European champions Italy finished runners-up at the 1970 FIFA World Cup, but they were far from favourites to defend their European title in 1972. Further north, West Germany coach Helmut Schön was assembling a team many regard as the greatest to grace the competition and Germany's best ever side.
Drawing the best elements from Bundesliga titans FC Bayern München and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, Schön crafted an awesome lineup. Franz Beckenbauer dropped back to become the first of the great attacking sweepers; attacking left-back Paul Breitner and forward Uli Hoeness were superb young additions and Günter Netzer was recalled to add flair, arrogance and flowing blond locks to the midfield.
Leading the line, of course, was 'Der Bomber' himself, Gerd Müller. A supreme finisher, he was at the height of his powers and scored six in the qualifying group as West Germany romped into the quarter-finals. There they faced old rivals England and confirmed their class with a 3-1 victory at Wembley, their first at the famous stadium. Müller contributed one of the goals and a 0-0 stalemate in the return leg meant West Germany were through to the main event.
The other semi-finalists appeared to be no more than a supporting cast, and even though the Soviet Union reached the latter stages for the fourth time in succession with another win over Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals, they were not the team they used to be. Similarly, hosts Belgium lost midfield general Wilfried Van Moer to a broken leg as they upset holders Italy and Hungary needed a play-off to defeat Romania, their side shorn of the dazzling individuals of old.
Home advantage failed to serve the Belgians in the same way it helped Spain and Italy in the two previous editions and their dreams were extinguished in Antwerp as Müller struck twice for the Germans in a 2-1 triumph. With that, the job of stopping the German juggernaut ultimately fell to the Soviets, who edged past Hungary in Brussels courtesy of an Anatoli Konkov effort. Before the two title hopefuls could meet, though, Belgium earned themselves a place on the podium by seeing off Hungary 2-1 in the third-place play-off.
The final itself was a one-sided affair, with Netzer and Beckenbauer imperious in midfield and Müller helping himself to yet another brace. Herbert Wimmer scored the other goal as the Germans celebrated a resounding 3-0 success, the largest margin of victory in a UEFA European Championship final until 2012. "Everything worked," recalled Müller. "We had a good harmony and understood each other very well. That also goes for when we were on the pitch. You cannot ask for more." The foundations had been laid for West Germany's FIFA World Cup success two years later.
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