Having gone all the way to the World Cup Final in Korea and Japan, a degree of confidence had been restored in Rudi Völler’s side; however, it proved to be something of a false dawn as the Nationaltrainer found himself still having to scrape the barrel in putting even a half-decent team together.
If Germany’s qualifying group for Euro 2000 could have been described as easy, the teams they would have to face four years on were perhaps even more of a potential gifthorse. Apart from a Scotland side that was a shadow of the great teams of the 1970s and early 1980s, none of the opposition had any great pedigree: Iceland, Lithuania and a team that didn’t even have a proper grass pitch until 1991 – the Faroe Islands.
The opening match was straightforward enough as Lithuania were beaten 2-0 in Kaunas, but the first home fixture against the Faroes was to provide an indication of how the remainder of the campaign would run: in front of an increasingly frustrated crowd in Hannover, Völler’s side were pushed all the way as they scraped a 2-1 win that saw the islanders almost snatch a draw when they hit the post in the eighty-third minute. Things would get worse after the winter break in the return match against Lithuania in Nürnberg, which saw Carsten Ramelow’s early strike cancelled out as the visitors claimed a 1-1 draw; it would also end up 1-1 in Scotland later in the year, as once again the Mannschaft found themselves unable to keep the lead and finish the opposition off.
It was clear that Völler’s side were struggling, and the drama was heightened even further when they travelled just south of the Arctic Circle to take on the Faroes. With less than two minutes left on the clock, the islanders were moments away from recording their greatest-ever result as the score remained deadlocked at 0-0 – only for Miroslav Klose to spare his side’s blushes with an 89th minute header from a well-placed Oliver Neuville free-kick. A second goal from Fredi Bobić in injury time settled the issue and flattered the Germans, but their inability to break down what was essentially a team of farmers and fishermen could hardly have done much for morale.
Things would come to a head in Reykjavík less than three months later, which saw Germany held to a goalless draw by Iceland, another team that in days gone by would have been dispatched with little ceremony. The result led a number of well-known pundits – among them the great Günter Netzer – to criticise Rudi Völler, eliciting an on-screen outburst from the Nationaltrainer that would quickly find its place in German football folklore.
Before the penultimate set of fixtures four of the five teams in the group were in with a chance of making the finals: the pressure was now on. Iceland topped the group with thirteen points from seven matches, Germany were a point behind with a game in hand, while Scotland lay a point behind the Germans having also played six games. Even the fourth-placed Lithuanians had an outside chance of being in the mix. The equation was simple for Völler’s side however: they simply had to secure four points from both of their remaining games.
The Scots came to Dortmund knowing that a win would set them well on the way to a place in Portugal with a home fixture against Lithuania to come, and immediately took the home side on. The sense of foreboding among the home supporters was heightened by the damp and dreary conditions, but when Kevin Kurányi set up Fredi Bobić after twenty-four minutes German spirits were brightened in the teeming rain. When Bobić was hauled back by Stephen Pressley five minutes into the second half Michael Ballack had a chance to double the lead from the resulting spot-kick: this he duly did, and many of the nerves appeared to have been calmed.
However in keeping with the rest of the campaign the Scots – chasing the point that would keep them in the hunt for the automatic qualifying place – would pull a goal back ten minutes later and keep the pressure on for most of the remaining half an hour. The sense of relief among the home supporters was palpable when the ninety minutes were finally up; the first task had been achieved – and with it a guaranteed place in the play-offs at the very least.
The final set of fixtures saw Germany take on Iceland and Scotland take on Lithuania, with all four sides still in the qualifying mix. While Rudi Völler’s side just needed a draw in Hamburg to secure top spot, the Icelanders could pinch the automatic berth with a win; even a draw would have seen Iceland through to the play-offs, provided Scotland were unable to make make up a two-goal goal difference deficit. A defeat for Iceland and a win for Scotland would see the Scots through, while even Lithuania stood an outside chance in that they had to beat Scotland convincingly and rely on Iceland suffering a heavy defeat in Hamburg.
