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On this day in the Euros, June 14: Der Bomber over Belgium

Considering they had been World Cup finalists in 1966 and unlucky semi-final losers in 1970, West Germany were probably overdue an appearance at the Euros, even if the four-team format was a hard one to qualify for. (They didn’t bother with Euro 60 and 64 and were thwarted in 1967 by a 0-0 with Albania, of all teams.)

Belgium’s first qualification for the Euros carried the bonus of hosting it, as fellow applicants England and Italy failed to get there – there was no free ticket for the hosts until the expansion to an eight-team format in 1980.

So 55,000 crammed into Antwerp’s Bosuilstadion to welcome West Germany. Helped by a blossoming Bayern Munich team that would win three successive European Cups between 1974 and 1976, Helmut Schon’s national team was coming to the boil nicely, from goalkeeper Sepp Maier through sweeper/skipper Franz Beckenbauer and indefatigable left-back Paul Breitner, with the midfield guile of Uli Hoeness and style of Gunter Netzer.

And up front there was Gerd Muller. To modern generations he’s most often encountered as the bloke whose records are being chased by Messi and Ronaldo, but for a decade or so he was arguably the world’s greatest finisher.

Muller might not have contributed too much outside the box, but his deadly short-burst acceleration, low centre of gravity, extraordinary leap and uncanny reading of the game helped him to 68 goals in 62 caps (alongside just the 650 or so at club level). No wonder they nicknamed him Der Bomber.

Belgium bombed

Having won the Golden Boot for 10 goals at Mexico 70 and scored six in qualifying, Muller simply saw Belgium as the next victims in line. He broke the deadlock in the 24th minute, nodding in at the near post from a ball curled in by Netzer’s beautiful right foot.

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Long-haired No.10 Netzer controlled the game, spraying balls hither and yon and inevitably finding Muller again for another goal. Strolling languidly and laterally through midfield, Netzer was allowed to turn onto his favoured right foot and glance upwards; his delightful 40-yard through-ball found the scampering Muller, who beat goalkeeper Christian Piot to finish left-footed.

Belgium pulled one back through Odilon Polleunis but West Germany were through to the final against the Soviet Union. The Reds had now reached three of the first four Euro finals but were hammered 3-0; at one point the Germans strung together 30 passes and there’s no prizes for guessing who opened and closed the scoring either side of a Herbert Wimmer goal.

The Soviets didn’t reach another tournament finals for a decade. The Germans had it rather differently: 1974 World Cup winners, Euro 76 runners-up, Euro 80 winners, World Cup 82 and 86 runners-up, Euro 88 semi-finalists, World Cup 90 winners, Euro 92 runners-up and Euro 96 winners. Apart from that, they were rubbish.

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