Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liège, 12.06.2000
Scholl 28. / Moldovan 5.
The Nationalmannschaft would begin the campaign to retain their European crown against Romania, a side that they had last met in a competitive fixture sixteen years earlier in France. On that day Jupp Derwall’s side had won by the odd goal in three courtesy of two Rudi Völler strikes, and coming into the match in the Belgian city of Liège Nationaltrainer Erich Ribbeck would have happily taken the same score with a squad that was distinctly short of international class.
Ribbeck would start with what looked like a 3-3-2-2 line-up, and there would be little there to terrify any of their three group opponents. A rickety-looking defence included the thirty-nine year-old Lothar Matthäus – now redeployed in the sweeper role – while the thirty-four year-old Thomas Häßler had been persuaded to put off his international retirement to bolster a midfield unit that had seen better days. Up front would be 1996 golden goal hero Oliver Bierhoff – half-fit, also in his thirties and now captain – alongside one of the more desperate selections, the Brazilian-born Paulo Rink. In goal would be Oliver Kahn, who would be making the starting line-up for the first time in a major tournament following the retirement of Andreas Köpke.
The Romanians for their part were not much better; captained by the thirty-five year-old Gheorghe Hagi, the Balkan side were along with the Germans one that could best be described as Jurassic. It was much like a lumbering diplodocus taking on a lame stegosaurus in mortal combat, with the latter having had three-quarters of its spines removed.
The presence of the two ageing veterans would provide one of those curious stories that more often than not ends up as a question in a Sunday evening pub quiz: some sixteen years earlier when the two sides had met in the group phase of the same competition in the French city of Lens – only some two-hundred or so kilomteres west of Liège on the E42 motorway – a nineteen year-old Hagi would line up for the Romanians while a twenty-three year old Matthäus would be making his twenty-fifth appearance for the Nationalmannschaft.
Thirty-thousand people in the compact Stade Maurice Dufrasne witnessed Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen get things underway on what was a warm and bright weekday afternoon, with the Mannschaft in their immediately recognisable black and white Trikots, and the Romanians in a particularly eye-bleeding all-yellow ensemble that appeared even brighter in the sunlight.
Germany would make a fast start to the match and win two corners in the opening two minutes, but with not even five minutes on the clock things would quickly go pear-shaped. Romanian midfielder Dorinel Munteanu sent in a hopeful long ball down the left flank towards Adrian Ilie, and with right-back Markus Babbel hopelessly out of position it was left up to inappropriately-named Thomas Linke to cover the right corner of the field. The German number four appeared to stumble and as a result completely mistimed his challenge, allowing the little Romanian winger to run into space with plenty of time to slip the ball across the German goalmouth and in between ‘keeper Oliver Kahn and the lumbering Matthäus.
Ilie’s cross was sent towards the far post – finding the advancing Viorel Moldovan, who ghosted past centre-back Jens Nowotny to put the Romanians into an early lead. The ball appeared to bobble in front of the Romanian striker, who was close enough to see the ball fly high into the roof of the net as opposed to over the top of the crossbar.
Romania continued to press and Moldovan sent a shot over the bar in the tenth minute, though not long after that the men in bright yellow could have scored three more goals in as many minutes. The first chance would see Moldovan plop the ball harmlessly over the bar form a high Ilie cross, just moments later Oliver Kahn had to sprint off his line to deny Dan Petrescu after a fine defence-splitting pass from Hagi, and almost immediately Petrescu returned the compliment as he sent Hagi into the box only to see his cross desperately hacked to safety by Linke – with “sweeper” Matthäus strolling about aimlessly in the middle of the pitch.
In the words of BBC commentator John Motson, the Germans were a “shambles” – and one found it difficult not to agree.
It would be the same story again after twenty-two minutes as Munteanu also decided to send a high ball over the static German defence for Ilie to chase, only for Kahn to come to the rescue yet again and head the ball clear from just outside the penalty area. With seemingly no defenders available to defend, the goalkeeper had found himself having to play the role of a fullback.
Romania could and perhaps should have put the game to bed already, but the Germans somehow fashioned an opportunity of their own in the twenty-fourth minute when a Mehmet Scholl corner was well met at the near post by Bierhoff, whose well-timed angled header was pushed away by Romanian ‘keeper Bogdan Stelea. After makeshift sweeper Kahn was forced to run out of his area yet again to clear at the other end, Bierhoff once more managed to get the ball on target, as he sent in a looping header that was well collected by Stelea.
Then, a moment of magic. After some good play out on the right between Babbel and Linke, the ball found its way to Paulo Rink, who for once used his right foot to find Mehmet Scholl lurking outside the penalty area to his left. Scholl took the ball with his right foot, before switching to his left and blasting a well-timed shot that curled high into the left-hand corner of the Romanian net. Either unsighted or caught completely by surprise, Stelea could only stand and watch as the ball hit the target.
Out of absolutely nowhere, the Mannschaft were back in the match.
The one and only bright moment of Euro 2000. Mehmet Scholl celebrates his twenty-eighth minute equaliser
The goal would give the Germans some encouragement as they started to see a little more of the ball, but a defensive error would never be far away. With thirty-five minutes gone Moldovan was once again involved with a one on one with Linke after Constantin Gâlcă joined in the long-ball fun, and four minutes from half-time Hagi sent another ball into the German box towards Ilie who went down in the box when challenged by Nowotny only to see the Danish referee wave play on.
Both Ilie and Hagi would see their names being scribbled in the referee’s notebook for protesting the decision not to award a spot-kick, though when watching the replay it was hard not to sympathise with them as it did look as though the German fullback had swiped the Ilie’s leg just as he was steadying himself to shoot. With the Romanians still fuming Häßler made his way into the opposition penalty area, and almost found Bierhoff with a sharp cross into the six-yard box that was hacked away by Iulian Filipescu.
