Wembley Stadium, London, 30.06.1996
Czech Republic

2-1 et GG (0-0, 1-1)
Bierhoff 73., 95. / Berger pen 59.

Germany would finish the tournament as they had started it three weeks earlier, with a Sunday afternoon encounter against the Czech Republic. Following their easy 2-0 win in the first meeting at Old Trafford and their epic penalty shootout victory over the hosts England in the semi-final Berti Vogts’ side were the red-hot favourites, with a third European title a mere formality.

The Czechs for their part had more than surpassed themselves: after their dramatic 3-3 draw against Russia to reach the last eight they had knocked out the much-fancied Portuguese with a Karel Poborský wonder goal before stifling and strangling the highly-rated French in a forgettably dull semi-final.

For most outside observers the “real” final had taken place a four days earlier; all that remained was for Germany to do what needed to be done and collect the trophy. With England failing to make it into the showpiece event there would be little local interest in the remaining tickets available for the final, and so it proved as I was able to amble to the box office at Wembley on the Thursday morning and buy a couple of tickets at seventy pounds each – one for me and one for my former schoolmate Michael who would be bringing along his Czech flag.

These of course were the days when genuine football supporters could get hold of tickets for a major tournament final: how quickly things would change.

Given the selection problems brought about by the combination of injuries and suspensions, it is something of a miracle that Vogts was even able to put together a decent starting eleven. As part of a more attacking 1-1-4-2-2 formation, Markus Babbel provided protection for sweeper Matthias Sammer, while Thomas Helmer was shifted back into a four-man defensive midfield unit along with Dieter Eilts, Christan Ziege and Thomas Strunz who was in for the suspended Stefan Reuter. The half-fit Thomas Häßler returned to the side to partner Mehmet Scholl who replaced the suspended Andy Möller, and having played the one striker against England Vogts reverted back to the usual two-pronged attack with the just-about-fit-again Jürgen Klinsmann returning to the side to join semi-final hero Stefan Kuntz.

Due to the lack of available outfield players the DFB had made an emergency request to UEFA to bolster their heavily weakened squad; this was granted and SC Freiburg midfielder Jens Todt was assigned the number 23 shirt, but in the end he would not be nominated. There would be only five fit players on the German bench for the final: goalkepeers Oliver Kahn and Oliver Reck, midfield utility man Marco Bode, defender René Schneider and striker Oliver Bierhoff. Of these five, only Bierhoff had been on the field for more than fifteen minutes during the entire course of the tournament.

With my brother having been put in charge of the video recording at home I met Michael at my old university in Uxbridge, and after a hearty roast dinner we headed off on the Metropolitan line to Wembley Park. The officials at Wembley were far more fussy than their counterparts in Manchester, as I found myself having to remove the pole from the Nationalfahne that I had twice taken into the ground at Old Trafford; when we found our seats, the flag had quickly become a natty-looking black, red and gold cape. We arrived in good time, and were able to settle down and take in the atmosphere as the massed band of the Royal Air Force marched past.

While there was a healthy smattering of German supporters in the stand the majority of those around us were rooting for the Czechs, including a number of locals who could be easily identified by their shouting “Check-ee” instead of the correct pronunciation of “Chess-key”. Finally both teams walked out to be introduced to the Queen, with the Mannschaft led out by Jürgen Klinsmann and the Czechs by veteran defender Miroslav Kadlec. The Mannschaft were in their traditional Schwarz und Weiß, the Czechs in red and white, and the Queen in a particularly lurid shade of green.

The show before the show: the German team are introduced to the Queen at Wembley

In front of what could best be described as a cosmopolitan Wembley crowd of 73,611 on a dry and slightly overcast Sunday afternoon, Italian referee Pierluigi Pairetto – who had officiated Germany’s first phase match against the Netherlands four years earlier – got the game underway.

Both sides started the game positively, but it was Berti Vogts’ side that made the early running with the Czechs defending deeply. The corner count was already 4-0 in favour of the Mannschaft as the clock reached the fifteen minute mark, with Petr Kouba in the Czech goal being given plenty of light catching practice.

