Arguably one of the most painful European Championship qualifying campaigns of the last thirty years, the quest to make the finals of Euro 1984 in France was just about achieved – and probably saved under-pressure Nationaltrainer Jupp Derwall’s career. Well, for a few more months at least until his side were eliminated in the first phase.

The campaign could not have got off to a worse start for the then defending European Champions with a defeat at the hands of Northern Ireland – a side up until that moment they had never lost against. Having taken the lead in the eighteenth minute through the diminutive QPR striker Ian Stewart the Ulstermen never looked back, and somehow managed to keep the likes of Kalle Rummenigge, Klaus Allofs and Bernd Schuster off the scoreboard. Pierre Littbarski had a goal disallowed as the Germans tried in vain to salvage a point, but it would be a historic evening for the home crowd in Belfast’s compact Windsor Park ground.

That shock opening defeat would set the tone for what was a very flat and frankly ordinary campaign, littered with a number of erratic performances that belied Germany’s status as one of the strongest footballing nations in Europe. Albania were beaten in Tiranë only by the odd goal in three, and although a 3-0 win was secured in Turkey it was followed by a dull 0-0 draw in Austria, who after their first four games headed the group standings with seven points.

Things appeared to have got back on track with a more comfortable 3-0 home win against the Austrians followed by a 5-1 demolition of the Turks in Berlin, which put Derwall’s side top of the group ahead of Northern Ireland on goal difference – with both teams on nine points. Having started brilliantly with three straight wins, no goals conceded and a goal difference of +11, the Austrians had fallen away dramatically – finishing their campaign on nine points having collected only three from their last five matches.

Despite Germany’s uninspired campaign, all of the other teams in the group had effectively conspired against each other with a succession of poor results. While Austria had sunk like a stone, Northern Ireland were also guilty of shooting themselves in the foot. Just a month after their historic win over Derwall’s side in Belfast, Billy Bingham’s men stumbled to a goalless draw in Tiranë against an Albanian side that had lost its previous nine competitive internationals.

With two home games against Northern Ireland and Albania remaining, the Mannschaft were somehow still in charge of their own destiny, and when their game in Hamburg against the Irish kicked off they just needed a draw to secure their berth in France with a game to spare. Ninety minutes later however, the worst had happened. The defeat in Belfast had been bad enough, but nobody in their worst nightmares had expected the reigning European Champions to lose at home to a side that had only picked up a single point from their three previous away fixtures. But lose they did, courtesy of a fiftieth-minute goal from teenage sensation Norman Whiteside. From simply needing a draw to qualify with a game to spare, Germany were now left on the brink.

The final match of the group pitted the Nationalmannschaft against bottom side Albania in Nationaltrainer Jupp Derwall’s adopted home town of Saarbrücken – though by this time nobody was taking anything for granted. The omens were not good: in 1966, Germany had been runners-up in the World Cup, and in qualifying for the 1968 European Championship had been two points behind Yugoslavia with one fixture remaining – Albania. Needing any sort of win to snatch first place on goal difference, Helmut Schön’s side had not been able to find a way through what was a solid red wall as they were held to a goalless draw – resulting in their being pipped by the Yugoslavs by a single point.

It was a damp and chilly Sunday afternoon in November 1983, and the parallels were remarkable. Derwall’s side were two points behind Northern Ireland, and found themselves facing the exact same task as the predecessors had done on that dark night in December 1967. With a better goal difference than the Irish, the task was straightforward enough: win, or be eliminated. To add just an another dramatic layer to the story, it was also Volkstrauertag – Remembrance Sunday.

Right to the bitter end, Derwall’s side kept everyone in the packed Ludwigsparkstadion on tenterhooks. On twenty-three minutes – horror of all horrors – Albania split the German defence with a fine break, and scored their first-ever goal on German soil through Genc Tomorri. Yes, Albania, a side that had not been ahead once in their previous seven qualifying fixtures. Thankfully before the pressure on the home side could get any more intense, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge almost immediately drilled in an indirect free-kick from the edge of the box to bring the scores level – though this was of course still not enough to see the Mannschaft through.

