In what was a small four-team group alongside Finland, Wales and the Netherlands, Germany would be given an immediate opportunity to exorcise the demons of the recent Euro ’88 tournament and their semi-final defeat at the hands of the Dutch. Despite what turned out to be a somewhat hairy finale, the qualification campaign for Italia ’90 was a solid one in which the Nationalmannschaft emerged unbeaten.

In their opening fixture the Franz Beckenbauer’s side kicked things off in style with a 4-0 rout of Finland in Helsinki before drawing 0-0 in the first of the two back-to-back encounters with the Dutch; the Germans had been by far the better side in what turned out to be an exciting but goalless encounter in Munich, but the Oranje managed to keep the door bolted shut in order to go home with a point – and with it the slightest of advantages in the group.

The return fixture in Rotterdam saw the Germans once again dominate proceedings, holding a lead until the dying moments when their bête noire Marco van Basten inevitably popped up two minutes from time to earn the hosts a rather undeserved equaliser. The unlucky draw in Amsterdam was followed by a scrappy goalless encounter in Wales, which saw Beckenbauer’s team drop a point and move a sigle point ahead of the Dutch having played a game more.

Needing to get back to winning ways after three successive draws, Germany responded in style by walloping the Finns by six goals to one in what was a pulsating encounter in Dortmund – an evening capped off by a magnificent diving header from Jürgen Klinsmann. At this stage in the campaign the Germans were on seven points from five games, with the Dutch on six points from four; this meant that if the Dutch were to win their last two matches they would secure the group, with Germany having to chase one of the two available runners-up spots from the three four-team groups.

It would be no great surprise when the Dutch did what they had to do in comfortably disposing of both Wales and Finland; this left them home and dry on ten points from their six games, with Germany in a precarious second place in the standings with seven points from five. In the two other four-team groups, Denmark on eight points were engaged in a possible make or break Group 1 fixture with Romania who were on seven, while England had already qualified behind Sweden with nine points from Group 2.

This equation left Germany having to win their final home fixture against Wales to take them through regardless of the outcome in the Romania-Denmark game – there were a number of other possible permutations based on goal difference, but Germany’s fate was entirely in their own hands. They could not have got off to a worse start – with a mere twelve minutes on the clock at Köln’s Mungersdorferstadion, Malcolm Allen opened the scoring for the Welsh, leaving the Mannschaft teetering on the brink of disaster. Meanwhile in Bucharest, Flemming Povlsen had put the Danes 1-0 up after six minutes, which placed them on a theoretical ten points and the Romanians on seven – the same as Germany but with an inferior goal difference.

Almost simultaneously in two different parts of Europe, the tides then turned. Rudi Völler produced a marvellous poacher’s finish to equalise for Germany, putting them on eight points with a goal difference of +9, while Gavril Balint had at the same time levelled up the scores in Bucharest, leaving the Danes on nine points with a goal difference of +11 and the Romanians on eight points and +3. At this stage, the Germans were hanging onto their qualification berth by the skin of their teeth.

Then came the news Ioan Sabău had put Romania 2-1 up – taking his side to nine points with a goal difference of +4 and leaving the Danes on eight points and +10. With Germany still on a theoretical total of eight points and a goal difference of +9, they were now the team poised to miss out. When half-time arrived, all of Germany knew that it was now or nothing – with things so finely balanced, they simply had to chase the win.

Then came the defining moment. Having picked up a pass from Guido Buchwald in midfield, the livewire Pierre Littbarski skinned his marker, charged down the left flank, and chipped in a testing high cross… The ball then landed at the feet of Litti’s fellow Kölner Thomas Häßler, who instinctively swept in lovely left-footed volley to beat Welsh ‘keeper Neville Southall. 2-1, and they were back on track – and the light at the end of that tunnel through the Alps was shining again.

Now on a theoretical nine points, Germany had one foot in the finals regardless of the result in Bucharest – where the poor Danes then conceded a third. There was more pressure from the Mannschaft but no more goals – and as the final whistles across Europe brought closure to the qualifying campaign Germany had secured their place in Italy with nine points from their six matches. Denmark, who had only needed a draw to go through and eliminate Romania, were the team to miss out.

Wir sind schon auf dem Brenner!

Match Results and Details

v Finland, Olympiastadion, Helsinki, 31.08.1988

4-0 (2-0)
Völler 7., 15., Matthäus 52., Riedle 87. / –

Team: Illgner – Fach – Brehme, Kohler, Buchwald (27. Rolff), Görtz – Matthäus (c), Häßler – Littbarski, Völler, Eckstein (76. Riedle)

Goal Info:

1-0 Lothar Matthäus receives the ball just inside his own half, and charges up through the middle of the field before releasing a perfectly-timed pass into the penalty area for Rudi Völler. Völler runs out to his right before deftly chipping the ball over the advancing Kari Laukkanen and into the left-hand side of the net.

2-0 Pierre Littbarski plays a quick pass to Thomas Häßler just outside the Finnish penalty area, and Häßler spots the run of wing-back Armin Görtz out on the left to deliver a nicely-weighted pass. Görtz gets to the byline before swinging a cross back into the box, and Völler glances it in with his head at the near post.

3-0 ‘Keeper Bodo Illgner hoofs the ball foward into the opposition half, where it is met by Völler whose well-directed header finds Matthäus in space out on the right. Matthäus advances inside towards the Finnish goal, and avoids the desperate slinding lunge of an opposition defender before sending a sweetly-timed chip it over Laukkanen.

