify (for their sole appearance) but they managed to famously beat neighbours (and soon to be winners) West Germany 1-0 in the group stage. Their finest hour on the international stage is well known, gaining respect by reaching the second group stage in the 1974 World Cup, but just a month earlier an East German club would make a bigger splash in Europe that was just as significant as East Germany’s exploits in the World Cup.
East German football by the early 1970s was dominated by two clubs, Dynamo Dresden and FC Magdeburg, though neither had managed to make a real impact in European football. While Dynamo Dresden had been a traditional giant of East Germany, Magdeburg enjoyed a meteoric rise thanks to manager Heinz Krügel.
Becoming a manager in 1966 when Magdeburg had been relegated to the second tier of East German football, Krügel instantly won promotion back to the top flight and led the club to impressive back-to-back 3rd place finishes in the league as well as winning the 1968-69 FDGB Pokal.
Krügel carefully crafted a team of impressive youngsters and with the youngest team in the top flight won the Oberliga in 1971-72 for the very first time. Their foray in the 1972-73 European Cup was short lived, knocked out of the second round against Juventus. Yet that season would end successfully by winning the 1972-73 FDGB Pokal, defeating FC Lokomotive Leipzig 3-2 to qualify for the following season’s Cup Winners Cup.
Many of the side that won the league in 1969 were still there come the start of the 1973-74 season. In goal was Ulrich Schulze, firmly installed as the club’s No.1 goalkeeper since 1971. The team was captained by sweeper Manfred Zapf, a stalwart of the 1969 league-winning side and was the bedrock of the defence.
Standing in front of him at centre back was Wolfgang Abraham, who was a striker when joining the club in 1966. He scored 16 goals in the season they were promoted to the top flight and was top scorer in their league winning season with 13 goals – seven of them penalties. By 1973 he had been converted to a defender with Zapf providing cover at sweeper.
Midfield was where Krügel was blessed with talent starting with Helmut Gaube, who ably provided a shield in front of the defence. Wolfgang Seguin was a veteran, playing for Magdeburg since 1964, ably joined by two young rising talents – 20-year-old Jürgen Pommerenke and 19-year-old Detlef Raugust. Magdeburg had two forwards that had a real cutting edge – Jürgen Sparwasser and Martin Hoffman.
Sparwasser was prolific in front of goal, first coming to international prominence by scoring five goals in seven games to help East Germany win bronze in the 1972 Olympics. Hoffman recently broke into the side in 1972 as a 17-year-old and was yet another rising talent nurtured by Krügel.
Krügel hoped Magdeburg could improve on their performance in the 1969-70 Cup Winners Cup when they crashed out of the second round against Portuguese side Academia. Their first-round opponents in the 1973-74 edition were against NAC Breda. The Dutch side qualified for the competition by beating NEC Nijmegen in the KNVB Cup that capped off an eventful 1972-73 season where they narrowly avoided relegation from the Eredivisie.
The first leg was played on the 19th September in Breda that ended in a goalless draw. The second leg was played in East Germany two weeks later and the game was decided within three minutes in the second half. Axel Tyll broke the deadlock on 59 minutes and Martin Hoffmann would double their lead. NAC Breda never recovered and FC Magdeburg advanced to the second round.
Their next opponents were Banik Ostrava of Czechoslovakia. The first leg was played in Ostrava on the 24th October and it was a disaster for Krugel’s players. Banik Ostrava took control of the quickly when Milan Albrecht scored to give the lead and worse was to come in the second half when Jiri Klement made it 2-0. Frustratingly for the East Germans, they were not able to score an away goal and it seemed history would repeat itself by exiting the competition in the second round.
Yet Krügel was not a man to give up and the second leg in Magdeburg on the 7th November would produce one of the memorable comebacks in East German footballing history. Magdeburg got the important opening goal on 30 minutes when they won a penalty and Wolfgang Abraham duly converted. Banik Ostrava came under heavy pressure for the rest of the first half and deep into the second half.
Such weight bore fruit for Magdeburg as Hoffmann got the equaliser on aggerate with just six minutes remaining and put the game into extra time. There would be only one winner as Magdeburg completed their comeback when Sparwasser got the winning goal on 104 minutes.
