Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier, 29.06.1998
Klinsmann 75., Bierhoff 86. / Hernández 47.
Having made their way into the last sixteen from what was arguably an easy first phase group, the Nationalmannschaft would remain in Montpellier where they would face their first real test against Mexico, a side that offered a fast-paced game with plenty of flair – from the colourful Jorge Campos in goal through to the stylish midfield maestro Cuauhtémoc Blanco and the dangerous Luis Hernández up front.
The Mexicans had emerged from a strongly-contested first phase group that included the Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea – finishing unbeaten and in second place on goal difference behind the Dutch. The Mexicans had proved themselves to be a gritty outfit, coming from behind in all three games: having gone into the half-time break against the Koreans a goal down they came back to win 3-1, and followed this with another superb comeback to earn a 2-2 draw with the Belgians after being two goals adrift.
Manuel Lapuente’s team would however save their most dramatic comeback for their final match against the Oranje: at kick off they would be two points ahead of the Belgians, but with twenty minutes to go they would find themselves two goals down to the Dutch and the Belgians one up against the Koreans – and staring elimination in the face. As things took a final dramatic twist South Korea would equalise against the Belgians, and then in their third and arguably most dramatic comeback El Tri would storm back to level the scores against the Dutch – with Hernández grabbing the equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time.
Germany’s World Cup record against Mexicans coming into the match was impressive: in two encounters they had not even conceded a goal, winning 6-0 in 1978 and prevailing 4-1 on penalties after a goalless draw when El Tri were the tournament hosts in 1986. Of course, past records would count for little: it was clear to everyone in the German camp that nothing could be taken for granted against such lively opposition, particularly with the game being played in the later afternoon in the south of France.
The Nationaltrainer would once again retain the 1-2-4-1-2 sweeper-driven setup, but for the fourth match in a row would change things around in what was probably the most unsettled German tournament side. The thirty-seven year-old Lothar Matthäus would come in for Olaf Thon as Libero, and alongside Christian Wörns centre-back Markus Babbel would get his first taste of World Cup finals action in place of the injured Jürgen Kohler.
With Matthäus being shifted into defence Dietmar Hamann would return to the midfield, joining Jörg Heinrich, Thomas Helmer and Michael Tarnat. There would be no change up front, with attacking midfielder Thomas Häßler retaining his -place behind the attacking duo of skipper Jürgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff.
Portuguese referee Vitor Melo Pereira would lead both sides out on what would be a hot and slightly oppressive afternoon in front of another capacity crowd at the Stade de la Mosson, with the Mannschaft in their recognisable white/black/white outfit and their Mexican opponents in their traditional green and white, with their shirts featuring a distinctive Aztec design. Then there was ‘keeper Jorge Campos, who would have people around the world reaching for their remote controls to turn down the brightness.
Skipper Jürgen Klinsmann celebrates with Oliver Bierhoff after yet another late goal to secure a place in the quarter-finals
Having come from behind in all three of their first phase matches, the Mexicans would themselves be stunned by a response that seemed to come out of nowhere from Berti Vogts’ side. With a quarter of an hour to go in the sapping heat all had seemed lost for the Mannschaft, only for them to dig deep and fashion a result that had not looked possible for most of the second half.
The equaliser had been a welcome relief to the German supporters in the crowd, but with almost everyone mentally prepared for extra time Oliver Bierhoff would once more produce a late and dramatic winner.
Given the way the match had panned out over the course of the ninety minutes it was hard not to feel slightly sorry for the hard-working Mexicans. It had been yet another laboured and unconvincing performance from the Mannschaft, who once again were able to do just about enough to squeeze past their opponents and maintain their record of making at least the last eight in every World Cup tournament since the Second World War.
Germany: Köpke – Matthäus – Wörns, Babbel – Heinrich (58. Möller), Hamann, Helmer (38. Ziege), Tarnat – Häßler (74. Kirsten) – Klinsmann (c), Bierhoff
Mexico: Campos – Lara, Suárez, Davino – Pardo, Palencia (53. Arellano), Bernal (46. Carmona), García Aspe (87. Peláez), Villa – Hernández, Blanco
Referee: Vitor Melo Pereira (Portugal)
Assistants: Mohamed Mansri (Tunisia), Achmat Salie (South Africa)
Fourth Official: Masayoshi Okada (Japan)
Yellow Cards: Babbel, Matthäus, Tarnat, Hamann / Davino, Blanco
Red Cards: – / –