v The Netherlands, 1990 World Cup Second Phase
v Netherlands, Stadio San Siro, Milano (Second Phase) 24.06.1990
Klinsmann 51., Brehme 85. / R. Koeman pen 89.
Germany’s second phase encounter pitted them against their neighbours and rivals the Netherlands – who in contrast to the free-scoring Nationalmannschaft had scraped through their group with three draws and two goals. The Dutch were far from the side that had triumphed in the European Championship Germany two years earlier, but could always be expected to rise to the challenge in what was one of Europe’s famous footballing grudge matches.
The two sides were more than familiar with each other having drawn both of their games in the qualifying campaign, and German coach Franz Beckenbauer made his first real tactical change of the tournament by employing a slightly more defensive line-up. Having served a one-match ban for his two first-phase yellow cards, Andreas Brehme returned to the side to be placed in a new four-man defensive formation alongside Stefan Reuter, Thomas Berthold and Jürgen Kohler, who was making his first start of the tournament. This back line sat behind a three-man midfield, with skipper Lothar Matthäus accompanied by Guido Buchwald who was employed on the left flank and Pierre Littbarski who retained his place in the side at the expense of Uwe Bein. Up front the line-up was unchanged with Jürgen Klinsmann and Rudi Völler.
After both national anthems were roundly booed and whistled – setting the tone for the evening – things were all set to explode. The Dutch started off brightly and made much of the early running, but an opening period that had offered little in the way of action or drama burst into life on the twenty-minute mark – setting off a series of events that have since been burned into the memory of every German and Dutch supporter, even those that may not have been watching it live at the time.
With twenty minutes gone, Völler picks up the ball on the right. After spinning and skipping past Dutch right-back Berry van Aerle, he is upended by Frank Rijkaard. Argentinian referee Juan Loustau reaches for his pocket, and brandishes the yellow card in the Dutchman’s direction. Having received a booking in his previous match, Rijkaard is probably more that aware of the fact that he is going to miss the quarter-final should his team progress; as Marco van Basten vainly pleads with the referee, Rijkaard jogs back towards the box to defend the free kick and casually spits at Völler. Clearly incensed, Völler shouts out something, at which Rijkaard interrupts his leisurely jog and turns around. A sharp exchange of words ensues, followed by some rather theatrical hand gestures from Rijkaard.
As Andy Brehme prepares to take the free kick the referee again reaches for his yellow card, this time flashing it at Völler – who is clearly trying to tell him that there is something that shouldn’t be there in his hair. Something Dutch, and I am not talking about a stray piece of Edam or Gouda. The free-kick floats in and Völler charges in and leaps over Oranje ‘keeper Hans van Breukelen, which prompts Rijkaard get involved again by tugging at the prostrate Bremen man’s ear and stamping on his foot. Völler leaps to his feet and remonstrates with both Rijkaard and van Breukelen, as Jürgen Klinsmann arrives on the scene to break things up by shoving his teammate out of harm’s way.
It’s too late however as Loustau has already made his mind up in reaching for the red card, which he shows to both of the main protagonists. As a perplexed Völler starts to make his way off the field, it is pretty clear that Rijkaard has lost his mind as he spits in the German’s direction again, hitting him on the neck. Völler looks on in more surprise than anger before running past his aggressor towards the tunnel; every time I watch those few seconds I am wanting to see him stop and smack the spitting llama hard in the face, sending him flying into the lap of Leo Beenhakker in the Dutch dugout.
At the time it was clearly an injustice – both teams had been reduced to ten men, when it was clear that the referee had missed a trick in not dealing with Rijkaard immediately. With his strike partner Völler off the field, the onus was now on the young Jürgen Klinsmann to play the role of sole target man.
