Lothar Matthaus on losing it
FFT’S columnist tasted World Cup glory in 1990 but things didn’t always go perfectly at tournaments, resulting in losses to Algeria, Bulgaria and Croatia. He explains how a campaign can go badly wrong
At the World Cup, the little things make a big difference. Whether you’re Brazil, Germany or England, nobody gives you a guarantee in any game. The team that makes the least mistakes will win.
The players can make mistakes, and so can managers. My first World Cup was in 1982 and our first match was against Algeria. We were not focused, Algeria played very well and we lost 2-1. It was one of Germany’s biggest shocks in the history of the World Cup.
We had our problems. We were not working like a team and there were too many private interests. The coach, Jupp Derwall, was a nice guy, but the players told him when they should train, how hard he should make the training and which players had to play. There were some strong players who manipulated the coach, because the coach was not strong enough.
Because of that defeat, three teams ended up on four points at the end of the group stage, and there was a lot of shame about the last game against Austria. We won 1-0, meaning Germany and Austria went through and Algeria went out. Everyone thought there had been an agreement for it to be 1-0, but there was never any agreement – it just happened, step by step. At 1-0, both teams became afraid that if the other side got a goal, they would be out. No one wanted to risk anything, so each team played with nine in defence.
We reached the final in 1982 because of our mentality. The atmosphere wasn’t so good, but when the team went onto the field, everyone said, ‘We will go to the final’. It was the same in 1986: again there were fights between the players – it wasn’t one group of 20, it was four or five groups of five players. Again we didn’t start very well, but we lost the final to the best team of the tournament, Argentina, even though we weren’t the second-best team at the World Cup. We came second to Denmark in our group, but then they played Spain next and lost 5-1. We played Morocco, I scored in the last minute and we won 1-0. Sometimes it’s crazy – you can have a bad result in the group stage but end up with the easiest route in the knockout stages.
In 1994, we had a lot of quality in our squad – better than in 1990 when we won the World Cup. The players from East Germany came in, as well as Mario Basler and Stefan Effenberg. But we never found a team and that was a mistake of the coach – I’m a good friend of Berti Vogts now, but he didn’t control the team in 1994. There was always a bad atmosphere – you’d go to training and you’d feel it. In 1990, you’d go to training and be laughing and making jokes - we were a proper team. In 1994, you wouldn’t even say good morning to each other. Nothing.
Against Bulgaria in the quarter-final, I scored and we were 1-0 up. If your team is together, you will never lose against Bulgaria from that position – you will score a second and third. But we weren’t a team. Each small fire can lead to a bigger fire, and a bigger fire upsets the atmosphere. When Yordan Letchkov scored Bulgaria’s second goal, I didn’t feel the players were so unhappy or angry. I didn’t feel the fire in the team, the German mentality to fight for the result. It was, ‘OK, we go home now’. That is not the German mentality. Even I felt the same, I felt nothing. I wasn’t ready to stay with that team any longer. In 1998 we didn’t have the quality in the team. That period at the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the 2000s was the worst time in German football for the last 50 or 60 years. A crisis. We lost 3-0 to Croatia in the quarter-final but we didn’t play badly. Christian Worns got a red card just before half-time – it was a 50-50 decision, Davor Suker was acting a bit. One minute later Croatia scored but after half-time we played well and had some chances – it was our best 30 minutes of that World Cup. We didn’t take our chances, then in the final 10 minutes Croatia scored two more.
When the result is 3-0, no one’s interested in how well you played. When a football nation like Germany doesn’t get the result, people will criticise you and they have the right. In a big football nation, you have to go to the final and then win the final. We did that in 1990. At that World Cup, we didn’t make any of the mistakes we made at other tournaments. It was a perfect World Cup, and that’s why we won.
“WHEN LETCHKOV SCORED BULGARIA’S SECOND, I DIDN’T FEEL THE PLAYERS WERE SO UNHAPPY OR ANGRY. THAT IS NOT THE GERMAN MENTALITY”