The Final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ has gone down in the annals of history as the match which denied the Dutch ‘Total Football’ maestros their crowning glory. After less than a minute of the match at Munich's Olympiastadion though, it seemed to be going swimmingly for captain Johan Cruyff and his compatriots.
The Oranje kicked off the finale of the 1974 tournament and kept possession of the ball, with the baying German crowd jeering and whistling while the ball was passed around nonchalantly by Rinus Michels’ side. Then, Cruyff himself took it upon himself to burst forward from midfield into the West Germany penalty area. He was hacked down by Uli Hoeness and referee John Taylor awarded a spot-kick. In just under a minute of play, no West Germany player had touched the ball.
The Netherlands’ nominated penalty taker was not their talismanic skipper Cruyff, but a namesake who would also go on to appear for Barcelona: Johan Neeskens.
“If there is a penalty I know I’m going to take it,” Neeskens said, years after stepping up to take the fateful spot-kick. “As a player it is a little bit strange because sometimes you need the feeling [of the ball]. But then, after less than two minutes, I’d hardly touched the ball and wasn’t even warm. Then you have to make that penalty in front of 80,000 who are against you and of course the whole world is watching it.”
The then-Ajax man admitted the sense of occasion got to him as he stepped up to take the spot-kick.
“That was the first time that I was a little bit nervous in taking a penalty,” Neeskens said. “When I started running I was thinking: ‘which side am I going to shoot?’ It was more or less always in the right side of the goal. At the last step, I thought ‘no, I’m going to shoot the other way’. It was not my meaning to kick the ball straight through the middle.”
In the end, Neeskens’ last-minute change of mind, and the slight scuff which elicited the spray of white powder from the penalty spot in the iconic image, did not matter. The ball flew into the net, and the first West Germany touch of the ball would be from kick-off, 1-0 down after just two minutes.
Neeskens sets a new precedent
Intriguingly, Neeskens’ erring in taking the famous penalty seemingly set a precedent, as a 2008 study by academics Wolfgang Leininger and Axel Ockenfels (titled: ‘The penalty duel and institutional design: is there a Neeskens effect?’) credited Neeskens with an innovative penalty technique: making the centre of the goal an option for a spot-kick taker.
“It gradually changed the perception of the essence of the penalty game by kicker and goalkeeper from a 2x2 [left or right] game to a 3x3 [left, middle or right] game,” the study said.
The penalty, unfortunately for the Dutch, did not set them on their way to victory, with Helmut Schon’s side equalising through a penalty of their own through Paul Breitner, before Gerd Muller scored the winner just before the first half’s conclusion.
“In moments like that, you can’t think about what you’re doing,” Breitner said of his own penalty, in Ben Lyttleton’s book Twelve Yards. “Otherwise you run up and trip over yourself. If you take another look at Johan Neeskens’ penalty, you’ll see what I mean. Neeskens just thumped it because he was completely unprepared to take a penalty after one minute of the game. It was different with me.”
Neeskens’ penalty remains the fastest goal ever scored in a World Cup Final, but it is scant consolation for their silver medal.
“We lost that game but everybody was talking about our team and our football,” Neeskens concluded. “We deserved to win that final.”
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) October 6, 2016
Did you know?
The 1974 Final was the first in which the current World Cup Trophy was lifted, by West Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer. The above ticket from that day is on display at the FIFA Football Museum, from a fan who witnessed the historic penalty and Trophy lift.