Hosting the tournament for the first time, Germany were confident ahead of the 1988 edition of the UEFA European Championship – featuring the elite top eight teams on the continent.
After a disappointing campaign in France in 1984 under Jupp Derwall, Franz Beckenbauer’s side were keen to follow up their runners-up spot in the 1986 World Cup with a victory on home soil – and the home crowd expected nothing less than that.
The tournament format was compact and simple: the eight teams were drawn into two groups of four, with the top two in each group progressing to the semi-finals where the winners of each group would play the runners-up of the other. Two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw. In a tournament which saw fifteen games played over fifteen days in eight grounds across Germany, a total of thirty-four goals were scored at an average of 2.27 per match. In what was probably an unique occurrence every game saw at least one goal, no players received a red card and there were no penalty shoot-outs.
There was to be no home celebrations, as the old foes from the Netherlands stepped across the border to spoil the party. Having beaten the hosts in a memorable and unsurprisingly controversial semi-final, the Dutch beat the Soviet Union in München four days later to claim their first international title.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
As hosts for the 1988 tournament, Germany did not have to qualify – which made the friendly fixtures leading up to the tournament more important than usual. Germany had always tended to concentrate on building up a tournament momentum rather than flatter themselves in friendly matches; while other teams had often built up a decent record in friendlies but failed to deliver where it mattered, things were often the other way around for the Mannschaft, where poor pre-tournament results were often followed by the building up of a head of steam once the real stuff got under way.
Nobody busted a gut during friendlies, and it was pretty much the same in the build-up to Euro 1988. While other sides might have decided on extending their pre-tournament fixture list to get in as many warm-up games as possible, Germany only had four fixtures in 1988 before the tournament began.
The first two of these took place in a four-team tournament held in the then West Berlin, where the hosts were joined by Sweden, the Soviet Union and Argentina; Germany drew its first game with the Swedes 1-1, but were consigned to the third-place play-off after losing 4-2 in a penalty shootout. Yes, you heard that right – Germany lost in a penalty shootout – something that could only happen in a friendly invitational fixture nobody really cared that much about. While the Swedes scored all of their spot-kicks, Lothar Matthäus and Rudi Völler fluffed theirs. This match also saw the last appearance in the national side by Klaus Allofs, who capped off a fine career by scoring Germany’s goal.
The otherwise inconsequential third-place game saw the Germans entertain an Argentine side that had been beaten in their semi-final by the Soviets, with a thirtieth-minute Matthäus goal settling the issue.
The two remaining home friendlies produced little more in the way of excitement – a 1-0 win against Switzerland which saw the young Jürgen Klinsmann get on the scoresheet followed by another Matthäus goal in a come-from-behind 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Germany kicked off its own tournament against great rivals Italy in Düsseldorf, and in what was a rather cagey game emerged with a creditable 1-1 draw, with an Andreas Brehme free-kick cancelling out a short-lived Italian lead. Franz Beckenbauer’s side looked far more comfortable in the remaining games: against Denmark in Gelsenkirchen they wasted little energy in strolling to a 2-0 win with goals from Jürgen Klinsmann and Olaf Thon, and Spain provided little resistance in Munich as Rudi Völler scored twice to fire Germany to another 2-0 win and the top of the group.
Fixtures involving Germany and the Netherlands had always thrown up some form of controversy, and the semi-final encounter that took place in Hamburg in 1988 was just one further chapter. Once again, the subplot involved controversial penalties: after Lothar Matthäus had given the Mannschaft the lead from the spot, an innocuous stumble by Marco van Basten at the other end resulted in a spot-kick to the Dutch.
Ronald Koeman levelled the scores, and in a blink of an eye it was all over as van Basten swivelled and shot to beat Eike Immel with less than ninety seconds left on the clock.
v Italy, First Phase Group 1, Düsseldorf, 10.06.1988 View Report »
v Denmark, First Phase Group 1, Gelsenkirchen, 14.06.1988 View Report »
v Spain, First Phase Group 1, München, 17.06.1988 View Report »
v The Netherlands, Semi-Final, Hamburg, 22.06.1988 View Report »