In what was clearly their most confident display in the entire campaign, the Mannschaft put their opponents to the sword almost immediately, as Michael Ballack’s low shot following some lovely trickery on the right flank by Fredi Bobić gave them the lead after nine minutes. It took until just before the hour mark for the second goal to arrive, but it was well worth the wait – a looping ball by Michael Ballack was smartly chested down by Kevin Kurányi and played into the box, where it was met by Bobić’s spectacular left-footed volley.
With the opposition offering little in the way of a threat the home crowd were now feeling far more relaxed – as were the German team who with the pressure now off were finally were able to express themselves. When the third goal came, nobody would have known that this was the same German side that had struggled so badly in Tórshavn and Reykjavík: after sub Miroslav Klose had worked his way behind the Icelandic defence with a zippy run down the right with just over ten minutes to go, his cross found Kurányi in space who slotted the ball home to seal a 3-0 win.
A three-goal win over lowly Iceland may not have been much to talk about in the context of the long and proud history of German football, but the Mannschaft had once again delivered when they needed to and had gone through the qualifying stage unbeaten. As for the poor Icelanders, they ended up missing out on the play-offs as a seventieth-minute Scottish goal accounted for Lithuania in Glasgow.
Match Results and Details
v Lithuania, Darius ir Girenas, Kaunas, 07.09.2002
Ballack 27., Stankevičius og 59. / –
Team: Kahn (c) – Linke, Ramelow, Metzelder – Frings, D. Hamann, Böhme – B. Schneider (86. Jeremies), Ballack – Jancker (69. Neuville), Klose
1-0 After a patient build-up in midfield, Bernd Schneider rolls the ball across to Michael Ballack who is positioned some twenty-five yards from the Lithuanian goal. Ballack has enough time to settle himself before launching a well-struck left-footed shot that curves past the outstretched left arm of Gintaras Staučė.
2-0 Torsten Frings delivers a teasing cross from the right into the Lithuanian penalty area towards Carsten Jancker. Defender Marius Stankevičius beats Jancker to the ball, but only succeeds in scoring a textbook headed own goal with ‘keeper Staučė rooted to the spot.
v Faroe Islands, Niedersachsenstadion, Hannover, 16.10.2002
Ballack pen 2., Klose 59. / Friedrich og 45.+1.
Team: Kahn (c) – A. Friedrich, Ramelow (46. Freier), Wörns – B. Schneider (87. Kehl), Jeremies, D. Hamann, Frings – Ballack – Jancker (69. Neuville), Klose
1-0 Germany are awarded a penalty with less than two minutes on the clock after Carsten Jancker is brought down, and Michael Ballack places his kick low to the right with Faroese ‘keeper Jákup Mikkelsen going the wrong way.
1-1 On the stroke of half-time a rare break by the Faroese sees a cross come in from Jakup Borg on the right. Arne Friedrich beats John Petersen to the ball with a perfect diving header that would have been worthy of Jürgen Klinsmann, but unfortunately it is at the wrong end of the pitch.
2-1 Paul Freier makes his way down to the byline on the right, and puts in a curling cross that is firmly met at the far post by a leaping Miroslav Klose whose header flies past Mikkelsen into the roof of the Faroese net.
v Lithuania, Frankenstadion, Nürnberg, 29.03.2003
Ramelow 8. / Ražanauskas 73.
Team: Kahn (c) – Frings, A. Friedrich, Wörns, Rau (82. Freier) – B. Schneider, Ramelow, D. Hamann, Böhme (46. Rehmer) – Bobić (72. Kurányi), Klose
1-0 Lithuania struggle to clear their lines, and the ball falls to Bernd Schneider who rolls it back to Jörg Böhme. Böhme’s left-footed drive is missing the target, but is cheekily backheeled past the diving Gintaras Staučė and into the back of the net by the alert Carsten Ramelow.
1-1 Tomas Ražanauskas picks up the ball from Darius Maciulevičius outside the German penalty area, and thrusts forward before jinking out to the right and past Tobias Rau to set up a shooting chance. Having done the hard work, Ražanauskas knocks the ball over the advancing Oliver Kahn from just outside the six-yard box.
v Scotland, Hampden Park, Glasgow, 07.06.2003
Bobić 22. / K. Miller 69.
