Forgotten Trinkets – The Legend of Breslau-XI

In the second episode of this series, Subhodip Basu follows the fortunes of the German national team through the late 30s


The Bloom in Defeat

Football in Germany, though immensely popular from the turn of the 20th century, took time to reach world-class levels. This was not helped by the virtual ostracising of Germany from international sport post World War I. It was also not amongst Adolf Hitler’s favourite sporting disciplines, allegedly due to its English origins and professional stature. The prevailing German zeitgeist was more aligned to participative and amateur disciplines. Sport was considered a tool for physical development and character building, and Gymnastics sat at the centre of this line of thinking, widely promoted by the Nazi hierarchy as well.


.To make things worse, Germany suffered a defeat to lowly Norway in the Berlin Olympics, with Hitler watching. This was unpardonable, especially in an event which was used as a propaganda tool. Hence, off went Otto Nerz, the German trainer, to be replaced by his protégé Sepp Herberger. Fortunately, along with Nerz, German football’s obsession with English style of play also came to a happy end and a football philosophy inspired by a bunch of footballers with highly left wing backgrounds from Gelsenkirchen took shape in a right wing Third Reich.

Sepp, of course, was a man with no real political alignment. He understood and lived just one thing, football. Thus began the most attractive phase in German football {till the (Franz) Beckenbauer and (Günter) Netzer inspired 1972 team} under Sepp, who in later years became an embodiment of the German ‘functional’ style of football. What’s more, it was made possible by a team which was almost entirely crafted by Nerz himself.

 Making of the Legend

On the afternoon of May 16, 1937, Germany took on a decent Denmark team in Breslau (now Wroclow in Poland). After an opening goal by Ernst Lehner, a stunning volley, Otto Siffling scored five in 32 minutes, a sort of record in amatch between two established footballing nations. Left wing Adolf Urban scored the seventh and sentimental favourite Fritz Szepan rounded off the tally. The legend of Breslau-Elf (Breslau eleven) was born. The team went on to win 10 of 11 matches, the most successful run by any European team against continental opposition in that decade. It was too good to last.

Breslau Elf before the Denmark Match, 16.05.1937

What made the Breslau-Elf different? For one, they completely abandoned the traditional English obsession of German teams and adopted a more fluid and skill- intensive strategy. The strategy itself was a mesh of the Austro/Danubian passing game, fondly named as ’Schieberl’ and the ’Kreisel’ or ’Spinning Top’ tactics by Schalke 04. Schalke 04 was the strongest German club at the time, winning five titles in 7 years. Their key inspiration was the duo of Fritz Szepan and Ernest Kuzorra. Herberger built his forward line around the Schalke 04 players, with three of them –Rudolf Gellesch, Urban and Szepan playing together in most matches. It also gave a fresh lease of life to Szepan himself, who was known to underperform internationally. Kuzorra, the genius, was sadly considered too old. However, trouble was on the horizon.

 The Destruction in Victory

In early 1938, Germany annexed Austria under Fuhrer’s ‘recommended’ policy of Anschluss. Part of the package was a visible display of solidarity with annexed territories. Hence, Herberger was ‘advised’ that the national team should have five or six Austrians with the balance being German. It was a strategy doomed for disaster.

The omens were borne out in April ’38, in the last ’official’ game between Germany and Austria. After a boring first half, where the players were allegedly asked not to score, the Austrians broke free with goals by Karl Sesta and Matthias Sindelar. Sindelar, no lover of anything German, and arguably the greatest player of his generation, followed up his goal with a victory jig in front of the Nazi box for good measure. Herberger was harbouring no illusions.

However, this was still Nazi Germany and he was just the Geschäftsführer (manager), not the Führer himself. He duly obliged in the opening game of the 1938 World Cup against Switzerland. Although the first game was drawn, there was inevitability about the ultimate result. The Austrians would not pass the Germans and perhaps even rejoiced the loss in private. The Germans, long tired of the big headedness of the Austrians, and perhaps even peeved that their high performing team had been broken up, would be no angels either. So Switzerland, the perfect opponent, both politically, due to their neutral stance, and in football terms, as the Germans hardly lost to them, ended up eliminating them in replay. This remains the worst German performance in a World Cup.