4-0 Littbarski picks the ball up just inside the Finnish half and sends looping pass out to the left flank to Häßler, who jinks bast his marker to deliver a right-footed cross into the box. Völler, a defender and Laukkanen all go for the ball and end up in a heap, and debutant substitute Karl-Heinz Riedle is on hand to slide in at the far post.

v Netherlands, Olympiastadion, München, 19.10.1988

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Team: Illgner – Fach – Berthold, Kohler, Buchwald, Brehme – Matthäus (c), Thon, Häßler – Klinsmann (68. Mill), Völler

v Netherlands, Feyenoord Stadion De Kuip, Rotterdam, 26.04.1989

1-1 (0-0)
Riedle 57. / van Basten 88.

Team: Illgner – Berthold – Reuter, Buchwald, Kohler (74. Rolff), Brehme – Matthäus (c), Möller, Häßler – Riedle, Völler (34. Klinsmann)

Goal Info:

1-0 Germany win a free-kick just inside the Dutch half, and Andreas Möller sends in a well-directed ball that gently loops into middle of the the penalty area. Karl-Heinz Riedle is first to it, outpacing his markers to send a firm diving header past ‘keeper Joop Hiele into the right-hand side of the net.

1-1 A long ball finds Dutch substitute René Eijkelkamp some thirty yards out, and he squares it across to the right for Ronald Koeman who sends a right-footed shot in towards the German goal. There is not much strength on the shot and ithe ball looks to be heading slightly wide, but Marco van Basten slips in front of Guido Buchwald to deflect it into the net past Bodo Illgner.

v Wales, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, 31.05.1989

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Team: Illgner – Berthold – Reuter, Reinhardt, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Fach, Möller – Riedle (78. Klinsmann), Völler (c)

v Finland, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 04.10.1989

6-1 (1-0)
Möller 12., 81., Littbarski 47., Klinsmann 53., Völler 62., Matthäus pen 84. / Lipponen 72.

Team: Illgner – Augenthaler – Reuter, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler (46. Bein), Matthäus (c), Möller (80. Mill), Littbarski – Klinsmann, Völler

Goal Info:

1-0 Rudi Völler holds the ball up brilliantly on the left flank, before playing it back to Pierre Littbarski who sends a perfectly-weighted first-time cross deep into the Finnish penalty area. Andreas Möller steals into the six-yard box to guide a well-directed header past Kari Laukkanen into the top right-hand corner of the net.

2-0 Andreas Brehme swings a cross from the laft touchline into the opposition penalty area, and when the Finns fail to clear their lines the ball falls into open space at the edge of the box. Pierre Littbarski gets there first, sending a well-timed right-footed drive past the static Laukkanen.

3-0 Littbarski’s ball into the box is half-cleared by the Finnish defence, and Möller finds Brehme to his left. The left-back swings an inviting high ball back into the danger zone, and Jürgen Klinsmann flies in between two defenders to power it into the net with a spectacular diving header.

4-0 Augenthaler punts a long ball forward, and a poor Finnish clearance finds Möller out on the right who nods it inside to Völler. Völler runs towards goal and plays a well-crafted one-two with Klinsmann, who dinks the ball delicately back into the box for Völler to lift over Laukkanen.

4-1 Laukkanen thumps a clearance deep into the German half, and Marko Myyry evades Brehme’s challenge to charge into the box. The ball falls to Ismo Lius whose shot is well parried by Bodo Illgner, but the rebound finds its way to Mika Lipponen who strokes it past the prostrate German ‘keeper.

5-1 Substitute Uwe Bein picks up the ball just inside his own half, and trundles forward before releasing Möller with a perfect defence-spliting ball. With just Laukkanen to beat, Möller waits for the ‘keeper to commit himself before slotting the ball low into the left-hand corner of the net with his right foot.

6-1 Bein plays a well-timed ball down the right for Lothar Matthäus to chase, and the German skipper is right on the edge of the penalty area when he is caught from behind by Jari Europaeus. Referee Alan Snoddy points to the spot, and Matthäus gets up to send a low shot into the left-hand corner that is just out of the reach of the unlucky Laukkanen.

v Wales, Müngersdorferstadion, Köln, 15.11.1989

2-1 (1-1)
Völler 25., Häßler 48. / Allen 12.

Team: Illgner – Augenthaler (46. Reinhardt) – Reuter, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Dorfner, Möller (82. Bein), Littbarski (c) – Klinsmann, Völler

Goal Info:

0-1 Stefan Reuter is caught dawdling on the ball by Gavin Maguire, who storms down the left flank before passing inside to Malcolm Allen. Allen skips over Klaus Augenthaler’s desperate sliding challenge and has Dean Saunders to his right, but doesn’t need him as he sends a right-footed chip into the net off the fingertips of the advancing Bodo Illgner.

1-1 Andreas Möller sends in an outswinging corner from the right, and Augenthaler rises above a group of defenders to direct the ball towards the Welsh goal. Rudi Völler gets there ahead of ‘keeper Neville Southall, and sends the ball into the left-hand corner of the net with his outstretched right leg.

2-1 The ball is played out to Pierre Littbarski on the left, who cuts inside towards the penalty area before and lifting a left-footed cross into the box. Taking the slightest of deflections off defender Andy Melville, the ball lands at the feet of Thomas Häßler who is lurking some ten yards out in front of the far post. With a sweep of Häßler’s left leg, the ball flies just inside the post with ‘keeper Southall beaten.

Final Group Table

NetherlandsNetherlands (Q)642082+610
GermanyGermany FR (Q)6330133+109

Other results: Netherlands 1-0 Wales; Wales 2-2 Finland; Finland 0-1 Netherlands; Finland 1-0 Wales; Wales 1-2 Netherlands; Netherlands 3-0 Finland.

Goals Summary: Völler (4), Matthäus, Möller, Riedle (2), Klinsmann, Littbarski, Häßler (1). Total 13.

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