With the first half drawing to a close, Germany had another free-kick at the edge of the area; after hitting the wall with his first effort Rummenigge managed to get a shot on target, with Rudi Völler just failing to meet the ball. Thinking it had come off ‘keeper Perlat Musta, Völler protested – resulting in a rather comical melée which saw the Bremen striker on the ground and the Albanians surrounding the referee – who brandished the dreaded Rot in their general direction. After some confusion the man asked to take an early bath was goalscorer Tomorri.

With seconds remaining in the first half, Rummenigge hit the outside of the post with the ‘keeper rooted to the spot. Despite playing against ten men, it just looked like it was going to be one of those days.

The second half began and it was all Germany, with wave after wave of Schwarz und Weiß crashing against a solid red wall. Norbert Meier blasted over. Rummenigge headed wide. Wolfgang Dremmler forced a fine save from Musta. Rummenigge headed wide again with the goal at his mercy. Time was slowly but surely running out, and no doubt beers were being downed and fingernails were being bitten to the quick in Belfast and Ballymena as well as Bielefeld, Bremerhaven and Berlin.

With some eleven minutes left on the clock, VfB Stuttgart defender Bernd Förster found some space down the right and swung a high and hopeful cross into the box which flew inches above a leaping Albanian defender. There to meet the ball was the unheralded 1. FC Köln libero Gerd Strack, whose firm header flew to ‘keeper Musta’s left. The 41,000 crowd erupted in a cacophony of horns and cheers, with ZDF commentator Wolfram Esser shouting the simple yet memorable line Da ist es! Strack! da ist es! – “It’s there! Strack! It’s there!”

The late winner in Saarbrücken was Gerd Strack’s first goal in ten games for the Mannschaft – and also his last. Although he would be named in the squad for the finals in France the following year, the 1. FC Köln man would never play in the Schwarz und Weiß again.

Germany’s match-winners over the years have been celebrated all over the world – Beckenbauer, Müller, Matthäus, Völler, Klinsmann. But the side would never have been the same were it not for the many unsung heroes – the likes of Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, Berti Vogts, Dieter Eilts… And Gerd Strack.

In the end, the statistics clearly suggest that the Mannschaft were only saved by Northern Ireland’s pitiful form away from home. While the Irish had won all four of their games at Windsor Park, the 1-0 result in Hamburg constituted their only win on the road. On their travels they lost in both Austria and Turkey, and could only draw 0-0 with bottom side Albania; had the Ulstermen managed to secure an additional point from any of these three games, Germany would have been eliminated at the qualifying stage for only the second time in their illustrious history.

Also interesting is the fact that in recent qualifying tournaments the head to head record between two teams has taken precedence over goal difference; had this same method of separating teams tied on the same number of points been used in the qualifying campaign for Euro 1984, Derwall’s side would have been eliminated immediately after the defeat in Hamburg – rendering their final game meaningless.

Match Results and Details

v Northern Ireland, Windsor Park, Belfast, 17.11.1982
Northern Ireland

0-1 (0-1)
– / Stewart 18.

Team: Schumacher – Kaltz, Stielike, Strack, B. Förster – Matthäus (72. Völler), B. Schuster (72. Engels), Briegel – Kh. Rummenigge (c), K. Allofs, Littbarski

Goal Info:

0-1 QPR’s Ian Stewart picks up the ball on the left outside the German penalty area, and fires in a low speculative shot from around twenty-five yards with Manny Kaltz holding back. Somehow the ball manages to find its way into the back of the net past Toni Schumacher to give the Ulstermen a shock lead that they will hold until full-time.

v Albania, Qemal Stafa, Tiranë, 30.03.1983
Albania

2-1 (1-0)
Völler 53., Rummenigge pen 68. / Targaj pen 82.

