Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen, 14.06.1988
Klinsmann 10., Thon 85. / –
Having grabbed what had arguably been a fortunate draw in their opening match against Italy, Franz Beckenbauer’s German side lined up in Gelsenkirchen against Denmark – on paper the weakest of the four teams in the group. The Danes had beaten the Germans two years previously at the World Cup in Mexico and still had a number of talented players in their line-up, but the home side were expected to deliver on a ground that had been a happy hunting ground in the past. On German soil, the Denmark had not beaten the Nationalmannschaft since 1913.
Beckenbauer chose to stick with the line-up that had started against Italy, with the only change seeing Wolfgang Rolff come in for Thomas Berthold as part of a reformed 1-3-4-2 formation. The Danes had a side with plenty of tried and tested talent: Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjær-Larsen to name but two.
On what was a bright and sunny afternoon in front of a crowd of just under 65,000 in Gelsenkirchen’s veritable Parkstadion, the pressure was truly on the Mannschaft to deliver: one poor result, and they ran the risk of being dumped out of their own tournament at the first hurdle. The Danes meanwhile had plenty to play for: having been beaten 3-2 in their opening game against Spain, anything less than a win would see them on the brink of elimination.
After Scottish referee Bob Valentine – the man who had presided over the infamous Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón in 1982 – gone the match underway, things got off to a rather cagey start as the home side attempted to establish some control on the game by retaining possession of the ball. After an opening spell that had seen little in the way of adventutous play by either of the two sides, when the ball did find the back of the Danish net it was something of a bolt from the blue.
A hopeful long punt forward from Guido Buchwald into the opposition box saw the experienced Søren Lerby make a complete mess of his attempted headed clearance, sending the ball straight to Rudi Völler who was brilliantly closed down by Danish ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel. The ball squirmed out into space from Schmeichel’s block, where it was swept home in by Jürgen Klinsmann. Völler – who had been suffering an atrocious run of form and had been roundly jeered by the home fans for much of the game against Italy – just couldn’t seem to find the target, and his joy at the team’s opening goal must have been ever so slightly tempered at the sight of the gilt-edged opportunity that had fallen at the feet of his twenty-three year-old strike partner.
The goal clearly gave the home side confidence, as they started to look increasingly comfortable on the ball. Denmark were finding it increasingly difficult to even get hold of the ball, as Germany’s tackling was both crisp and precise. In contrast to their voiciferous supporters the men in red and white clearly looked both subdued and desperately short of ideas, which simply allowed Franz Beckenbauer’s side to maintain what was a constant level of pressure with little effort.
With just over half an hour Buchwald went down under what had looked like an innocuous challenge, but things turned out to be more serious as the big defender was clearly not looking quite right. Having being helped off the pitch the VfB Stuttgart man reappeared with a dressing on his head, but would soon be replaced by Werder Bremen’s Uli Borowka. Meanwhile, some great play down the right flank by Klinsmann and a pin-point cross into the Danish box by the rampaging Matthäus was almost finished in spectacular fashion by Völler, who sent a right-footed volley narrowly over the crossbar with Schmeichel rooted to the spot.
As the first half meandered to a close it had been all to comfortable for the home side. The early goal had clearly settled their nerves, while the opposition were but a shadow of the side that had impressed everybody two years earlier in Mexico. The likes of Laudrup and Elkjær had been for the most part anonymous, while Eike Immel in the German goal had spent most of the first forty-five minutes as little more than a spectator. I doubt much would have been said in the German dressing room, save the simple request for more of the same in the second half.
Andreas Brehme beats Denmark’s Kim Vilfort to the ball during the meeting in Gelsenkirchen
The second half began much as the first had ended, with the home side – in particular the effervescent Klinsmann – forcing the pace without really threatening Schmeichel in the Danish goal. As had been in the first half the Danes offered very little going forward, and nearly every move they might have made towards the German goal was quickly snuffed out by the men in Schwarz und Weiß. Brehme was lucky not to be booked for a bad challenge on Lerby, but apart from that and a number of other small fouls the first quarter of an hour passed with little incident.
Probably the most memorable moment of this otherwise dull period was provided by BBC analyst Jimmy Hill, who in passing the time chose to describe Völler as “past his best” and even more hilariously suggested that Klinsmann “has got a bit of pace, and he’s energetic and he’s forceful but he’s hardly a class extra special international player”. I can only assume that dear old Jimmy had been scratching his chin at the time.
The disappointing Völler was replaced by Frank Mill with fifteen minutes left, and perhaps in trying to remain awake the Gelsenkirchen crowd attempted to stir their side into life. Herget picked the ball up inside and charged into the Danish half, finding Littbarski out on the left. The 1. FC Köln winger’s cross came perilously close to John Sivebæk’s outstretched arm, before Frank Mill stole in send a downward header that came off Schmeichel and struck the upright.
The resulting corner saw a high looping header from Klinsmann bounce off the crossbar, capping off what had easily been the most riveting moments of what had been a very ordinary second half.
With five minutes left the Mannschaft won another corner out on the right, which was swung in by Littbarski. There to meet it was hometown boy Olaf Thon, who leaped brilliantly above Ivan Nielsen to drill a superbly-timed header past Schmeichel to finally put the game to bed.
With Germany assured of the win and the two points the game rolled to its inevitable conclusion, and when Mr. Valentine blew his whistle to signal time there was a sense of relief amongst the crowd home crowd. Relief that the two points had been won, and relief that what had been a horrible game – Thon’s brilliant header aside – was over.
Following Germany’s victory and the single-goal win achieved by Italy over Spain later that evening, both the hosts and the Italians led the group table with three points, followed by the Spaniards on two points and the Danes – now eliminated – at the bottom of the pile with nothing to show from their two matches. Curiously, the scenario looked very similar to back in 1984 – when Jupp Derwall’s side had one foot in the semi-finals before playing Spain in their final match.
As had been the case four years earlier in France the Mannschaft had their fate in their own hands, and just needed a draw to secure their place in the last four. Franz Beckenbauer’s side were clearly determined not to allow history to repeat itself.
Germany: Immel – Herget – Buchwald (33. Borowka), Kohler, Brehme – Rolff, Littbarski, Matthäus (c), Thon – Klinsmann, Völler (75. Mill)
Denmark: Schmeichel – Vilfort (73. Berggreen), Sivebæk, Lars Olsen, Nielsen – Heintze, Morten Olsen, Laudrup (62. Eriksen), Lerby – Elkjær-Larsen, Povlsen
Referee: Robert Valentine (Scotland)
Assistants: Kenneth Hope (Scotland), Andrew Waddell (Scotland)
Fourth Official: Michał Listkiewicz (Poland)
Yellow Cards: Rolff / Elkjær-Larsen, Povlsen
Red Cards: – / –