CLASSIC UFWC TITLE MATCH:
Germany 2-3 Sweden, 20 September 1942
Friendly, Olympiastadion, Berlin
Scorers: Lehner, Klingler (Germany); Nyberg, Carlsson, Martensson (Sweden)
After losing 2-1 to Switzerland on Hitler’s birthday a furious Nazi regime warned its players that if they played badly they would be dropped from the squad and sent to the Eastern Front, where they would face almost certain death. With considerable incentive to succeed, the German side recaptured the UFWC title in May 1942, beating Hungary 5-3, before comfortably seeing off Bulgaria (3-0) and Romania (7-0). They were fully expected to brush Sweden aside in a similarly emphatic manner.
The match was particularly controversial because of the Sweden’s continued neutrality in the midst of an ever-escalating war. But, as it had so many times before, football found a way to overcome the conflict, with reports suggesting that Sweden sought, and were granted, safe passage by Britain in order to travel to Berlin for the game.
Before kick-off, in front of 98,000 spectators in the Olympiastadion, the Swedish players lined up with their arms by their sides as the Germans offered Nazi salutes. (This was in stark contrast to events preceding the 1938 match between Germany and England, when, under pressure from the British authorities, the England players shamefully issued a Nazi salute.) Despite the obvious animosity surrounding them, German and Swedish captains Paul Janes and Karl-Erik Grahn sportingly shook hands, and the game got underway, officiated by Danish referee Valdemar Laursen.
Seven minutes into the match, Sweden had the audacity to take the lead through Arne Nyberg of IFK Gothenburg. Of course the Germans were no pushovers, and they fought back to take a 2-1 lead through Ernst Lehner and August Klingler. But Sweden were level before half-time, with AIK Solna forward Henry ‘Smiler’ Carlsson grabbing an equaliser. And the second half belonged to the Swedes, with Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl combining to set up Malte Martensson to score in the 71st minute, sealing a brave victory. Match winner Martensson, of Helsingborgs IF, was known as Black Lightning, due to his quick pace and raven black hair.
The defeat marked the beginning of the end for the Nazi Germany team. ‘100,000 have left the stadium depressed,’ remarked foreign affairs secretary Martin Luther, ‘and because victory in this football match is closer to these people’s hearts than the capture of some city in the East, such an event must be prohibited for the sake of the domestic mood.’
The final straw for the Nazi regime was a non-UFWC defeat to Slovakia in November 1942. The national team was dissolved, and its players were sent to the front line. Skipper Fritz Walter was one of the few who survived. Many of his teammates, including goalscorer August Klingler, lost their lives. Walter subsequently captained the Germans to World Cup victory in 1954, under the apparently rehabilitated coach Herberger.
As for the UFWC, it continued in reduced circumstances, contested for only by occupied or neutral countries. Sweden, Switzerland and Hungary all won the title before war finally brought international football to a complete standstill in November 1943. The final UFWC title match of the period saw Sweden beat Hungary 7-2 There would be no further matches until June 1945.