Team: Schumacher – B. Förster, Strack, Kh. Förster, Otten – Engels, Ha. Müller, Briegel – Littbarski, Völler (85. N. Meier), Kh. Rummenigge (c)

Goal Info:

1-0 Pierre Littbarski breaks down the right, and his cross is met by an Albanian defender who sends the ball spinning towards his own goal. ‘Keeper Perlat Musta scrambles back spectacularly to keep it out, but Rudi Völler is on hand to stab it home from two metres out.

2-0 Littbarski plays a short pass to Stephan Engels, whose charge into the box sees him being bundled over by Albanian skipper Muhedin Targaj. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge takes responsibility for the penalty which he places neatly into the lower right-hand corner, sending Musta the wrong way.

2-1 Gerd Strack attempts to deal with a high looping ball just inside his own box, and is perhaps harshly called by the linesman for handball. Targaj calmly sends Schumacher the wrong way from the spot and finds the lower left-hand corner of the net.

v Turkey, Alsancak Stadium, İzmir, 23.04.1983
Turkey

3-0 (2-0)
Rummenigge pen 31., 71., Dremmler 35. / –

Team: Schumacher – Dremmler, Strack, Kh. Förster, Briegel – Engels, B. Schuster, Ha. Müller – Littbarski (76. Wechsel Rolff), Völler, Kh. Rummenigge (c)

Goal Info:

1-0 Rudi Völler picks up the ball just inside his own half, and charges into the Turkish penalty area where he is brought down. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge keeps his nerve in front of the whistling home crowd and places his kick low to the left, sending ‘keeper Şenol Güneş the wrong way.

2-0 Hansi Müller’s perfectly-timed pass finds Wolfgang Dremmler out on the right, and the Bayern midfielder makes an angled run before drilling his shot from the edge of the box past the prostrate Güneş.

3-0 Völler makes good ground down the left, and flights in a well-directed cross which is flapped at by ‘keeper Güneş, missed by Littbarski and finally stabbed home by Rummenigge.

v Austria, Praterstadion, Wien, 27.04.1983
Austria

0-0 (0-0)
– / –

Team: Schumacher – Dremmler, Strack, Kh. Förster, Briegel (39. B. Förster) – Engels, B. Schuster, Ha. Müller (68. Rolff) – Littbarski, Völler, Kh. Rummenigge (c)

v Austria, Parkstadion, Gelsenkirchen, 05.10.1983
Austria

3-0 (3-0)
Rummenigge 3., Völler 18., 20. / –

Team: Schumacher – Dremmler, Strack, Kh. Förster, Briegel – Rolff, Augenthaler, B. Schuster, N. Meier (74. Matthäus) – Kh. Rummenigge (c), Völler (73. Waas)

Goal Info:

1-0 A goal out of nothing for Germany as Austrian defender Heribert Weber makes a hash of a clearance in his own area, allowing Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to quickly pounce and loop the ball in somewhat bizarre fashion over ‘keeper Fred Koncilia.

2-0 Some crisp German passing creates space for Karl-Heinz Förster, who fires in a shot from at least thirty yards out. The ball is parried rather weakly by the unfortunate Koncilia, who can do nothing to stop Rudi Völler blasting the rebound into the roof of the net.

3-0 In a blistering move started at the back by sweeper Gerd Strack and skilfully engineered through the midfield by Bernd Schuster and Norbert Meier, the ball finds Rummenigge out on the right whose sharp cross is met by Völler who beats the advancing Koncilia with a delicate right-footed finish.

v Turkey, Olympiastadion, Berlin, 26.10.1983
Turkey

5-1 (1-0)
Völler 44., 65., Rummenigge 60., pen 74., Stielike 66. / Şengün 69.