After what had been a fairly ordinary opening spell the Czechs started to come back into the game, but the German defence were quick to close their opponents down and mop things up. With the Germans looking the more positive side Dušan Uhrin’s side were prepared to sit tight and attack on the break, and could very well have fashioned an opportunity after twenty-five minutes when Pavel Nedvěd took one touch too many with Karel Poborský in space out to his right.

After a first half-hour where gone both goalkeepers been virtual spectators with neither side looking particularly dangerous up front, Stefan Kuntz did well to control an awkward ball and beat defender Karel Rada in the Czech box before hooking a shot on target that was half-blocked by Kouba – who produced an excellent impersonation of a flailing octopus. As the ball floated towards the net, Rada recovered brilliantly to hack it off the line.

This first real opportunity for either side appeared to signal a distinct change in the paceof the match. Dieter Eilts was able to get away with a badly-timed headed clearance in front of his own goal, while as the play switched back to the other end Kouba first produced a well-timed punch to clear the ball from the fast-advancing Kuntz before smothering the Beşiktaş man’s angled shot from the edge of the six-yard box after Christian Ziege had sliced open the Czech defence with a superbly-timed pass. Three minutes before the break Eilts was caught on the ball by Pavel Kuka, who bore down on the German goal before forcing a fine block from Andreas Köpke.

Just moments before half-time Eilts went down awkwardly after tangling with Czech midfielder Jiří Němec, and would still be receiving treatment when the whistle blew to signal the end of what had been an interesting if not necessarily exciting forty-five minutes. Eilts was the sort of player who would usually haul himself up, dust himself down and get on with things: it was not a good sign.

In a competition where the Germans had seemed to pick up at least one injury every match, it would be no great surprise when Eilts didn’t return with the rest of the team as they came back out through the tunnel. With the lack of available resources on the bench the Nationaltrainer would soon find himself having to alter his tactics: with Eilts being replaced by his Werder Bremen club team-mate Marco Bode who would assume a position at left-back, it would be left up to the more attack-minded Christian Ziege to fill in for the man who had over the course if the tournament established himself as the reliable backbone of the German defence.

Bode’s first action would see him burst down the left, only to be tripped by Michal Horňák who became the first player to find his way into the referee’s notebook. The Mannschaft had continued to make most of the running, and could very well have taken the lead just short of the fifty-minute mark when Jürgen Klinsmann and Mehmet Scholl combined beautifully to find the advancing Thomas Strunz in space just outside the Czech penalty area. Although he had more than enough time to pick out the unmarked Stefan Kuntz to his left, Strunz decided to go for glory himself – sending the ball high and far from handsomely over the target. The Germans should have perhaps been in front, but it was not all one-way traffic as first Poborský’s curling free-kick almost found Horňák at the far post and Patrik Berger was unlucky as his shot cannoned off a defender straight into the arms of Köpke.

Just short of the hour mark Matthias Sammer’s attempted dink forward was sent back with interest by Nedvěd, which was chased down by Kuka. The Czech forward crashed to the ground as Sammer attempted to cut him off, but the ball had made its way out to Poborský on the right as the referee played a good advantage. As the long-haired Czech midfielder approached the German penalty area Sammer slid in; Poborský leapt spectacularly, and in one swift action flew into the penalty area before crashing to the ground and performing a neat triple roll. Signor Pairetto charged foward, pointing to the penalty spot.

Sammer looked on with a look of complete shock; his tackle had actually taken place outside the box, and Czech fullback Michal Horňák could even be seen moments later picking up a large divot and carefully replacing it at the point where the challenge had been made. Patrik Berger’s kick was blasted straight down the middle, and the ball would have enough pace on it to squirm under the body of the unlucky Köpke.

Patrik Berger’s penalty squirms under the diving Andy Köpke, and the Czech Republic take a shock lead

Thomas Helmer who was shown the yellow card for clattering Kuka as the Czechs broke at pace again, and in having to chase the game in search of an equaliser the Germans would have to run the risk of leaving spaces open at the back. No side had come from behind to win during the entire three-week tournament, and no team had managed to overturn a deficit to win the final itself since the inaugural competition in 1960, when the Soviet Union came from behind to defeat Yugoslavia 2-1 in extra time.

