As far as international goalscorers go, there have been few as prolific as German icon Gerd Muller, who we profile in our latest World Cup icons feature
Turning out at two World Cups for West Germany in 1970 and 1974, the striker held the all-time tournament goal record with 14 for a total of 32 years before being surpassed by Ronaldo Nazario in 2006 and then compatriot Miroslav Klose in 2014.
Relatively short in stature and somewhat unassuming in his appearance and style of play, Muller came alive in the box with phenomenal goalscoring instincts. A lethal finisher with both feet and in the air, Muller boasted great acceleration which made him an awkward and elusive proposition for defenders.
Muller’s association with the grandest competition in world football began in Mexico in 1970. Already a consistent goalscorer at domestic giants Bayern Munich, Muller joined ranks with a rapidly-improving West Germany side who had narrowly missed out on World Cup glory four years earlier in the final against England.
The 1970 Finals would see Muller, nicknamed ‘Der Bomber’ in his homeland, truly announce himself on the world stage. Getting off the mark with the winner in West Germany’s 2-1 victory over Morocco in their opening game, Muller would follow this up with back-to-back hattricks against Bulgaria and Peru in a scintillating start to his debut World Cup campaign.
The subsequent two rounds would see Muller and West Germany play out two World Cup classics.
Meeting England in the quarter-finals, a repeat of the 1966 World Cup final, West Germany found themselves 2-0 down early in the second half and on the brink of elimination.
The Germans dug deep, however, with the inspirational Franz Beckenbauer igniting a stunning comeback with a brilliant goal to get his side back in the game. Muller himself would complete the turnaround in extra time, netting the winner in the 108th minute to make it 3-2 and send West Germany into the semis.
Italy lay in store for West Germany in the last four, in what would go down as the ‘Game of the Century’. With the Germans grabbing a last-minute equaliser through Karl-Heinz Schellinger, the teams were locked at 1-1 heading into extra-time. The tie then exploded into life in unprecedented fashion, with a flurry of four goals in 19 minutes seeing Italy prevail 4-3 in a thriller at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
West Germany’s two goals in extra-time came courtesy of their talismanic striker Muller, with the Bayern Munich hitman finishing the tournament on 10 goals to take home the Golden Boot. The Germans would also go on to beat Uruguay 1-0 to win the third place playoff.
Finishing as runners-up in England in ’66 and in third place in Mexico in ‘70, West Germany were desperate to finally claim their second World Cup crown at a home Finals in 1974.
The Germans certainly had a squad capable of doing so, heading into the tournament as reigning European champions having won the Euros two years previously in 1972.
Led by world star Beckenbauer at the back with one of the most feared strikers in the world leading the line in Muller, West Germany looked a force to be reckoned with.
The Germans would make a relatively slow start to the tournament, however, succumbing to a shocking defeat to East Germany to finish second in their group in the first round. They would improve in the knockout rounds though, with successive victories over Yugoslavia, Sweden and Poland booking their place in the World Cup final to face a much-fancied Netherlands side.
Whilst very much still contributing to the cause with three goals in the opening two rounds, 'Der Bomber' hadn’t quite been able to replicate his devastating goalscoring exploits from four years previous in Mexico.
His comparable lack of goals would ultimately prove immaterial following the World Cup final of 1974 at the Olympiastadion in Berlin, however. Lining up against a Johan Cruyff-inspired Netherlands side who had wowed with their ‘Total Football’ style throughout the tournament, beating both Argentina and Brazil in the second round, West Germany were regarded by many as underdogs for the final despite being at home.
The Dutch certainly got off to a good start in the showpiece clash, with Johan Neeskens dispatching a penalty to put the Netherlands 1-0 up in the 2nd minute after Cruyff had smartly drawn a foul in the box. The Germans would respond with a penalty of their own on the 25-minute mark, with standout midfielder Paul Breitner keeping his cool from the spot.
The World Cup final of 1974 would ultimately be decided in the 43rd minute, courtesy of one of the finest goalscorers the competition has ever seen. Grabbing the winning goal in trademark fashion, finding half a yard in the box before drilling the ball home with conviction, Muller would etch his name into international football folklore forever.
Still at the peak of his powers aged 28, the 1974 World Cup final would prove to be the striker’s final outing for his country following a dispute with the German FA. Finishing his international career with the biggest prize of all, Muller retired as West Germany’s record goalscorer with a staggering 68 goals from 62 appearances. It would take almost 40 years for this record to be broken by Miroslav Klose in 2014.