Remembering Germany’s 1996 Euros Championship

Germany’s Euro 96 Triumph Joachim Löw’s Germany is a dynamic unit, with technically gifted players producing attractive attacking football. Twenty-years-ago, a different strand of the German footballing tradition prevailed. Die Mannschaft’s victory in Euro 96 showed the best of German grit, underdog spirit and defiance in adversity.

The tournament also had great sentimental significance for the nation. The first championship won by a team consisting of players from both West and East, it acted as a nation building exercise, helping heal some of the economic and political fissures of reunification.

Decline after 1990

Germany became world champions in Italy in 1990, under the stewardship of Franz Beckenbauer. The departing manager felt that the new Germany, thereafter integrating the finest players from the former GDR, could “probably be unbeatable for years.”

Bertie Vogts was the man in charge of taking Germany through this exciting new era. He had a legendary career playing as a rugged defender, winning 96 caps for Germany, and playing a part in the successful 1974 World Cup campaign.

Vogts’ reign started in a positive fashion. His German side reached the final of Euro 92 in Sweden. However, they were stunned in the final, where the unfancied Demark triumphed. This defeat seemed to have dented the self-belief in the German team. Two years later, they would crash out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals after being defeated by a spirited Bulgaria team.

There was a perception that Germany was a team in transition, a far cry from the world-beaters they once were. Vogts was largely blamed for the decline, with his management style being seen as ugly and defensive. He went into Euro 96 with serious question marks around him.

Injury Crisis

Germany certainly weren’t helped by a glut of injuries before and during the tournament. Captain Jürgen Kohler only played 14 minutes of the opening match before bowing out with a collateral ligament injury. Prolific striker Jürgen Klinsmann became injured in the quarter-final, making a rushed return in the final. Midfielder Steffen Freund missed the final due to injury. Similarly, midfield enforcer Dieter Eilts was carried off injured during the final. On top of this, the lethal attacking midfielder Andreas Möller missed out on the final due to suspension.

Such was the shortage of players, that the reserve goalkeepers were given outfield kits for the final in case they would be needed to make up the numbers.

Strong Start

Despite the setbacks, Vogts managed to mould a solid team that played to its strengths. He employed a 5-1-2-2 formation, which hinged on the classy GDR born sweeper Matthias Sammer. Very much emulating the Beckenbauer role of the 1974 German side, he strictly marshalled his fellow centre-backs Thomas Helmer and Markus Babbel. He was also effective going forward, picking out penetrating passes to the roaming forwards Klinsmann and Stefan Kuntz.

The Germans started convincingly in the opening match, despite missing Klinsmann through suspension. They romped to a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Christian Ziege and Andreas Möller.

They were even better in their second match against Russia. Klinsmann showed why he was so valuable to the team, scoring two goals in the 3-0 victory.

Germany went into the final group stage match against Italy high on confidence. They were already assured of finishing top of the group, whilst Italy needed a victory in order to advance. A determined rear-guarded performance helped Germany carve out a 0-0 draw, knocking the Azzurri out.

This set up a quarter-final clash with Croatia in Manchester. Croatia were playing in their first tournament since gaining independence. Nevertheless, they boasted an incredibly talented roster of players, and had thrashed reigning champions Denmark to reach this stage.

Klinsmann gave Germany the lead with a penalty after twenty minutes. Croatia showed their quality, though, and Sevilla striker Šuker equalised in the second half. At this point, the Croats looked in the ascendancy, only for their centre-back Štimac to be sent off in the 51st minute. Minutes later, Germany made the advantage count, with Sammer scoring the winning goal.

Epic England Clash

The Germans now faced their biggest test. The hosts England were riding high after their 4-1 destruction of the Dutch, bolstered by a passionate home support. The Germans entered a frenzied Wembley, the anthem “Football’s Coming Home” being belted out by the joyous crowd.

Klinsmann recalls: “There was a tremendous atmosphere – above all, coming from the English fans who sang all the way through the game. It was fantastic, it got under your skin.”

Wembley only became more fevered as Alan Shearer put England in front after three minutes. The Germans rallied, though, showing tremendous spirit to equalise on 16 minutes thanks to a strike from Kuntz.

The rest of the match ebbed and flowed as the teams attempted to deal the knockout blow. In truth, Germany rode their luck, as England missed a couple of clear-cut chances. In particular, Paul Gascoigne was inches wide from scoring a Golden Goal in extra time. Arguably he should have converted. As it was, Germany held on and the match went into penalties.

It was reminiscent of the famous semi-final clash in the 1990 World Cup. The Germans showed tremendous calm, confidently converting all of their penalties, before England’s Gareth Southgate missed his decisive penalty.

Lifting the Henri Delaunay Trophy

The final was a repeat of Germany’s opening game against the Czech Republic. The Germans went into the game as slight favourites. However, the injuries and suspensions had piled up. Furthermore, the Czechs had immense quality in their ranks, including winger Karel Poborský.

Yet again, the Germans conceded first. They gave away a penalty in the second half, which was cooly put away by Patrik Berger.

The game seemed to be slipping away from Bertie Vogts’ side. He took a gamble, bringing on Udinese striker Oliver Bierhoff. Bierhoff made an instant impact, heading in the equaliser after 73 minutes. Then in extra time, he scored the first ever Golden Goal in a major tournament. Germany had pulled off what had once seemed an unlikely third European Championship triumph.

Jürgen Klinsmann climbed Wembley’s famous steps to proudly hold the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft.

The Aftermath

The victory triggered a sense of euphoria in Germany. Football’s Coming Home was adopted by the German fans and was even sang by the German players during their celebrations back in Berlin. It became the anthem of an iconic summer.

More significantly, the team’s success was a symbol of a confident new united Germany. This is a view propagated by Klinsmann, who argued:

“Football helped to build the bridge between East and West Germany. And the fact that players like Matthias Sammer or others came to the national team helped a lot in this cultural change because they were idols for the East Germans.”

As for Vogts, Euro 96 turned out to be the only highlight of his time in charge. Two years later, Croatia knocked his German side out in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup. The German national team then entered a further fall in fortunes, not truly recovering until 2006. Vogts is often seen as symptomatic of this ‘dark age’ of German football. Yet, his accomplishments in 1996 should not be forgotten.

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Sathesh is a History graduate from the University of Southampton, and is now a football writer based in London. He has a particular interest in European football culture and the historical development of the game. Follow him @sathesh1992

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