Such a comeback had a reverberating effect on Krugel’s team, as by November they were top of the Oberliga nearly halfway through the league season. Furthermore, East Germany were celebrating on the international stage just six days after Magdeburg’s comeback win against Banik Ostrava. A 4-1 win away win against Albania sealed their place at the 1974 FIFA World Cup and Sparwasser was amongst the scorers.
The draw for the Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals pitted Magdeburg against PFC Beroe Stara Zagora of Bulgaria. Their opponents had shown their potency by knocking out Athletic Bilbao in the second round. With the first leg to be played on the 6th March 1974, it was a good distraction for Magdeburg, for they had slipped to 3rd in the Oberliga – a point behind Dynamo Dresden and two behind Carl Zeiss Jena.
Magdeburg took control of the quarter-final first leg in the second half within the space of three minutes – striker Hans-Jurgen Hermann breaking the deadlock on 70 minutes and Sigmund Mewes doubling the lead on 73 minutes. With no away goal conceded, the East Germans were in a good position heading into the second leg in Bulgaria on the 20th March.
With the 2nd leg goalless heading into the second half, hope was kindled for Beroe when midfielder Ivan Vutov halved the aggerate deficit on 72 minutes from the penalty spot. Yet any revived hopes from the Bulgarians were dashed when Hermann equalised from Magdeburg with nine minutes remaining to seal their place in the Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals.
Their opponents would be Sporting Lisbon – experienced in the competition after their controversial foray a few years ago vs Rangers. Three players made them tick – experienced midfielder Nelson Fernandes along with the two strikers Marinho and Héctor Yazalde.
Yazalde was in the form of his life domestically and in Europe. In Portugal’s Primera Liga, the Argentine would go on to score 46 goals in 29 games on the way to Sporting’s league title during the 1973-74 season – a record no player in the Portuguese league (that includes Eusebio) has been able to break. Yazalde had also been deadly in the Cup Winners Cup before facing Magdeburg – netting four goals.
The first leg of the semi-final was to be played in Lisbon on the 10th April and Magdeburg were coming into the fixture on a high. Magdeburg (then 2nd in the Oberliga) faced table-toppers Carl Zeiss Jena in the league on the 30th March with just three games remaining.
Two goals from Jürgen Pommeranke helped Magdeburg win 2-1 and leapfrog their opponents to the top of the table. Magdeburg did not buckle to the pressure of the run-in, beating title rivals Dynamo Dresden 1-0 on the 3rd April and beating FC Vorwarts Frankfurt 3-2 in front of their fans on the 6th to win the Oberliga for the second time.
Despite their successes in the Oberliga, Sporting provided tougher opposition, as their Portuguese opponents was all over them in the first leg. Despite Sporting hitting the post twice, the score remained goalless until controversy arrived. They hit the post on two occasions before controversy occurred when Wolfgang Abraham handled the ball on the line and the resulting penalty was saved by Schulze.
To make matters worse for Sporting, Magdeburg would get the crucial away goal through Sparwasser on 62 minutes. Yet Sporting managed to equalise on 76 minutes when defender Manaca headed in a free kick on the left from close range. The first leg ended 1-1, with Magdeburg the happier of the two sides as they headed back to East Germany with an away goal.
Moreover, the East Germans had ended their season a week earlier, giving Krügel time to work with his players on tactics. On the other hand, Sporting was at the far end of a long season. Magdeburg would make their time count by taking an early lead through Pommerenke on nine minutes, Despite the bad start, Sporting had numerous chances, but found Schulze in inspired form. Yet again Sporting would suffer a sucker punch in the second half when Sparwasser doubled Magdeburg’s lead.
But Sporting got themselves back into the fight nine minutes later when Marinho got a goal back. With the score 3-2 to Magdeburg on aggregate, Sporting needed just one goal to win the tie by away goals and reach the final. With just three minutes remaining that chance to cap off a wonderful comeback arrived for Sporting but was squandered by Tome from close range. That missed chance would be one of Tome’s main regrets as a player.
But Sporting’s missed opportunity would result in history for Magdeburg as they held on to reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final and become the first East German side to reach one of the three big European club finals. Their opponents in the final would be their toughest challenge in the competition – AC Milan.
The final would be played on the 8th May 1974 in Rotterdam’s De Kuip and AC Milan were seen as favourites to win back-to-back Cup Winners’ Cup titles. The Rossoneri were managed by a young Giovanni Trappatoni who was an interim manager back in April.