 The Players

Like all great teams, they had both class and depth in each position. Hans Jakob who typically kept goal, was a worthy successor to Fritz Herkenrath. Jakob kept 11 clean sheets in his 38 games, not a mean feat in those days, with Germany having just eight defeats in those games. Rudolf Raftl was an able ally.

In defence, there was Paul Janes, Germany’s best defender before Beckenbauer, and perhaps the best full-back in his era. Unlike his contemporaries, he was an outstanding dead ball shooter who frequently scored. Janes formed a very effective partnership with Reinhold Munzenburg, who was equally at ease at both full-back and centre-half and was one of the best athletes amongst footballers in his era.

Paul Janes, Germany’s best defender before Beckenbauer

At half-back, were the Schweinfurt twins, Andreas Kupfer and Albin Kitzinger. Kupfer was the more elegant of the two while latter was a box-to-box dynamo. Between them was Ludwig Goldbrunner, the first Bayern superstar. Rudi Gramlich, their captain in 1936, was a skilful half-back who perhaps bore the brunt of the Olympic disaster. All defenders and half-backs were frequently chosen in representative teams for Europe, though due to politics of the time, they rarely participated.

For most of the 30s, their best forward was Ernst Lehner, extremely fast, modern winger of his time with a great goal-scoring record. He was often referred to as the best amateur player in Europe. On the left side there was equally prolific Adolf Urban, of Schalke 04. Urban was soon to be drafted and died a lonely death like many of his comrades, in Russia.

The classy Kuzorra missed out on the Breslau-Elf stretch of 10 wins but was picked off and on till ’38 while continuing to shine for Schalke 04. He was still there to take Schalke 04 to their customary national title even in 1940. His brother-in-law Fritz Szepan, was arguably Germany’s greatest player before the war and one of the global greats of all time. Szepan was versatile enough to play more than 20 internationals as a centre-half. He was at his best, however, at inside-left. The other inside was another Schalke 04 man,Gellesch.

The team had a surplus of classy strikers. There was Otto Siffling of Mannheim, a mobile inside-forward who abhorred physical play. Tragically he died within two years of his 5-goal performance, of pleurisy, when just 27. Josef Gauchel was slightly older and a more classical no. 9 than Siffling but with an equally good strike rate. There was also, Karl Hohmann, the third high-scoring forward who perhaps lost his place to Siffling. Edmund Conen, their top-scorer in 1934 World Cup, played off and on till 1940.

 Until Better Days

Despite the crushing defeat in 1938, Herberger thankfully remained at the helm. Also, with Austrian clubs getting more success in the unified national championships, the tensions between the two sets of players were beginning to reduce to a more manageable level. So, skilful Austrians like inside Wilhelm Hahnemann, winger Hans Pesser, full-back Sesta and most notably the legendary Franz Binder (of the 1000-goal fame) began to form the core of the German team. However, Germany mostly played weaker football nations as the established powers were beginning to shun sporting contact with Germany. So the strength of the team remained untested post the ’38 World Cup.

As the new decade kicked in, the trickle of football players to the army turned to a torrent. Herberger, a football man through and through, tried his best to keep a tab of his stars and by some accounts even succeeded in influencing the authorities to keep some from the deadly eastern front. Within this mayhem, two fresh high-scoring inside-forwards debuted and managed to play a clutch of games before being drafted. One, a classy thinking ballplayer from an aristocratic family in Dresden, called Helmut Schoen, who scored 16 goals in seventeen games. The other, a proletarian from Kaiserslautern, called Fritz Walter. Between them and Herberger himself, they introduced such an era of consistent German dominance that the Breslau-Elf soon faded as a forgotten relic in German conscience.