Team: Schumacher – Otten, Strack, Augenthaler, Briegel (81. Herget) – Matthäus, Stielike, N. Meier (81. M. Rummenigge) – Littbarski, Völler, Kh. Rummenigge (c)

Goal Info:

1-0 Rudi Völler collects a pass from Pierre Littbarski on the right and cuts into the box past one Turkish defender, skips past another and plays a neat one-two with Littbarski before hitting a right-foot shot that squirms past ‘keeper Adem İbrahimoğlu at the near post.

2-0 A corner is swung in by Littbarski from the right into the box where an unmarked Karl-Heinz Rummenigge bundles it into the net with his knee – ein “Knietor”.

3-0 Littbarski picks up the ball just inside his own half, and finds Völler on the right with a deft pass with the outside of his right foot. Völler still has plenty of work to do, but makes it look easy as he jinks inside one defender and skips past another before launching a terrific left-footed shot into the top left corner from the edge of the eighteen-yard box.

4-0 Another run from Littbarski, and a cute little backheel from Norbert Meier finds the marauding Uli Stielike at the edge of the area. The sweeper’s first-time shot is unerring as it skids into the lower left corner of the Turkish net.

4-1 A Turkish corner from the right is nodded back across the box where the unmarked Hasan Şengün, having stolen a march on the German defence, heads the ball cleanly past Toni Schumacher.

5-1 Having intercepted a stray Turkish pass out of defence, Stielike is hacked down in the box. Rummenigge steps up to take the resulting penalty, and strikes it straight down the middle as İbrahimoğlu dives to his left.

v Northern Ireland, Volksparkstadion, Hamburg, 16.11.1983
Northern Ireland

0-1 (0-0)
– / Whiteside 50.

Team: Schumacher – Dremmler, Stielike (83. Strack), Kh. Förster, Briegel – Matthäus, Augenthaler, Rolff, N. Meier (68. Littbarski) – Kh. Rummenigge (c), Waas

Goal Info:

0-1 A fantastic run down the left by Ian Stewart ends in a ferocious shot that is brilliantly parried by Toni Schumacher, but the German ‘keeper is unable to regain his footing in time as the ball is quickly played back into the box and swept in by Manchester United youngster Norman Whiteside.

v Albania, Ludwigsparkstadion, Saarbrücken, 20.11.1983
Albania

2-1 (1-1)
Rummenigge 24., Strack 80. / Tomorri 23.

Team: Schumacher – B. Förster, Strack, Kh. Förster, Briegel (34. Otten) – Dremmler, Matthäus, N. Meier – Littbarski (68. Waas), Völler, Kh. Rummenigge (c)

Goal Info:

0-1 An incisive Albanian break through the centre of the field sets up what is the first Albanian goal on German soil. A fine ball sets Ferid Rragami down on the right, and his cross is met by Genc Tomorri at the far post.

1-1 A firm and low Karl-Heinz Rummenigge free-kick from the edge of the D takes the slightest deflection off the Albanian defensive wall, beats ‘keeper Perlat Musta and finds its way to the lower right corner of the net.

2-1 Bernd Förster finds time and space out on the right, and his gently looping cross just evades the desperate leap of an Albanian defender to reach the unmarked Gerd Strack, who guides a firm header past Musta and into the right-hand corner of the net to send Germany through to the finals with only ten minutes left on the clock.

Final Group Standings

TeamPWDLFAGDPts
GermanyGermany FR (Q)8512155+1011
Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland851285+311
AustriaAustria84131510+59
TurkeyTurkey8314816-87
AlbaniaAlbania8026414-102

Other results: Austria 5-0 Albania; Austria 2-0 Northern Ireland; Turkey 1-0 Albania; Austria 4-0 Turkey; Albania 0-0 Northern Ireland; Northern Ireland 2-1 Turkey; Northern Ireland 1-0 Albania; Albania 1-1 Turkey; Albania 1-2 Austria; Northern Ireland 3-1 Austria; Turkey 1-0 Northern Ireland; Turkey 3-1 Austria.

Goals Summary: Rummenigge (7), Völler (5), Dremmler, Stielike, Strack (1). Total 15.

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