Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the ball was over the Wall

Europe has been commemorating 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

East German football associationThat momentous event also marked the end of the German Democratic Republic's national team, who had competed in FIFA & UEFA competitions, qualifying only once for a major tournament, the 1974 World Cup, where they memorably beat hosts West Germany in the group stage.

The former country has been on people's minds across Europe this week with a lot of 'Ostalgie' in the air.

Thoughts have also turned to the extinct football nation, a key component of the country's famously intensive sports culture.

The national programme connected schools with centres of excellence, yielded dozens of Olympic medals and saw the communist country outperform its western brother time after time, although this was due in part to the widespread doping of their athletes.

East Germany finished top of the medals table at the 1984 Winter Olympics and at the summer games came in second three times, an extraordinary achievement for a nation of 16 million people.

Its footballers won gold in men's football at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, beating Poland 2:0 in the final. Four years later they won silver, losing 1:0 to Czechoslovakia.

In 1964 and 1972 they won bronze, defeating hosts West Germany 3:2 along the way in front of 80,000 in Munich, presaging an even greater scalp of their other half at the World Cup two years later.

Unlike their Olympic team, which did not fully separate from the West until the late 1960s, East Germany fielded a separate national side from 1952 but never quite matched the same heights.

East German national teamJurgen Sparwasser's winning goal against West Germany in Hamburg in 1974 is remembered as their finest hour and they left their only finals appearance with credit, having also beaten Australia 2:0 and drawn 1:1 with Chile, topping Group A above their embarrassed hosts.

In the second round their luck run out however and they were eliminated, losing 1:0 to Brazil, 2:0 to the Netherlands and drawing 1:1 with Argentina.

Sparwasser's lone goal at the finals needless to say turned him into a national hero, but he later defected to the West, a year before the Berlin Wall came down.

The aptly named Joachim Streich netted twice at the finals, and he went on to become his country's all-time scorer and most capped player, with an impressive 55 goals in 102 games.

Streich was equally prolific at club level, bagging 229 goals in 378 outings for Hansa Rostock and Magdeburg between 1969 and 1985.

At club level, Stasi favourite Dynamo Berlin (now Berliner FC Dynamo) won the most domestic titles (10) but never got further than the last eight of the UEFA Champions Cup, losing to Nottingham Forest in 1980 and Roma in 1984.

Wismut Karl Marx Stadt (now Erzebirge Aue) reached the same stage in 1959, losing to Young Boys of Berne, while Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig went one further in the Cup Winners Cup, both reaching, but losing the final.

Jena dumped Roma, Valencia, Newport and Benfica out in the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup, before losing the final 2:1 to Dinamo Tblisi.

Leipzig, whom Tottenham had beaten in the 1974 semi-final, lost 1:0 in 1987's final to an Ajax side featuring Arnold Muhren, Frank Rijkaard and a young Dennis Bergkamp. Marco Van Basten scored the winner.

FC Magdeburg remain the only East German club to win a trophy in Europe, having beaten Milan 2:0 in the 1974 Cup Winners Cup final.

When the wall finally fell in 1989, the German Olympic programme saw an immediate boost in its performances. Franz Beckenbauer said that with the addition of East Germany, the Mannschaft, already world champions, would then be on top for years to come.

The German national team, united for the first time at Euro '92, added three East German internationals, Thomas Doll, Matthias Sammer and Andreas Thom, to their squad.

Doll was a tricky left-winger who went on to play for Lazio and Sammer became one of the game's greatest sweepers, winning a host of prizes including the Bundesliga as a player and later as a coach, the Champions League, European Championship and the European Footballer of the Year Award in 1996.

Germany lost the Euro '92 final to Denmark, but went one stage further than their semi-final exit at Euro '88. West Germany had won the World Cup in 1990, but the united Germany exited in the quarter-finals at USA '94. Two years later they won Euro '96 with one player from the former East, Sammer.

Others who swapped their blue shirts for white ones were Ulf Kirsten, Olaf Marschall, Heiko Scholz, Dirk Schuster and Dariusz Wosz. Uwe Rösler, who became a cult hero at Manchester City, played five times for East Germany.

Michael Ballack is the most notable of later German internationals who grew up in the communist East but there was also Robert Huth, Carsten Jancker, Jens Jeremies, Bernd Schneider and poor Robert Enke.

Toni KroosSeven of Germany's 2002 squad were 'Ossi' in origin, but that number trickled down to one in 2014 - Toni Kroos, who was less than a year old when the wall came down.

While it is still possible for a player born behind the Iron Curtain to play for Germany, the prospects for further East German-born players making it to the Mannschaft look slim and Kroos could well be the last.

East German clubs and their youth systems have less funding than their western counterparts and none of the current 18 teams in the Bundesliga hail from the former DDR Oberliga first division.

Union Berlin, RB Leipzig and Erzgebirge Aue are the best-placed Eastern German clubs today, yet all ply their trade in the German second flight.

Below them in the third tier (Bundesliga 3), we find former DDR clubs Dynamo Dresden, Hansa Rostock, Energie Cottbus, Chemnitzer and Hallescher while Magdeburg, the only East German club to win a European trophy, are down in the fourth tier, the Regionalliga Nordost.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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