From the archives: West Germany dominated the best XI, with Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, Günter Netzer, Herbert Wimmer, Jupp Heynckes and Gerd Müller making the cut.
GK: Evgeni Rudakov (Soviet Union)
Rudakov travelled to the 1972 UEFA European Championship as the reigning Soviet Union Player of the Year. Although born in Moscow, the goalkeeper played virtually his entire career at Dynamo Kyiv, winning six Soviet league titles and two domestic cups, conceding just 205 goals in 297 matches. An unused squad member at the 1970 FIFA World Cup, Rudakov was the established first choice by 1972 and enhanced his growing reputation in Belgium, notably with a brilliant late penalty save in the semi-final against Hungary. It preserved the Soviet Union's 1-0 lead and took them through to the final, where they succumbed 3-0 to West Germany.
DF: Revaz Dzodzuashvili (Soviet Union)
The dependable Dzodzuashvili made a name for himself internationally with fine showings at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico and the 1972 UEFA European Championship, where he helped the team to a runners-up spot. An accomplished full-back, he also won a bronze medal with the USSR at the Munich Olympics a few months after the 1972 European finals. Dzodzuashvili was a proud Georgian and stalwart for Dinamo Tbilisi, whom he later coached. He also took charge of the national teams of Georgia, in a joint role with David Kipiani, and Latvia, and guided newly formed Olimpi Rustavi to the 2006/07 Georgian title.
DF: Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)
One of the all-time greats, Beckenbauer confirmed his presence on the international stage when he captained West Germany to their first UEFA European Championship title. With Beckenbauer commanding matters from his new role of sweeper, his team dominated in 1972 and two years later they added a FIFA World Cup on home soil. Beckenbauer led home-town club Bayern München to a hat-trick of victories in the European Champion Clubs' Cup (1974–76) and was twice European Footballer of the Year, in 1972 and 1976. The affable Bavarian went on to prosper as West Germany coach, winning the 1990 World Cup.
DF: Murtaz Khurtsilava (Soviet Union)
Voted Georgia's best player for the period 1954 to 2004, Khurtsilava was a stout, committed central defender who skippered the USSR to the 1972 UEFA European Championship final six years after helping the team to fourth at the FIFA World Cup in England. He also appeared at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico and the 1972 Munich Olympics, claiming bronze, earning 70 caps in all. He never won the Soviet title with his beloved Dinamo Tbilisi but did coach the club to back-to-back Georgian championship wins in 1998 and 1999. He also had a spell as assistant to Aleksandr Chivadze with the Georgian national team.
DF: Paul Breitner (West Germany)
Never afraid to make his opinion known off the field, Breitner let his football do the talking on it. The 1972 UEFA European Championship was the competition that first brought him, his beard and frizzy hair into the public eye and the attack-minded left-back was still a regular as Helmut Schön's side won the FIFA World Cup two years later, scoring the equalising penalty in the final against the Netherlands. He left Bayern for Real Madrid in 1974 but returned to the club in 1978 and, now a midfielder, his 48th and last cap came in the 1982 World Cup final against Italy. As in 1974 he scored, but this time it was just a consolation.
MF: Uli Hoeness (West Germany)
Hoeness was forced into retirement aged 27, but if his playing career was short, it was certainly sweet. Between 1971 and 1976 he crammed three Bundesliga titles and three European Champion Clubs' Cups with Bayern München and helped West Germany to victory in the 1972 UEFA European Championship and the 1974 FIFA World Cup. There might also have been a second European victory in 1976 had the midfielder not fired his penalty high over the bar in the final shoot-out against Czechoslovakia. A knee injury all but ended his playing career soon after.
MF: Günter Netzer (West Germany)
With his imperious touch, vision and passing skills, not to mention a mane of striking blond hair, Borussia Mönchengladbach playmaker Netzer immediately caught the eye and was first capped in 1965. He really announced himself with the 1972 UEFA European Championship, though. A legendary performance against England at Wembley in the quarter-final first leg, which brought West Germany their debut win at the venue, was followed by superlative displays in the semi-final against Belgium and the decider with the USSR. A relative success at Real Madrid, winning two titles, 1972 was unquestionably the pinnacle of his career.
MF: Herbert Wimmer (West Germany)
Often branded Günter Netzer's minder, Wimmer protected his club-mate by doing much of his running and ball-winning. He spent his entire career with VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, playing 366 Bundesliga games and winning five titles and the 1975 UEFA Cup. He represented his country 36 times, most notably at the 1972 UEFA European Championship where, for once, he stole some of Netzer's thunder by scoring West Germany's second goal in the final against the Soviet Union. An energetic player who never ran out of steam, Wimmer was, like Netzer, used sparingly at the 1974 FIFA World Cup, making only two substitute appearances.
FW: Raoul Lambert (Belgium)
Belgium had two top-class strikers in their 1972 UEFA European Championship side. The captain, Anderlecht's Paul Van Himst, was the more celebrated of the two, but Lambert outshone him. Lambert registered Belgium's opener in the 2-1 win over Hungary in the third-place play-off, one of 18 international goals in 33 appearances for the Red Devils. He also found the net in each of his two games at the 1970 FIFA World Cup. 'Lotte' spent his whole career with Club Brugge, scoring 270 goals in 458 matches and was the leading marksman in Belgium's top flight in 1971/72 finals with 17 strikes.
FW: Jupp Heynckes (West Germany)
A prolific goalscorer at club level with VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, with whom he won four German titles and the 1975 UEFA Cup, Heynckes was unlucky to be around at the same time as Gerd Müller. 'Der Bomber' was always the first-choice striker for West Germany, but in 1972, unlike at the FIFA World Cups before and after, coach Helmut Schön decided to pair the two deadly marksmen together. In all Heynckes scored 14 goals in 39 appearances for West Germany, 220 in 365 Bundesliga matches and 51 in 64 European club games. He became a coach, winning the UEFA Champions League in 1998 and 2013, retiring after the latter.
FW: Gerd Müller (West Germany)
Perhaps football's greatest goalscorer, Müller scored 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games for Bayern München, 66 in 74 European club matches and, most astonishing of all, 68 in 62 internationals. Eleven came during the 1972 UEFA European Championship campaign, including two in the final against the Soviet Union. Both were classic opportunist goals, or "kleine tore" as coach Helmut Schön often referred to Müller's predatory strikes. He won the 1970 Ballon d'Or after ten goals at the FIFA World Cup, and added four more a the 1974 tournament, including the winner in the final against the Netherlands. It was Der Bomber's last goal for his country as, aged 28, he retired from international football citing personal reasons.