Germany went into the 1980 edition of the European Championships as one of the overwhelming favourites, under new manager Jupp Derwall who had taken from Helmut Schön following the disastrous second phase exit at the hands of Austria in Argentina two years earlier.
Derwall – a footballing pragmatist whose tactics tended to err more often then not on the side of caution – would slowly start to put together a side that would embark on a long unbeaten trail. Performances would be solid rather than spectacular and and functional rather than flamboyant, with the more talented players in the side – such as the young Bernd Schuster – called up only when the style and tactics of the opponent demanded it.
While not pretty to watch a lot of the time – there were some very notable exceptions – Derwall’s team certainly got the results: coming into the 1980 tournament, the 1972 winners and 1976 runners-up had gone fifteen games unbeaten. This would be extended to seventeen following the opening two matches of the tournament: after gaining some small measure of revenge for their 1976 defeat against Czechoslovakia with a tightly-contested 1-0 win, Die Mannschaft would then turn on the style against neighbours and rivals the Netherlands, with Schuster influential in setting up the goals for hat-trick hero Klaus Allofs in a 3-2 win that had seen the Dutch claw back from three goals down.
One point needed
Germany therefore went into their final group match against table-proppers Greece with four points from their two games, but the two late Dutch goals meant that could have been a very healthy goal difference now stood at +2; trailing in their wake were the defending champions Czechoslovakia and the Oranje, both of which stood on two points with a goal difference of +1 and zero respectively.
Unlike two years earlier at the World Cup in Argentina where they had been undone by a late Dutch equaliser in their penultimate match – leaving them with a near impossible task to finish top of their second-phase group – this time around the Mannschaft had their destiny very firmly in their own hands. Any sort of defeat would have left things open for both the Czechs and the Dutch; indeed, were Germany to be beaten a victory by any margin would have been sufficient for the defending champions to sneak into their second successive final.
The requirement was therefore simple: Germany only needed a point against a Greek team that had come out of their first two games with two defeats. This might otherwise have been a simple task, but the rather embarrassing defeat to Austria two years earlier in the World Cup had clearly made its mark on the team who were determined not to take any unnecessary chances. That the Greeks had not even threatened either of their previous two opponents simply failed to register on Nationaltrainer Jupp Derwall’s tactical radar; a point was all that was required, and a point is what they would get, even if it meant putting all eleven men behind the ball against a team that promised to offer no great threat.
Driven by the simple objective of finishing top of the group and securing a place in the final, Derwall went back to a starting eleven that was both highly defensive and utilitarian. Apart from Hansi Müller the midfield would be packed with enforcers, and up front the physically imposing Horst Hrubesch was selected to start alongside Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Meanwhile the two heroes of the previous game against the Netherlands, Bernd Schuster and Klaus Allofs, would both be consigned to the substitutes’ bench.
Although his tactics were never going to set the world alight, it was clear that the coach had a clear purpose: secure the required point, and at the same time save both Allofs and Schuster for the final. Any football that might be played would just be a means to an end; the team were there to win the tournament, not win friends.
Tedium in Torino
On what was a dry June evening in the northern city of Torino, Scottish referee Brian McGinlay led both teams out in front of what was a seriously disappointing crowd of just under fourteen thousand. The Germans were wearing their usual ensemble of white shirts and black shorts, with their Greek opponents in blue and white.
The first five minutes would set the benchmark for the rest of the match, as both sides looked particularly scratchy in what was a congested midfield. The Greeks seemed unable to penetrate the German back line, while Jupp Derwall’s side on the other hand just looked unwilling to do anything that might have resulted in them breaking into a sweat.
It would be ten minutes until the disappointing crowd of just under fourteen thousand would see the first shot on goal, and when it came Takis Nikoloudis tried his utmost to hit a passing satellite. Just moments later Karl-Heinz Rummenigge gave Greek ‘keeper Lefteris Poupakis an easy catch, and when the imposing Horst Hrubesch sent a looping header harmlessly over the bar from just outside the six-yard box on twenty-two minutes it looked as though the Germans didn’t actually want to score.