Roberto Baggio and the Essence of Buddhism

There are a few footballers who transcend the boundaries of victory and defeat with the sheer joy of their skill. Il Divin Codino was one of them. Deepanjan Deb pays his homage

Date: July 17, 1994

Place: Rosebowl Stadium, Pasadena, California, USA

Occasion: World Cup Final

Competing Teams: Brazil vs Italy

At Stake: Being the first team to win the most coveted trophy in World football four times

At the heart of two of the world’s finest teams were two players who had almost single-handedly been responsible for both their teams reaching the final; Romario for Brazil and Roberto Baggio for Italy. In Romario’s case he was blessed with a magical Brazilian team that had flair and effectiveness spread all over their squad, not pretty much different from the Brazilian teams of the past. Contrariwise, without Baggio, Italy pretty much would have been knocked out early in the tournament. An inspirational performance from their talismanic striker, the then incumbent World Player of the Year was the reason Italy progressed to the finals beating some magnificent teams on the way. And as fate would have promised, the world’s biggest tournament was rather harshly to be decided by a penalty shootout – for the first time in the history of the tournament – as 120 minutes of football could not separate the two best teams on the planet. With Brazil leading 3-2 after four shots each, it was left to Baggio to force a Brazilian player to take the fifth shot and win the World Cup for Brazil. And then came the moment: the world’s most celebrated footballer shot the ball into the sky which handed Brazil the coveted World Cup for the fourth time in their glorious history. The man who was the reason for Italy playing the World Cup final suddenly became “the player who cost Italy the World Cup final”. It just took a kick to change a life…..the life of Roberto Baggio was never the same after that eternal shot at the Rosebowl.


The story of Roberto Baggio is not the story of a failed penalty kick but is the story of perhaps Italy’s most celebrated footballer, a global superstar whose rise and fall from grace can echo the behavioural pattern of a sinusoidal curve. He was one of the finest attacking players to have come out of Italy and remains the only Italian player ever to score in three different World Cups. Yet amidst all the hoopla surrounding his increasing fan base, Baggio managed to retain a halo of calmness which was attributed to his Buddhist background. The only Buddhist in a team of Catholics, Baggio practised Buddhism with so much devotion that it earned him his nickname The Divine Ponytail.

Born to a family of eight brothers, Baggio showed passion for the beautiful game very early in his childhood. Having progressed through the Italian junior national team, Baggio was developing into a world class talent at Fiorentina. However, hit by injury in 1987, his outlook towards life changed when a touch of fate introduced him to the world of Buddhism. One fine morning, he went to his friend Morrichio and told him of his intentions to turn a Buddhist. Against vehement protests from his religiously catholic family, Baggio became a practising Buddhist and was never the same person again. As Buddhism entails calmness into his life, Baggio became involved in the deeper inner meanings of life which his family members slowly started to understand and more importantly, accept. Meditation became a part and parcel of his life and despite his hectic playing schedules, Baggio never forgot to meditate.





The lives of many great men and women like Steven Seagal, Richard Gere, Tiger Woods and Tina Turner among many other global celebrities have been influenced by the Buddhist philosophy which is why we see an increasing number of people turning to meditation to seek divine peace – something that always seems to be missing from the perils of a fast-paced modern life. The essence of Buddhism is a path that alters an individual’s thinking process to experience reality silently: deep into the subconscious mind one becomes aware of the inner meaning of life, the ground reality of life where experience and the experienced share the same sound of music – that of harmony and peace.  Roberto Baggio’s love and devotion towards Buddhism became stronger with time. Buddhism taught him life and its inner meaning: “Life is a struggle and its truths are not always pleasant”. His attitude towards pain and struggle changed. Buddhism increased his level of tolerance and he began to take up challenges rather than run away from them. At one point of time, injuries became a synchronized series of progression in his life and he contemplated giving up football, but his Buddhist inner-self told him to not accept failure, rather realise that life is a challenge. This gave him the strength to face sterner challenges as he became the star of Juventus and the future of Italian football.

