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

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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.


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