Czech Republic 1 – 2 Germany (a.e.t.)
Wembley Stadium, 30th June, 1996, London.
It had only been four days since Germany had broken the hearts of 60 million Englishmen, as they beat the host nation on penalties in the semi-final in a highly contested match. After Southgate’s penalty miss in sudden death in the shootout, Andreas Möller blasted the ball into the roof of the net to put Germany through to the final of Euro 96, where they’d be meeting the tournament’s surprise package, the Czech Republic, who were playing their first tournament as an independent state and their first final in 20 years if you count them as Czechoslovakia as well.
This German team was quite unspectacular. Most of the squad were or were approaching the wrong side of 30, with the exception of the wing-backs, Markus Babbel and Christian Ziege, and manager Berti Vogts’ old tactic of the sweeper 5-3-2, with Matthias Sammer at the back, was as unspectacular as it was effective.
The two teams had met previously in the group round, with Germany comfortably winning 2-0, with two first-half goals by Möller and Ziege. At that stage, nobody expected the Czechs to reach the final, although as surprising as it may have been, there was no arguing against the great talent of some of the young Czech players, such as Patrik Berger, Pavel Nedvěd, Vladimír Šmicer and Karel Poborský, the latter of which, had scored a wonderful lob goal against Portugal in the quarter finals.
The match started quite unspectacularly, although Stefan Kuntz had an acrobatic shot cleared off the line and Pavel Kuka was denied by the excellent Andreas Köpke after breaking through one-on-one, albeit at a tight angle. While the Germans still looked more dangerous, the unfamiliarity and rawness of the Czech side made them a threat that could trigger a moment of brilliance at any time.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, after a brief spell of Czech pressure, Germany misplaced a long ball in the middle of the park, which sparked a counterattack by the Czech. Kuka bravely stuck his head on a bouncing ball to put through Poborský on the edge of the area, who was clumsily brought down by Matthias Sammer, who up until then had been Germany’s best player in the tournament. Hungarian referee Sandor Puhl pointed to the spot and, despite the pressure of the occasion, Patrik Berger of Borussia Dortmund powerfully slotted under Köpke to make it 1-0 to the Czechs. Memories of four years earlier undoubtedly entered German minds, when they were beaten in the final by the huge underdogs Denmark. Ten minutes later, Berti Vogts made one of the most inspired substitutions in German football history when he introduced Oliver Bierhoff for Mehmet Scholl.
Bierhoff had only made his debut for the German team in February of that same year, and had only played just over an hour and a half of football in the tournament up until that point, with a cameo appearance against the Czech Republic in the group stage and almost the whole match against Russia, without scoring any goals. Bierhoff’s career, unlike most of the other players in the squad, had been highly unsuccessful in Germany in the Bundesliga. He started his career at Bayer Uerdingen and moved onto Hamburg, where he wasn’t able to make an impression and moved to Austria Salzburg. There, he enjoyed a good season which won him a move to Ascoli in Italy, where he carried on his goalscoring form and signed for Udinese the summer before Euro 96.
Bierhoff’s size (6ft 3”) meant that Germany had an advantage in high balls and that’s exactly what happened a few moments after he stepped onto the Wembley pitch. A free kick outside the area was whipped in by Christian Ziege and Czech goalkeeper Petr Kouba chose not to come out. As the ball was hanging in the air, Bierhoff made his height and excellent heading skills count as he beat his marker and placed his header in the bottom corner past Kouba to make it all square.
Both teams had chances before the end of the 90 minutes but weren’t able to put them away, and extra time was inevitable. Extra time now had an added ingredient, which was the Golden Goal, which meant that the first team to score would win the match. With five minutes gone in the first half of extra time, a long ball was played by the German defence deep into the Czech half. Bierhoff played it down for Klinsmann, who controlled it and crossed it back to Bierhoff, who was heavily marked by the Czech defence. Bierhoff turned on the ball and unleashed a shot with his left foot that was deflected by Michal Horňák, which caught Kouba by surprise. The Czech keeper managed to get a hand to it but the ball inevitably bounced into the net, crowning the Germans champions of Europe for the third time, after the triumphs in 1972 and 1980.
The hero of Wembley was an unexpected one. It wasn’t Klinsmann, Möller or Sammer but Oliver Bierhoff, a man who wasn’t deemed good enough for the Bundesliga and was shipped to Austria at the beginning of his career. Bierhoff went on to make 70 caps for Germany and score 37 goals, playing in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and the 2000 European Championship. He stayed at Udinese until 1998, when he got a move to AC Milan, where he stayed for three years before moving to Monaco and finishing his career at Chievo Verona. Today, Bierhoff is the German national team manager. He will always be remembered for that match and his excellent heading technique, which will have surely have kept the Hamburg coaches scratching their heads about how they missed out on the talents of such a player.