Amsterdam, 23rd February 2000.
Germany are facing the Netherlands, and among the eleven players in Erich Ribbeck’s starting lineup is a twenty-four year old left-sided VfL Wolfsburg midfielder of Hungarian descent making his international debut. That man is Zoltán Sebescen.
Born in the town of Ehingen near Ulm in Baden-Württemberg on 1st October 1975, Sebescen would start his youth career with nearby Stuttgarter Kickers, progressing to the senior side before signing for Wolfsburg in 1999. The VW-sponsored team had won a place in the I. Bundesliga just the year before, and their first season in the top flights saw them finish in an impressive sixth place under the appropriately named Wolfgang Wolf.
The 1.89m tall Sebescen would make an immediate impression for Die Wölfe in his first season at the VfL Stadion, winning plaudits for both his hard-working approach and powerful right foot. With the team settling comfortably in mid-table and experiencing European football, Sebescen would be soon be spotted by Nationaltrainer Ribbeck.
In February 2000, Sebescen would be named in the side to start against the Netherlands in Amsterdam, as part of the long build up towards that year’s European Championship finals. Having been playing in the second division not even two years before, it would be a proud moment for the young Wolfsburger as he walked out in the green and white Trikot in a packed Amsterdam Arena wearing the number five shirt.
Forty-minutes later, Sebescen’s hopes of a fruitful international career would be in tatters.
Despite being a naturally right-sided midfielder, Sebescen would be positioned at right-back by the Nationaltrainer. Playing out of position is a difficult proposition for any footballer, but for a young player making his international debut it was always going to be a difficult task. Making things worse was the fact that prowling down the flank would be the fast and skillful Boudewijn “Bolo” Zenden, a winger who could at times make even the most experienced defender wince.
It was clear from the start that Sebescen was out of his depth, and Zenden was very quickly able to smell blood. With just under fifteen minutes on the clock the Dutch winger picked up a long ball out on the left – with the flat-footed young German defender nowhere in sight. Completely unmarked and with all the time in the world, Zenden gently rolled the ball into the German box, where Patrick Kluivert arrived to slot it home past a helpless Oliver Kahn.
Christian Ziege would pull the Mannschaft level within seven minutes, but just before the half hour mark the Dutch would retake the lead, with both Zenden and Sebescen in the thick of the action action again. When Ronald de Boer swung a teasing high ball from across the German box out to the left, Zenden would arrive unmarked to volley an unstoppable shot into the net. Poor Sebescen never knew what hit him: completely out of position and staring into space, he just didn’t see the Dutchman ghost past him before burying the Oranje’s second.
There would be no further goals, and Sebescen’s agony would finally come to an end at half time when he was replaced by Sebastian Deisler. He would never wear the Nationaltrikot again – one more in a growing list of Eintagsfliegen.
From watching the footage again it is obvious that Sebescen was out of his depth – a sort of Christian Träsch of the early 2000s – though whether this was all the player’s fault is matter of debate. Sebescen was not clearly a right-back, and one has to wonder how much the coach actually knew about either him or Zenden, the man who still probably features in Sebescen’s nightmares like some sort of evil orange apparition.
Of course, Sebescen’s defenders would point to what happened less than four months later, when Ribbeck’s tactics – or complete lack of them – were horribly exposed during the Nationalmannschaft’s dismal Euro 2000 campaign.
Zoltán Sebescen would later sign for Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and would be part of the side that would reach the Champions League final in 2002. This would be the highest point of his career; in 2003 he would suffer the first in what would be a series of knee problems before retiring from the game in 2005 at the age of twenty-nine.
Sebescen is now back at his first club Stuttgarter Kickers, as youth coordinator.