The Nationalmannschaft were clearly doing all the early running against a static and unimaginative Greek side; while Poupakis was at least given a few opportunities to get his hands on the ball, his German counterpart Harald Schumacher could have very easily gone for a nap behind his goal. Nobody would have noticed.
Just over ten minutes before half-time Greek midfielder Thomas Mavros floated another effort high into the crowd, who were starting to get increasingly restless. Hrubesch continued to send half-chances wide, and even the Scottish referee was starting to look uninterested as he failed to see Poupakis take a big step out of his eighteen-yard box with the ball in his hands.
When the whistle blew to signal the end of the first forty-five minutes, there was a palpable sense of relief across the sparsely-populated stadium; for Nationaltrainer Jupp Derwall however, half of the job had been done.
Caspar the Friendly Ghost
Derwall would make one change at the start of the second half as the Czech-born Mirko Votava came on for Bernd Förster, but it was clear that the plan was to walk through the second half as they had done through the first.
The opening spell of the second half was arguably far more fractured and scrappy than the first, with both sides content to string together no more than four passes before needlessly giving the ball away. Greek midfielder Spiros Livathinos gave Schumacher a gentle wake-up call before Hans-Peter Briegel’s low shot was easily collected by Poupakis, but the most apt summation of the first ten minutes of the half was a Greek free-kick that ended up being harmlessly scuffed straight at the German wall.
With neither side looking to score themselves, the first real opportunity would come some eleven minutes into the half courtesy of a defensive blunder. Libero Uli Stielike punted a long hopeful ball forward, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge set off to chase, and Poupakis – clearly wanting to get in on the action – charged out of his area with no real idea what he was up to.
Having advanced so far down the pitch that he was closer to the halfway line than to his own goal, Poupakis flapped ridiculously as Rummenigge performed his own comedy act. With just the stranded ‘keeper in front of him, the usually clear-headed Bayern München striker was undecided whether to chip him or go for the target; the resulting outcome was neither, and the ball bobbled harmlessly well wide of the right-hand upright.
With sixty-six minutes on the clock the off-colour Rummenigge was replaced by Calle Del’Haye, and so sooner had the change been made Greece carved out their best opportunity of the match. With the German defence having fallen asleep, substitute Giorgos Koudas was able to find himself in space and release a left-footed shot before Bernhard Cullmann could close him down. Fortunately for the Mannschaft the Greek midfielder’s boots had not quite warmed up and his weak effort was easily collected by Schumacher.
The opportunity for the Greeks at one end seemed to spark the Germans into life, as Briegel again charged down the left and inside before sending a firm low shot that was well collected by Poupakis. With the German defence out of shape the Greeks flooded up the field, and after some excellent build-up play Hristos Ardizoglu sent in a well-struck shot that pinged off the left upright with Schumacher beaten.
As the game moved into its last quarter it was the men in blue who were applying the most pressure, as Derwall’s side continued to soak things up. The only man in a white shirt who seemed to be offering anything more than the bare minimum was the hard-working Briegel, who often ended up trying to take on the entire Greek defence by himself.
With just over five minutes remaining there there was finally some action in the Greek box, as Poupakis and defender Lakis Nikolaou attempted to make a sandwich out of Karl-Heinz Förster following a free-kick that had been floating in from the the left by Caspar Memering – who up to that point had been so anonymous he might as well as been called Caspar the Friendly Ghost. The two Greeks seemed to have ended up worst off, testament to Förster’s well-earned reputation as a hard man; having got back to his feet Poupakis did his best impersonation of a man who had been knee-capped, only to then punt the ball effortlessly down the pitch.
With the last five minutes being little more than a procession, it was just a matter of counting down the seconds until what had been billed as a football match trickled towards its inevitable goalless conclusion.
The German media would be less than impressed with the performance and the paltry crowd of fourteen thousand had been bored rigid for most of the ninety minutes, but the point had been secured. In hitting the post the Greeks had done just about enough to give everyone on the German bench a scare, but Jupp Derwall’s side were through to the final – where they would face the surprise package of the tournament, Belgium.