The dismissal of both Völler and Rijkaard didn’t do much to dampen tempers for those still out out the pitch; Jan Wouters was booked for a crunching tackle on Matthäus, while an out of form Marco van Basten was playing some of his finest free-kick winning tricks. Wouters then found himself robbed of the ball by Pierre Littbarski, who fashioned a cross which Guido Buchwald lashed goalbound. Unfortunately for Germany, van Bruekelen was on hand to make a fine save from Stuttgart man. In another incident that went unspotted by the officials, Brehme was brought down by Adri van Tiggelen, whose misjudged attempt to leap over his man looked a lot more sinister than the tackle itself.
Klinsmann was starting to look sharp up front, playing a neat one-two with Littbarski that was unlucky not to result in a goalscoring opportunity, but as the half-time whistle blew both teams went in with the score at 0-0.
Germany upped the pace by a good few notches when the teams came out for the second half. Picking up the ball deep in his own half, Matthäus charged through the centre of the field and laid a superbly-timed pass out to Klinsmann that beat the Dutch offside trap. The young Stuttgart forward found space down the right before swinging a cross to his skipper who had continued his run into the box – Matthäus was able to rise above Aron Winter to head the ball on target, where it was spectacularly collected by van Breukelen.
The next German attack was not long in coming. Makeshift left-winger Guido Buchwald picked up a pass down the left flank from Andy Brehme, and galloped down the touchline before side-stepping and easily skinning the surprisingly flat-footed Winter. His left-footed cross into the box was superbly met by the advancing Klinsmann, who beat a desperate lunge from van Aerle as he swept the ball past van Breukelen to give the Mannschaft a deserved lead.
Franz Beckenbauer’s men could have doubled their advantage just moments later, as a mighty punt upfield by Bodo Illgner was just about met in the air by van Aerle with Klinsmann bearing down on the Dutch goal. The need to kill the game off was starkly illustrated when Jan Wouters went close for the Oranje, missing the target when he should have done better.
Having gone a goal down Beenhakker’s side found themselves having play further up the field and start to take a few risks, with the Germans and in particular Lothar Matthäus starting to find a lot more space in midfield as a result. The German skipper almost found himself on the end of the lovely through-ball from Pierre Littbarski that had sliced through the Dutch defence, but was beaten to the target by the alert van Breukelen – and not long after that he found room on the edge of the box to hit a shot just wide to the Dutch ‘keeper’s right.
At the other end, a great cross by Ruud Gullit was superbly taken away from the feet of van Basten by full-back Jürgen Kohler, before a scuffed shot on target by van Basten was gratefully gathered by Illgner. Minutes later, the action was back in the Dutch half as Littbarski skipped past a number of defenders before hitting a shot straight at van Breukelen. Matthäus then picked up speed down the left before he was cynically taken out by van Basten who was perhaps lucky to get only a yellow card.
It was end to end stuff, played with an astonishing level of energy by both sides. By far the most energetic display had been that of Jürgen Klinsmann, who must have covered at least twice the ground as anyone else that evening. Shorn of his striking partner Rudi Völler, he continued to run at full pelt into the heart of the Dutch defence and was unlucky not to get his second with just under fifteen minutes to go. Latching onto a superb long ball from Brehme, Klinsmann’s pace took him past the almost static van Tiggelen, before his right-footed shot crashed against the post with van Breukelen completely beaten. It would have capped off a superb display.
It should perhaps have been two or three to the Mannschaft, and Matthäus had the ball in the back of the net following a neat free-kick from Klaus Augenthaler – only to find that the referee had blown for a substitution to take place. For his pains, Matthäus received what was arguably an unfair booking. With seventy-seven minutes gone an exhausted Klinsmann was finally relieved of his duties by Karlheinz Riedle, earning a rapturous round of applause from the German supporters.
Within five minutes of his arrival Riedle was already in the thick of the action. After picking up a pass down the left from the impressive Buchwald and floating into open space behind the scattered Dutch defence, he delivered a precise low cross for Littbarski, whose firm shot struck van Breukelen who had done brilliantly in closing him down.
