Stade Félix Bollaert, Lens, 21.06.1998
Mihajlović og 73., Bierhoff 80. / Mijatović 13., Stojković 54.
Having beaten the United States in their opening group phase fixture Berti Vogts’ team would next line up against perennial tournament dark horses Yugoslavia, who had also got off to a decent three-point start following a deserved but hard-earned single-goal win against group outsiders Iran.
Unlike their other two group opponents, Yugoslavia were a side that had become more than familiar to the German team in World Cup finals tournaments over the years. The two teams had met in three successive tournaments between 1954 and 1962 and again in both 1974 and 1990, with the Nationalmannschaft winning four of the five encounters – the last occasion being in 1990 en route to winning the trophy in Italy.
Since that last meeting eight years previously the seismic political events in the Balkans meant that Yugoslavia could no longer call upon the Bosnians, Croats, Macedonians and Slovenians who had been part of the side before the country’s break-up in the early 1990s, with all of these now being independent nations with their own teams. Nevertheless, as what had effectively become the federation of Serbia and Montenegro the Yugoslav team remained a dangerous outfit with a number of highly talented individuals.
Having finished a close second behind Spain in their qualifying group Slobodan Santrač’s team would make the finals with a thumping 12-1 aggregate win over neighbours Hungary in the playoffs, which included a stunning 7-1 win in Budapest. Over the two games, striker Predrag “Peđa” Mijatović would net a staggering seven goals – with three in Budapest and four more in the 5-0 return leg in Belgrade.
The Nationaltrainer would make some very small tactical and personnel adjustments to the team that had beaten the United States, strengthening the defensive midfield unit and leaving Andreas Möller as the sole creative input behind Jürgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierhoff. To accommodate these tactical changes, both Stefan Reuter and Thomas Häßler – both of whom had slight injury worries – would give way to Christian Ziege and Dietmar Hamann.
In front of a crowd of just over thirty-eight thousand in the compact Stade Félix-Bollaert, the Germans emerged from the tunnel in their traditional white and black while the Yugoslavs were kitted out in their equally familiar blue and white ensemble. On what was a bright afternoon in Northern France, Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen would get things under way.
Oliver Bierhoff completes Germany’s dramatic comeback with his equaliser ten minutes from time
While the Germans would have been hoping for win before the game, in retrospect they would have been more than satisfied at coming back from two goals down to claim a point. There were many occasions where the Yugoslavs could have killed off the game, but the Mannschaft continued to hang in there – after what had been in all truth a lucky deflected goal to pull things back to 2-1 the momentum appeared to change completely, to the point where an equaliser was almost an inevitability. Berti Vogts’ side could even have pinched all three points right at the death, but that would have extremely harsh on their opponents who had bossed the contest for the best part of the opening hour.
With Iran beating the United States later that evening Germany would go into their final match with the Iranians knowing that just a point would be enough to see them through to the next round.
By this time however the talk would no longer be about the result or even football, but something far more worrying. By the time the team had made their way back to their hotel, news would slowly be emerging about German hooligans running amok on the streets of Lens – and an incident that had seen a French Gendarme taken to hospital in a critical condition having been set upon by a group of German thugs.
An unwanted image. German “fans” attack French police on the streets of Lens
On hearing the news Chancellor Helmut Kohl was immediate and unequivocal in his condemnation of the criminals – and for a short while there was even the possibility that the team might have been withdrawn from the tournament. The injured officer, Daniel Nivel, remained in a stable condition – but the same could not be said about the German camp which was suddenly thrown into a state of turmoil. It will never really be known to what extent the team might have been affected, but the positive news later in the week that the officer was no longer critical – albeit still in a coma – would have no doubt allowed the players’ heads to clear just a little.
The police officer would spend six months in a coma and would never fully recover from the brutal assault, but the DFB would not allow the incident to be brushed under the carpet and forgotten. This had been the first major incident at an international tournament involving criminals masquerading as supporters of the German national team, and officials were determined that it would also be the last. In 2000 the Daniel Nivel Foundation (Daniel-Nivel-Stiftung) would be formed in cooperation with the French Football Federation, and would be tasked with working with both UEFA and FIFA in researching and preventing football-related violence.
Daniel Nivel would have an amateur tournament named after him in 2001, and both he and his family would also be invited by the DFB to attend a match at the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
Germany: Köpke – Thon – Wörns, Kohler – Heinrich, Hamann (46. Matthäus), Jeremies, Ziege (67. Tarnat) – Möller (58. Kirsten) – Klinsmann (c), Bierhoff
FR Yugoslavia: Kralj – Komljenović, Đorović, Mihajlović, Petrović (74. Stević) – Jokanović, Jugović – Stanković (68. Govedarica), Stojković – Kovačević (58. Ognjenović), Mijatović
Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)
Assistants: Emanuel Zammit (Malta), Marc van den Broeck (Belgium)
Fourth Official: Masayoshi Okada (Japan)
Yellow Cards: Matthäus / –
Red Cards: – / –