As the half-time break approached emotions were running high, and the volatile Hagi was lucky not to get a second booking when he waved a mock yellow card in the air after being bundled off the ball by Babbel. The referee appeared to be initially reaching for his pocket, but went on to give Hagi a stern lecture – closing off the action in what had been a frenetic first forty-five minutes.
Nobody would have wanted to be in the German dressing room during the break, and it is unlikely that the coach would have had the time to talk through even a quarter of the defensive errors. There would be one change, with Marko Rehmer being sent on to replace Thomas Linke as Ribbeck looked to patch things up at the back. Unfortunately, Matthäus would still be out on the pitch.
Within minutes of the restart and before he had even had a chance to get a sighter of the opposition, Rehmer would find himself in trouble. A long punt forward from Stelea was making its way towards the German box with Moldovan in pursuit, the ball took an awkward bounce, and the German substitute stumbled badly as he attempted to wrestle past the Romanian centre-forward. With Rehmer flat out on the grass Moldovan was able to make his way out to the right side of the six-yard box, and with no other yellow shirts in support he hit a decent shot from the tightest of angles that was well blocked by Kahn at the cost of a corner. The corner was taken quick and short, and Hagi flashed in another cross from the right that was headed over by the ubiquitous Moldovan.
With both sides determined to bypass the midfield, the play quickly swung from one end of the field to the other. With just over fifty minutes gone Mehmet Scholl found enough space out on the right to deliver a well-placed cross towards Bierhoff, who got ahead of his marker Gica Popescu only to see his firm header bounce off the base of the upright with Romanian ‘keeper Stelea left completely helpless.
After this initial flurry things would start to slow down with both sides unable to threaten the opposition goal, but with the Romanians prepared to loft long balls from all directions towards and into the German penalty area it would take just one defensive slip to let them in again. The game was summed up perfectly in the sixty-third minute, when another long ball into the from Gâlcă found Hagi, who defeated Matthäus in an entertaining battle of the geriatric number tens before having his cross back inside cut out by Jens Jeremies.
In what was then possibly the best German move of the match, Jeremies charged out of his own penalty area and beyond the half-way line, before finding Bierhoff in space out to his right. Showing that he was as good a provider as he was a finisher, Bierhoff made his way towards the corner flag before floating a delightful looping cross into the Romanian box: the unmarked Christian Ziege stole a march on the Romanian defence and had a free header, but only succeeded in heading the ball down into the ground and wide of the target.
Ziege would flash a free-kick wide of the post in the sixty-sixth minute, but just seconds later the Romanians should really have retaken the lead after what was an almost comedic sequence of events. After yet another long ball – this time down the left from Munteanu – Ilie sprinted forward towards the German goal, only to see the hulking figure of Kahn charging towards him. The German ‘keeper would get enough on the ball to thwart the little Romanian winger, but was unable to clear the danger completely as the ball fell to Moldovan at the edge of the area. Moldovan’s shot at goal was blocked by Matthäus, only for the ball come almost straight back to the yellow-shirted number nine. With Matthäus now down on the ground, Moldovan had the goal at his mercy – only to blast the ball high and wide of the gaping goalmouth.
With seventeen minutes left Thomas Häßler was replaced by Dietmar Hamann and four minutes later youngster Sebastian Deisler would come on for Matthäus – who was clearly exhausted after making his way back into his own penalty area to block the profligate Moldovan’s scuffed shot.
If Erich Ribbeck’s side had been lucky not to concede a hatful of goals from the misfiring Moldovan alone, then at the other end skipper Oliver Bierhoff could consider himself unlucky not to have got on the scoresheet at least once. After hitting the post earlier in the half he would finally get the ball into the back of the net with eight minutes remaining following a neat little flick from Rink – only for the linesman to flag for offside. Ever the professional, Bierhoff didn’t bother complaining about the decision and just got on with it.
Bierhoff would be slightly more vocal three minutes later as he appeared to be forced off the ball in the box by two Romanian defenders with the goal at his mercy, but the referee simply waved play on. The remaining minutes would see no further drama, with both sides finally settling down in choosing not to gamble with the point.
Germany had gained a point in a game they probably deserved to lose, and could count their blessings that the awful shambles of the first half didn’t result in the Romanians finishing the game off long before the break. While the Mannschaft had been woefully inadequate in defence, they had somehow managed to get away with it on account of the Romanians being equally bad in front of goal – the misfiring Viorel Moldovan in particular.
Though Thomas Linke was perhaps slightly unlucky to lose his footing in the action leading up to the Romanian goal, this was not simply the case of one small individual error. There had been no shape to the defence for the entire ninety minutes, nobody seemed to have an idea what each other was doing, and the coaching staff sitting on the touchline seemed to have even less of a clue.
With trouble also starting to brew off the pitch as well as on it, the only thing going for Erich Ribbeck’s side was that their next opponents England were almost just as bad.
Germany: Kahn – Linke (46. Rehmer), Matthäus (77. Deisler), Nowotny – Babbel, Jeremies, Ziege – Häßler (73. Hamann), Scholl – Bierhoff (c), Rink
Romania: Stelea – Popescu – Ciobotariu, Filipescu – Petrescu (69. Contra), Gâlcă, Munteanu, Chivu – Hagi (73. Mutu) – Moldovan (85. Lupescu), Ilie
Referee: Kim Milton Nielsen (Denmark)
Assistants: Jens Larsen (Denmark), Roland van Nylen (Belgium)
Fourth Official: Gilles Veissière (France)
Yellow Cards: – / Ilie, Hagi
Red Cards: – / –