When it was looking that the second goal would never come – it finally arrived. A right-wing corner was floated to the edge of the box by Littbarski, where it found Buchwald. The lanky VfB man beat Ronald Koeman in the air before producing what was his second assist of the evening by laying the ball back to Brehme, who curled his shot beautifully past van Breukelen. In the words of the late ITV commentator Brian Moore: “Brehme… Curling one!!!”
At 2-0 with less than five minutes to go one might have safely assumed that the game was over, but it would not be a Germany versus Netherlands fixture without a dodgy penalty – and so it proved, when van Basten took an Oscar™-winning tumble in box to earn the Oranje an opportunity to make the score a more flattering one. Everyone’s favourite pantomime villain Ronald Koeman sent Illgner the wrong way to pull the score back to 2-1.
Franz Beckenbauer’s side could very easily have restored the two-goal cushion with their next attack, as Riedle left poor van Tiggelen for dead before forcing yet another stunning save from van Breukelen. The Dutch ‘keeper had produced a string of fine saves, and still had time to make another in beating away a Matthäus’ free kick after Littbarski had been fouled on the edge of the area by John van’t Schip.
When the final whistle blew, it had brought to an end what was probably the most exciting and dramatic match of Italia ’90. While it is true that Germany dominated the match and could have won the game by four or five were it not for the heroics of Hans van Breukelen in the Dutch goal, the result remained in doubt right until the end. It was a match that had everything – drama, controversy, some great German goals – and is one that counts as my own personal favourite.
The Völler-Rijkaard incident had clearly been the focal point of the game, and things were not made any better in the immediate aftermath by the suggestion that Rijkaard’s actions had been sparked by Völler firing a racial insult in his direction. Such a theory was difficult to believe given the German striker’s character and reputation – moreover, no actual evidence could be found to support the accusation – but this didn’t stop some people in the media from throwing more fuel onto the fire.
While Rudi Völler would be banned from the quarter-final for his red card, Rijkaard and the rest of his mean-spirited team-mates were boarding the next plane back to Amsterdam; never had I been so pleased to see the back of them. While the Oranje quickly turned on each other for what had been a deeply disappointing World Cup campaign, the Germans remained dignified in victory – unlike their opponents two years earlier at the Euro ’88 semi-final in Hamburg, where Ronald Koeman had raised the bar in the bad taste stakes by pretending to wipe his backside with Olaf Thon’s shirt in front of the German supporters.
With the Dutch sent on their way, only Jozef Vengloš’ solid if unspectacular Czech side now stood between Franz Beckenbauer’s men and yet another appearance in the last four.
Some months after the “spitgate” incident when tempers had started to die down, both players finally buried the hatchet and cleared the air: Rijkaard offered a sincere apology for his actions – and in doing so quashed any suggestion that his llama impersonation had been the result of a racial insult – while Völler graciously accepted and even defended his opponent, citing that at the time the Dutchman had been going through a particularly rough divorce. It all ended amicably, with both men featuring in a butter advert that saw them laughing and joking while sitting at a breakfast table. The thing is that nobody dared tell Rudi that Frank had spat in his Orangensaft while he was concentrating on buttering his Brötchen.
Germany FR: Illgner – Augenthaler – Reuter, Kohler, Berthold, Brehme – Littbarski, Matthäus (c), Buchwald – Klinsmann (77. Riedle), Völler
Netherlands: van Breukelen – R. Koeman – van Aerle (68. Kieft), Rijkaard, Wouters, van Tiggelen – van’t Schip, Winter, Gullit, Richard Witschge (80. Gillhaus) – van Basten
Referee: Juan Loustau (Argentina)
Assistants: Elias V. Jacome Guerrero (Ecuador), Vincent Mauro (United States)
Yellow Cards: Völler, Matthäus / Rijkaard, Wouters, van Basten
Red Cards: Völler 22. / Rijkaard 22.