Every footballing nation – and probably every team to play the beautiful game around the world – has matches that bring to mind particularly special memories, whether negative or positive. The Germans, for example, always enjoy recalling the 1954 World Cup Final, better known as the ‘Miracle of Bern’, while since 2014 the Brazilians have been attempting to process their 7-1 World Cup semi-final thrashing in front of a home crowd at the hands of the eventual world champions.
Even the four-time World Cup winners’ immediate neighbours Austria have special recollections of facing their long-time rivals. Whenever these two nations meet, football aficionados rummage through the history books to reference Austria’s 3-2 win at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
At that point, it had been 37 years since Die Rot-Weiss-Roten had last got the better of their more powerful big brother and then reigning world champions. This dispiriting run was finally brought to an end thanks in no small part to the efforts of striker Hans Krankl, whose brace elevated him to legendary status in his home country. The encounter is remembered as the ‘Miracle of Cordoba’ by one set of fans and the ‘Shame of Cordoba’ by the other.
“Back then we had the best [Austrian] national team of all time!” Krankl once said. “We flew to Argentina without any great expectations. We arrived as nobodies and proved that even a small footballing country can spring surprises. The highlight of it all was the match at Cordoba,” he recalled, before sounding a note of criticism about his nation’s record against the Germans: “We won once in 50 years – that was it.”
Krankl did not intend his comments to diminish the significance of the game. Instead, he was seeking to highlight how little the balance of power between the two nations has shifted in the intervening years, a fact that makes this unforgettable victory of scant consolation to long-suffering Austrian fans.
From Vienna to Barcelona...
In contrast, the game marked a breakthrough for the then 25-year-old, whose four World Cup goals prompted Barcelona to lure the striker to Spain. Krankl signed his new contract just seven days after the triumph over Germany. Strangely enough, he had already agreed terms with league rivals Valencia before Barcelona realised that his exceptional shooting ability, formidable left foot and aerial strength were reason enough to declare an interest of their own. He has since admitted that the decision to join the Catalan club was not a difficult one.
Krankl faced high expectations when arriving on the Iberian Peninsula. In the season before the World Cup, he proved his exceptional quality by netting 41 goals for Rapid Vienna and ending the season as Europe’s most prolific goalscorer. In the same year, he finished second only to England’s Kevin Keegan in the vote for European Footballer of the Year.
‘Hansi-Burli’, as he was affectionately known in his homeland, shrugged off the pressure effortlessly to score 29 of Barcelona’s 69 league goals in his first season and even surpassed the then record set by the legendary Alfredo di Stefano back in 1957.
Barça coach Lucien Muller was full of praise for his latest star, declaring him to be “the best left-footed player I’ve seen since Ferenc Puskas.” Krankl himself described Barcelona as “paradise – the best thing that could happen to a player.” He spent two years in the club’s distinctive red and blue strip and even managed to torment the Germans once again, scoring the game’s penultimate and ultimately decisive goal in a 4-3 win against Fortuna Dusseldorf in the 1979 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final.
...and back again
Nevertheless, after a less successful second campaign in Catalonia, it was time for Krankl – who had even tried his hand as a goalkeeper as a 15-year-old – to return to his birthplace of Vienna and to Rapid, where his career began and where he felt most at home. By the time he hung up his boots, he had made 449 appearances for the Green and Whites, scoring 336 times along the way. In 1999 he was not only voted into Rapid’s team of the century but was also recognised as the club’s best player of the past hundred years. Appreciation for Krankl extended well beyond his hometown, and he was named Austria’s Footballer of the Year on five separate occasions – 1973, 1974, 1977, 1982 and 1988.
No sooner had his playing career drawn to a close than Krankl began a coaching career that did not bring him comparable success. He managed ten sides between 1989 and 2009, including a three-year stint at the helm of the Austrian national team. “I had my time. I had my successes – or failures, as my critics liked to call them,” he said, before adding with a smile: “My greatest achievement was 40 years of marriage.”
But Krankl’s talents extend beyond the football pitch. Since the 1970s he has also enjoyed success as a singer, releasing songs such as ‘Der Bätmän bin I’ and the Paul Anka cover ‘Lonely Boy’, which peaked at number two in the Austrian charts in January 1986. He was also a regular feature in the country’s artistic and intellectual circles.
Despite his many talents, the ‘Goleador’, ‘Saviour of Austrian Football’, ‘Hanse’, ‘Nachtfalke’ (Nighthawk) or ‘Graue Bomber’ (Grey Bomber) – to list just some of his many nicknames – will always remain a hero of Austria football, in no small part due to, or even precisely because of, the ‘Miracle of Cordoba’.
Did You Know?
One of Krankl’s most famous sayings was: “We have to win the match, everything else is primary.”
Krankl scored six goals for Austria in a single match during an emphatic 9-0 victory over Malta in 1977 - a feat none of his compatriots have yet matched.
Krankl embarked on a musical career under the pseudonym ‘Johann K.’ from 1986 onwards, having already recorded two songs while still a player. Between 1974 and 2008, he released three albums and nine singles.
Krankl remained true to his homeland for much of his career. In 20 years as a professional footballer, the father of three played for seven different clubs, with all except Barcelona located in Austria.