This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
The football gods smiled benignly on Dieter Kaster when his stepfather legally adopted him. Already a schoolboy international. he took the name Müller. To be anointed with the surname of Germany’s greatest striker was a catalyst for the kid from Offenbach who broke into the FC Küln side at 19.
Gerd Müller retired from international football in 1974, leaving a sizable hole in the national side. Manager Helmut Schoen sought a replacement as the European Championship finals loomed in 1976. Dieter Müller had impressed in the Bundesliga with a strike rate of 50 percent and was duly handed the number 9 shirt
West Germany travelled to the semi-finals as reigning world and European champions. Indeed, several members of the World Cup-winning side in 1974 were present, including captain Franz Beckenbauer and goalkeeper Sepp Maier. But the new boy was surprisingly confined to the bench in favour of Uli Hoeness against the hosts in Belgrade.
Like their opponents, Yugoslavia had retained the bulk of their squad from 1974. The “Brazilians of Europe” lined up with six Serbs, three Croats, one Bosnian and one Slovenian in their ranks. Their midfield was a sublime mix of players from Hajduk and Red Star.
Branko Oblak was the playmaking fulcrum while Ivica Surjak busily linked defence with attack. Captain Jovan Acimovic, a veteran of the 1968 final, was a cool hand on the tiller while Dragan Dzajic was their superstar. Both sides were equally matched and familiar with each other. but would ruthless German efficiency conquer the maverick genius of Yugoslavia?
The winners would play Czechoslovakia in the final, who had beaten the Netherlands in a classic semi-final the previous evening. An expectant crowd of 50,000 crammed into the Marakana. The home side quickly settled, finding space with crisp passing and rapid movement, regularly working the ball into midfield looking for the pay-off.
A delicious through ball from Oblak found Popivoda in the 19th minute. He controlled with the first touch and executed perfectly with the second. Ten minutes later, the home crowd were in rapture. The usually reliable Maier fumbled a Zungul cross and Dzajic was on hand to double their advantage. The Germans’ composure had deserted them as they struggled to find any rhythm; Yugoslavia had run them ragged and well worth their 2-0 lead.
In the second half, Dietmar Danner was substituted for midfielder Heinz Flohe. Yugoslavia had their chances and could have settled the game but lady luck smiled on the Germans. In the 64th minute, a Flohe shot deflected off Herbert Wimmer wrong-footing Petrovic in the Yugoslav goal; at 2-1 the game was suddenly alive.
With ten minutes to go, the fat lady was clearing her throat – but Schoen had one last throw of the dice as Müller replaced Wimmer to win his first cap. Within three minutes West Germany were level as he headed home unmarked by a lazy Yugoslav defence. Extra-time beckoned and the initiative rested with the Germans; the never say die ethos had paid off yet again.
A rousing finale ensued as Müller put West Germany ahead in the first period of extra-time. A spectacular debut was capped by a hat-trick as he followed up a Bonhof shot that cannoned off the upright. The tactically astute Schoen showed exactly how substitutes should be used. Without knowing it, he had invented the ‘impact sub’.
West Germany were in the final and the kid from Offenbach was the new hero. However, at international level it didn’t get any better than this. Müller would eventually lose his place to Klaus Fischer of Schalke, a striker with a clever party trick in his locker; it’s amazing what a bicycle kick can do for a player’s career. But there aren’t many players who’ve enjoyed a better international debut than Dieter Müller.
By Brian Penn