Thirty years after England had last hosted a major international tournament, “football came home” for the tenth edition of the European Championship, a new-look competition featuring an increased quota of sixteen finalists. These sixteen teams were divided into four groups of four, with the top two teams in each group progressing to a straight knockout quarter-final, semi-final and final.
Going slightly against the trend introduced at the FIFA World Cup in 1994, each of the seeded teams had a single “base” for the group phase – with this extending to the quarter-final should they progress in the expected first position in their group. Running completely against the ground rotation trend was the path plotted for hosts England, whose “perfect path” to the final involved them playing every match at Wembley. Having been introduced at USA 1994, Euro 96 was also the first edition of the European Championship where teams were awarded three points for a win in the group stage.
With the addition of the eight extra teams the tournament more than doubled in size, with the fifteen matches that had been played in 1992 being expanded to thirty-one, and the tournament itself being extended from just over a fortnight to twenty-two days. Eight grounds across the country were used, with the final being played at Wembley stadium, one of world football’s most famous venues.
Sixty-four goals were scored in the thirty-one matches played at an average of 2.06, continuing what was a continued downward trend; part of this could possibly have been attributed to the introduction of the golden goal tie-breaker – in the seven knockout games that were played, only nine goals were scored at an average of 1.29 per game. Given that three of these nine goals were scored in the final itself, the other remaining six knockout matches produced a disappointing average of a goal a game.
Football may well have come home to England, but it was Germany took away claimed the trophy – Oliver Bierhoff’s dramatic golden goal capping off a superb tournament that had been bookended by two fixtures against the surprise team of the competition, the Czech Republic. Six years after reunification, the new Germany had its first major tournament victory.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
With the exception of the blip in Sofia against Bulgaria where they threw away a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2, Germany’s qualifying campaign for Euro 1996 was relatively painless. Both Germany and Bulgaria automatically qualified for the finals, with the Mannschaft claiming top spot with twenty-five points from their ten games. Apart from the three points thrown away in Sofia, the only other blot on the copybook was a 1-1 draw at home against Wales, who had over the years proved to be an awkward nut to crack. A fine 3-1 win over the Bulgarians in Berlin after they had gone a goal down provided a stirring end to what had been an exciting and goal-rich campaign.
As usual, the results of the friendly matches leading up to the tournament were something of a mixed bag. Things started excellently with three wins against three top nations and fellow tournament finalists in the early part of 2006 – a 2-1 win in Portugal with Andy Möller netting a brace, a solid 2-0 home win over Denmark with Oliver Bierhoff scoring twice, and an excellent single-goal win in Rotterdam against the Netherlands which was settled by a Jürgen Klinsmann penalty. However as the tournament drew near things turned a little patchy: a 1-1 draw in Northern Ireland was followed by a disappointing one-goal defeat in Stuttgart against France before a game of target practice against mountain minnows Liechtenstein which saw Berti Vogts’ side trounce the opposition 9-1, with seven different players getting on the scoresheet.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Germany’s group stage fixtures presented a dangerous mix of tournament bogey team Italy and two of the tournament’s unpredictable dark horses, the Czech Republic and the Russia. The opening game against the unpredictable Czechs – without the suspended skipper Jürgen Klinsmann – might have been seen as a potential banana skin, but any fears of an upset were allayed with two well-taken first-half goals from Christian Ziege and Andreas Möller. The following game against the Russians would provide a few jittery moments early on, but a Matthias Sammer goal and a Russian red card paved the way for the returning Klinsmann to score two more as Vogts’ side eased to an arguably flattering 3-0 win.
The final group game against Italy would see the Mannschaft maintain their tournament clean sheet – but only just. Having to chase the game to extend their stay in the tournament, the Azzurri missed an early penalty, and then failed to make any headway when Germany had been reduced to ten men with half an hour to go.
Germany’s quarter-final provided a first-time postwar fixture against Croatia, a bad-tempered match that saw Germany progress to the semis with hard-fought 2-1 win. Blessed with a potent mix of skill, guile and cynical gamesmanship, the Croats were arguably lucky to finish the game with ten men as a Klinsmann penalty and a superbly-taken Matthias Sammer goal sandwiched a piece of individual brilliance by Davor Šuker. The semi-final against England was equally dramatic: after Alan Shearer’s early header was neutralised by a well-made equaliser by Stefan Kuntz, one just knew that it would go all the way to the inevitable Elfmeterschießen. Even as a Germany fan I felt sorry for poor Gareth Southgate.
The final presented Berti Vogts’ side with the same opposition that they had kicked off their tournament against three weeks earlier. This time there was to be no early goal to settle the nerves, only a highly dubious penalty awarded to the opposition that helped to heighten them. In what provided to be an inspired second-half substitution, Oliver Bierhoff replaced Mehmet Scholl and promptly altered the course of the game: within five minutes of coming on Bierhoff had levelled the scores, and five minutes into extra time he had finished the tie with the tournament’s first and only golden goal.
Over the course of the competition Germany once again proved that they were the ultimate tournament team: a first phase clean sheet, a quarter-final win over disruptive opposition, a semi-final victory against the hosts where they held their nerves in a tense penalty shootout – and the ultimate golden goal final finish.
v Czech Republic First Phase Group C, Old Trafford, 09.06.1996 View Report »
v Russian Federation First Phase Group C, Old Trafford, 16.06.1996 View Report »
v Italy, First Phase Group C, Old Trafford, 19.06.1996 View Report »
v Croatia, Quarter-Final, Old Trafford, 23.06.1996 View Report »
v England, Semi-Final, Wembley, 26.06.1996 View Report »
v Czech Republic, European Championship Final, Wembley, 30.06.1996 View Report »