Their league form was unimpressive – they would finish 7th in Serie A that season. But their captain Gianni Riveria was a legend of Italian football and was part of the team that won the Cup Winners’ Cup the previous season. Despite having a tough 1973-74 league season, AC Milan had several good players and liked to utilise a 4-4-2 formation.
They had West Germany international Karl-Heinz Schnellinger and Angelo Anquiletti in defence – two of the five players (Trappatoni being the third) that made up a strong defence nicknamed the Maginot Line who won Serie A in 1967-68, the European Cup in 1968-69 and two Cup Winners’ Cup.
In midfield was the tenacious Romeo Benetti alongside Aldo Maldera with Rivera on the right. Up front was Alberto Bigon and Carlo Tresoldi yet were weakened by injury to Luciano Chiarugi who had scored three times in this season’s Cup Winners Cup and was the competition’s top scorer the previous season.
Despite only 4,641 fans attending the final in Rotterdam, it did not take long for AC Milan to show their potency when they won a free kick in Magdeburg’s half. The ball was lofted into the box where Bigon laid it off for Tresoldi to unleash a fierce half volley that was brilliantly parried away by Schulze. But Magdeburg were keen to show off their capabilities when Sparwasser headed narrowly wide from Seguin’s cross from the right.
Yet with just three minutes of the first half remaining, Magdeburg would strike first. A cushion-headed layoff by Hoffmann set Raugust cantering away towards AC Milan’s left and creating a two-on-two situation. Schnelliger tried to close Raugust down on the left-sided edge of the box, causing the midfielder to play a pass across the box. With Sparwasser on the far post, defender Enrico Lanzi tried to cut out the pass, but his outstretched right leg guided the ball past goalkeeper Pierluigi Pizzaballa who couldn’t keep it out.
Magdeburg would begin the second half strongly when Pizzaballa denied Hoffmann and Sparwasser in quick succession. AC Milan awoke from their slumber when Rivera’s goalbound header from a cross was cleared off the line by Abraham with Schulze beaten. Yet the goalkeeper managed to acquit himself well in denying Benetti when the midfielder managed to create a bit of space for the shot.
But the East Germans would land the killer blow on 74 minutes. Axel Tyll would produce a lovely cross field pass to the right and found Seguin inside the box. He skipped past Lanzi and from a tight angle lashed a fierce shot past Pizzaballa at his near post.
A disappointing AC Milan had no answer for Magdeburg’s incisiveness and it was nearly 3-0 when Pizzaballa excellently tipped away Sparwasser’s shot that was heading for the top corner. Magdeburg were always attacking, always on the front foot, never looking to rest on their two-goal lead and the Rossoneri were unable to cope. When the final whistle blew it was a victory that was well deserved.
It capped off a wonderful season for FC Magdeburg – a league and European trophy double. Becoming the first-ever East German side to win a European club trophy was a significant achievement. Moreover, four Magdeburg players would make the East Germany squad for the 1974 World Cup – Pommerenke, Sparwasser, Seguin and Hoffman. Sparwasser would famously score the winner against West Germany.
Krügel would continue his success for Magdeburg by winning the 1974-75 Oberliga for back-to-back league titles. Annoyingly for the East Germans, they were not able to play in the Super Cup in 1974 against European Cup winners Bayern Munich after being unable to find a date. Worse still, Bayern Munich would knock them in the second round of the 1974-75 European Cup, though Krugel declined to take advantage of the Stasi bugging Bayern’s dressing room.
Nevertheless, Krügel would be the crux of Magdeburg’s most successful period, with Juventus offering him the managerial job after their Cup Winners’ Cup victory as well as bidding for Martin Hoffmann, with Krügel rejecting the offer alongside other managerial jobs from European clubs. His time at Magdeburg would end sadly, with the East German FA banning him from managerial duties in 1976, laughingly citing poor development of “Olympic athletes at FC Magdeburg.”
Though he was rehabilitated upon German unification, the East Germans once again used politics to stifle a manager who did not coach again after leaving Magdeburg. It is almost certain that without Krügel’s excellent coaching, developing several players that did great things for club and country, Magdeburg would not have won the Cup Winners Cup.
By: Yousef Teclab
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / FC Magdeburg Official Website