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World Cup 1970: Karl-Heinz Schnellinger

The Game of the Century: Carlo against Catenaccio

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“17 Juno 1970, juego de Siglo Italia – Alemania 4-2”. Engraved in Spanish, the copper plaque at the entrance to the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City reveals the venue and date of the so-called “Game of the Century”.

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The occasion was the 1970 World Cup, the semifinals and the last step towards the big goal. The participating countries were European Champions Italy, who were knocked out early four years previously by North Korea, and Germany, the 1966 World Cup runners-up. The film of the game is still seen today as being far more nerve wracking than any of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies.

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Prior to his 4th FIFA World Cup in 1970, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger played in the 1966 final. Disappointed he (far left) leaves the pitch together with Beckenbauer, Weber and Overath.(Photo: Horstmüller)


Walter Lutz, a Swiss journalist, wrote the following words about the game in “Sport”, a magazine published in Zürich: “It was the most fascinating and stirring football contest that I have ever seen, full of suspense it was the most riveting and amazing game of this World Cup and one in which, in extra time, all the dams burst and the locks all allowed the water to flow feely through its gates and where all the basic rules of football were thrown out of the window. The team that went through in the end was Italy. It was an historical meeting and one that was not to be outstripped in terms of colour, footballing content, ups and downs, atmosphere and suspense.” The man that played himself into the spotlight was a German with “Italian connections”. It was Karl-Heinz “Carlo” Schnellinger. A blonde left-sided defender born on 31 March 1939 with amusing freckles on his face.

Schnellinger was born in Düren. But Schnellinger also played for 1. FC Cologne. Above all though he became known as one of the most successful German players to play abroad. After a couple of short episodes at AC Mantova and AS Rom, Schnellinger’s career was basically a life for AC Milan. Surprisingly it was a Liga A playing German who was the source of such dynamism and dramatic scenes up in the altitude and heat – “the hell of Mexico City”. Up until then the Germans had not caused much of a stir at the tournament: 2-1 against Morocco, 5-2 against Bulgaria, 3-1 against Peru. 3-2 against England. The quarterfinal was a great match in itself and the Germans were able to gain revenge for Wembley 1966.

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Karl-Heinz Schnellinger was one of the best German defenders. He moved to Italy early in his career. In 1963, he played with Mantua against Meidericher SV with Helmut Rahn. (Photo: Horstmüller)


Five goals in extra time

The semifinal was even greater. There is little to be found though about the first 90 minutes of the match between Italy and Germany in the history books dealing with the 1970 World Cup. Roberto Boninsegna scored in as early as the 8th minute to make it 1-0 for the Azzurri. The score remained the same way right up until added time and the Italians seemed to be a sure bet for the final. Their Catenaccio tactics along with their time wasting and tactical fouling shenanigans almost led them to getting on the wrong side of the Mexican referee Arturo Yamasaki. Of all people it was the “Italian” Schnellinger, team-mate of Italy’s Riveira and Rosato, who popped up to score in injury time after a Grabowski assist. It was his only goal in his 47 cap international career and it took the game into extra time.

Five goals were about to be scored in the next 30 minutes. Lutz later wrote, the players, who were on the edge of exhaustion and in a kind of comatose state, were driven by only one urge, namely to go forwards and score goals. The German newspaper, the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” wrote: “Both teams appeared down and out. Nevertheless the whole world could see they were both worthy of a place in the final.” Schnellinger is still considered today as being one of the greatest German players of all time. He always saw his job as being that of a team player saying, “Football is something special because its overriding influence is the collective. A professional player lives in a team, thinks in a team and acts in a team. He has to integrate himself and he also has to subordinate himself, he has to always serve the team but he also has to take the initiative. A leading player can drag along a team by the scruff of the neck and it will always eventually also be for his own benefit.”

But one cannot really say Schnellinger had the best of fortune when playing for his national team. Germany came fourth at the first of his four World Cups and they were runners-up in 1966 and third in 1970. The team were knocked out early in 1962. As a club player, the blonde star defender from AC Milan helped to take all the major titles to Lombardy. His name: “Carlo il Biondo”, Carlo, the blonde. In Germany, Schnellinger became an amateur international as an 18-year-old whilst playing for his hometown club, SG Düren 99. Seventeen years later at the age of 35, Schnellinger, by now a father of three daughters, retired from the game after playing for the Tennis Borussia team that was relegated from the Bundesliga in 1974. He quickly returned to Milan where he worked as a manager in the electro and catering industries. Schnellinger still lives there today. Carlo has become an Italian.

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“Carlo“ Schnellinger played most successfully with AC Milan from 1965 until 1974 and later remained in Italy as a successful businessman. (Photo: Kunz/Augenklick)


The forgotten sideline figure

Another German newspaper – the “Tagesspiegel” – summed up Schnellinger’s life as follows: “A hero in Italy, he is unknown in Germany. As Karl-Heinz Schnellinger decided to go to Milan in 1963, the exceptionally gifted defender was never given the fame he really deserved in his home country – even though his only international goal made the legendary extra time against Italy possible.” The assessment of the Berlin newspaper is still totally true today. For the older generations, Schnellinger was also an outstanding footballer in Germany too and one people in this day and age would now take their hats off to. His great feats were performed however for AC Milan where he defended alongside Giovanni Trapattoni. But he went largely unnoticed in his home country due to the absence of TV pictures. Now into his retirement, he has long come to terms with not being one of the group of really famous former international players: “I sometimes feel like a forgotten sideline figure in Germany. But in life the most important things are the ones nobody can take away from you. And nobody can take the Mexico goal away from me.”