In what had been a somewhat traumatic spell of play for Matthias Sammer the sweeper was dispossessed by Němec and then booked in his attempt the get the ball back; as the game entered the final quarter of the ninety minutes Berti Vogts took what was probably his last roll of the dice, sending on Oliver Bierhoff for Mehmet Scholl.

Moments after Thomas Häßler had shot just wide of the target after some good holding play by Jürgen Klinsmann, Thomas Strunz was bundled over by Němec out by the right-hand touchline two-thirds of the way inside the Czech half. Christian Ziege curled the ball into the crowded penalty area and towards the far post with his left foot, and as Kouba remained inexplicably rooted to his line Bierhoff stole in to power the ball into the net with a firm downward header. The substitute had been on the pitch for two minutes, and with only his second touch of the ball had hauled his side back into the match.

Two minutes after his arrival on the pitch, Oliver Bierhoff gets in front of the Czech defence to level the scores

As the end of the end of the ninety minutes and the possibility of golden goal extra time drew nearer both sides sensed the chance to go for the win as the spaces started to open up on the field. Bode’s shot on target was easily collected by Kouba, a Klinsmann shot was blocked by Rada after a fantastic defence-breaking run down the right by the energetic Ziege, and within seconds of replacing Karel Poborský Czech substitute Vladmir Šmicer forced Köpke into a fine diving save with a well-struck shot.

As the clocked ticked into additional time Germany Sammer won a free-kick out on the left, but this time Kouba would come out to meet Häßler’s inswinging cross and push the ball away. There would be no last-minute winner, and the Italian referee allowed just ninety-four seconds of additional time before blowing his whistle.

The Czechs would get things underway, and within seconds of the restart Ziege was unlucky to get a yellow card for a clip on Šmicer. Four minutes into extra time Germany started yet another slow patient build up from the back, and Thomas Helmer ambled to halfway inside his own half before launching a long ball forward towards Bierhoff who won the ball in the air and found Klinsmann inside the Czech penalty area to his right. With the defenders appearing to hold back from the challenge, Klinsmann was able to hook the ball back towards the centre of the penalty area where it was gathered by Bierhoff with his back to goal.

Pressured by Karel Rada, Bierhoff took one touch with his right foot before finding enough space to swings at the ball with his left, sending it towards the Czech goal where Kouba should have had an easy take; instead the Czech ‘keeper mistimed his move completely, and only succeeded in pawing the ball which took one almost apologetic bounce before spinning into the side netting. There were eyes at the linesman on the right touchline who might have raised his flag against Stefan Kuntz while not involved in the play had looked to have strayed slightly offside, but no flag would come.

Having turned the game on its head, an ecstatic Bierhoff celebrates Germany’s winning Golden Goal.

It was the Golden Goal, and the result of what had to have been the most inspired substitution in the entire history of the tournament. The story goes that it was Berti Vogts’ wife who had suggested that he take Bierhoff to England: “Take Oliver Bierhoff with you,” she is said to have told him. “He will repay you.”

As Jürgen Klinsmann collected the gleaming silver trophy from the Queen the victory would be doubly sweet for the Nationaltrainer, who had been part of the German side beaten by the Czechs on penalty kicks in Belgrade back in 1976.

Germany: Köpke – Sammer – Babbel – Strunz, Eilts (46. Bode), Helmer, Ziege – Häßler, Scholl (69. Bierhoff) – Klinsmann (c), Kuntz

Czech Republic: Kouba – Kadlec – Suchopárek, Rada – Horňák, Nedvěd, Bejbl, Němec – Poborský (88. Šmicer), Berger – Kuka

Referee: Pierluigi Pairetto (Italy)
Assistants: Donato Nicoletti (Italy), Tullio Manfredini (Italy)
Fourth Official: Marcello Nicchi (Italy)

Yellow Cards: Helmer, Sammer, Ziege / Horňák
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 73,611

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