Before this header, Gerd Muller had played 143 minutes at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ without opening his account. By Der Bomber’s standards, that represented a notable drought.
No-one, after all, traded in goals quite like this supreme predator. Averaging more than one-a-game became his hallmark, in fact, thanks largely to an international career that yielded 68 in 62 appearances, 14 of which came in 13 outings at the biggest tournament of all.
As a result of this spectacular scoring rate, Muller came into the 1974 World Cup accompanied by a huge weight of expectation. Finishing top marksman at Mexico 1970 and the 1972 UEFA European Championship had made that inevitable, as had his astonishing haul of 85 goals in 60 games in 1972 – a single-year record that stood until Lionel Messi eclipsed it 2012.
Like his team, though, the little striker toiled during the first group phase, failing to score in either the tight 1-0 opening win over Chile or the 1-0 loss to East Germany that cost the hosts top spot. The goal captured in this image – an opportunistic header in the intervening 3-0 win over Australia – was nonetheless a sign of better things to come.
It was typical Muller: one of a record seven World Cup goals he converted from inside the six-yard box. In this case, the key to scoring lay in anticipating where Uli Honess’s corner would land and getting there ahead of the taller, more physically imposing players surrounding him. "I had a nose for goals,” Muller said of this skill, “so I was a fraction of a second faster than the defenders.”
It was a priceless talent on which he built a remarkable career, and it proved crucial to West Germany claiming the Trophy on home soil. Muller was after all a man for the big occasion, and having toiled during the first round, he went on to score in all but one of the four matches that followed. In both the victory over Poland that took the hosts to the Final and that memorable decider against the Netherlands – topsy-turvy matches that could have gone either way – it was West Germany's irrepressible No13 who claimed the all-important winning goals.
The second of those strikes, which secured his country’s first world title in two decades, would be Muller’s last in a West Germany shirt. He retired from international football after the 1974 World Cup at the age of just 28. This outstanding striker would, however, go on to win another two European Cups with Bayern Munich in the years that followed, and he bid farewell to the national team – and the World Cup – having made an indelible mark.
As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, a team-mate with both club and country, said recently: "Gerd Muller is one of the all-time greats of world football. There will probably never be another goalscorer like him.”
Did you know?
The 1974 World Cup showcase at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich includes various unique exhibits, including these press armbands from all nine of the tournament’s stadiums.
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) 16. Februar 2017