Since his high profile transfer to Juventus from Fiorentina post the 1990 World Cup , Baggio went on to become the toast of world football winning the Scudettoand the UEFA Cup and being named the World Player of the Year in 1993. But the world turned upside down for the mercurial genius with one penalty kick that virtually transformed him to an anti-hero from a superhero. There were even talks that if he would have been a Christian he would not have missed that penalty. Baggio took all that in his stride silently and he later said that his Buddhist values had made him handle his toughest days with serenity. He was saddened by the fact that before him two of his other team-mates had also missed penalties in the shoot-out and even if he had scored, an Italian victory was not assured as a Brazilian was supposed to take the next kick. Yet he was tagged as “The Man who cost Italy the World Cup”. Sadly, very few failed to even think for a minute that without Baggio, Italy would not have ever reached the finals. Such is life: it takes a second to wipe out years of earned respect, pride and prestige.



Roberto Baggio



As a young 9-year-old watching his favourite footballer miss a penalty, I remember crying alone at 3 a.m. in the night India time, and my parents getting up to console me, assuring me that Baggio will score again in the next World Cup. I asked them, “But that is four years later. Will he play? Will Italy win?” He played, he scored a penalty but Italy did not win the World Cup. Cesare Maldini preferred Alessandro Del Piero over Baggio in most of the matches which led to severe criticism. That was virtually the last act the world would witness of the most gifted Italian footballer of our generation in a national t-shirt. He played for Brescia till 2004 before fading gloriously into a retired life where his wife and his two children form the fulcrum of his daily existence. And of course, what has remained with him is his tryst with Buddhism – the reason he cites for his faithfulness to his wife Andreina and his non-involvement in any kind of scandal.

What also remains with him is the memory of a shot which is probably the reason he named his autobiography “Una Porta Nel Cielo” (A Goal in the Sky). No one can take away the pain of that moment from him but his Buddhist self will help him maintain his composure and regain poise whenever the pain haunts him.


Nine or Ten ?

Match Facts

Group B: Denmark vs. Portugal

Wednesday June 13, 2012

7 pm Local Time,

Arena Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine

Two adjacent FIFA ranking teams, Denmark (ranked 9) and Portugal (ranked 10) will be clashing against each other today at Lviv, Ukraine. Both teams will be playing their second game in the “Group of Death”. Denmark will be starting high on confidence, since they are already at the top of the group after defeating the mighty Netherlands in their last game. On the other hand, Portugal, having lost their first game against Germany by a late Mario Gomez goal, will have to win this game at any cost to ensure a finite probability of progression to the quarterfinals. The last time these two teams met was during the Euro qualifying Group H games, when Denmark defeated Portugal by a margin of 2-1 at Copenhagen. The last four encounters between these two teams resulted in two wins for Denmark and one for Portugal – thus, Denmark are clearly not starting as underdogs.

Denmark will be playing almost the same team that emerged winners against the 2010 World Cup Finalists. The only change might be Michael Silberbauer, who successfully marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the match at Copenhagen. At the front, the Danes will be looking towards Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer from the Dutch game as well as Niklas Bendtner for converting chances. They will take every opportunity to build a solid counter-attack and score. Portugal, on the other hand, will be relying on Cristiano Ronaldo heavily for registering their first win at the European Championship. Nani, who had scored 3 international goals against Denmark will also be a key factor for the Portugese. Hugo Almeida has recovered and will probably replace Helder Postiga, after the latter failed to make even a single impact against Germany.



Time to lead from the front


Form Guide

Denmark is in peak form after winning the last two international encounters against Australia and Netherlands.

Last 5 games: WLLWW

Portugal is having a nightmare time with just one win over the last 5 games. Consecutive losses to Turkey and Germany will surely decline their spirits. Moreover, as in the previous 3 games, Portugal hasn’t scored in their last game.

Last 5 games: DWDDLL


Team Formation

Denmark (4-2-3-1): Stephan Andersen Michael Silberbauer, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling, William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi, Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl, Nicklas Bendtner

Manager: Morten Olsen

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira; Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida, Nani

Manager: Paulo Bento



“We have closed down Cristiano Ronaldo before and we firmly believe we can do it again” – Simon Kjaer


“Losing is a word we can’t even let enter our minds” — Miguel Veloso