Team: Kahn (c) – A. Friedrich, Ramelow, Wörns – Frings, Jeremies, Rau (57. Freier) – B. Schneider (86. Kehl), Ballack – Bobić, Klose (74. Neuville)
1-0 Germany break down the right swiftly in a move engineered by Torsten Frings and Michael Ballack. Frings’ cross into the Scottish box is judged to perfection, and Fredi Bobić gets in front of Stephen Pressley to guide a downward header firmly past Rab Douglas.
1-1 Scotland are awarded a free-kick just outside the German box which Colin Cameron takes quickly, catching the defenders by surprise. He slips the ball out to Kenny Miller to his right, who makes no mistake in stroking a right-footed shot across the advancing Oliver Kahn and into the left-hand side of the net.
v Faroe Islands, Tórsvøllur, Tórshavn, 11.06.2003
Klose 89., Bobić 90.+2. / –
Team: Kahn (c) (46. Rost) – A. Friedrich, Ramelow, Wörns – Jeremies (65. Klose), Kehl – Freier, B. Schneider, Rau (71. M. Hartmann) – Bobić, Neuville
1-0 With less than two minutes to go, Germany win a free-kick out on the right. Oliver Neuville launches the ball high into the Faroese box, where it is met by Miroslav Klose whose well-directed header into the right-hand side of the goal leaves ‘keeper Jákup Mikkelsen no chance.
2-0 A Neuville corner from the right is met by Sebastian Kehl, whose header forces Mikkelsen into a fine save. Unfortunately for the Faroese ‘keeper he cannot regain possession of the ball, and Fredi Bobić charges in to bundle it into the roof of the net.
v Iceland, Laugardalsvöllur, Reykjavík, 06.09.2003
– / –
Team: Kahn (c) – A. Friedrich, Wörns, F. Baumann, C. Rahn (60. M. Hartmann) – B. Schneider (70. Deisler), Ramelow, Kehl – Ballack – Klose, Neuville (46. Kurányi)
v Scotland, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 10.09.2003
Bobić 25., Ballack pen 50. / McCann 60.
Team: Kahn (c) – Rehmer, Ramelow, Wörns – A. Friedrich, F. Baumann, Rau – B. Schneider (81. Kehl), Ballack – Kurányi, Bobić (76. Klose)
1-0 Following a throw on the left of the field Fredi Bobić heads the ball into space just outside the Scottish penalty area, and Arne Friedrich sends a skidding shot towards the goal. ‘Keeper Rab Douglas manages to get a hand on it, but Kevin Kurányi is quick to cut the ball back across the six-yeard box for Bobić to slide in with his right boot.
2-0 Bobić looks all set to head in his second as he goes to meet Friedrich’s cross from the right, but is dragged off the ball by Stephen Pressley. Germany are awarded a penalty, which is calmly dispatched by Michael Ballack who sends it straight down the middle as Douglas dives to his right.
2-1 A stray German pass is intercepted by Scotland substitute Maurice Ross, who sends Steven Thompson charging down the right. Thompson’s cross into the German box is perfect, and Neil McCann gets in front of Marko Rehmer to guide the ball past a static Oliver Kahn.
v Iceland, AOL Arena, Hamburg, 11.10.2003
Ballack 9., Bobić 59., Kurányi 79. / –
Team: Kahn (c) – A. Friedrich, Ramelow, Wörns – Hinkel, F. Baumann, C. Rahn – B. Schneider, Ballack – Bobić (70. Klose), Kurányi (85. Neuville)
1-0 Germany open the scoring with a classic move: having won a throw-in on the right Andreas Hinkel picks out Fredi Bobić, who flicks the ball over his head and into the box with the back of his heel. There to meet it is Michael Ballack, who drills a low left-footed shot past ‘keeper Árni Gautur Arason.
2-0 Oliver Kahn punts the ball forward, and Ballack’s pass is deftly controlled by Kevin Kurányi on the edge of the Icelandic penalty area. Kurányi chests ball the down and hooks it into the box, where Bobić arrives to send it into the roof of the net with a spectacular left-footed volley.
3-0 Substitute Miroslav Klose is put into acres of space on the right flank, and after cutting inside full-back Olafur Örn Bjarnason he delivers the perfect square ball in front of the six-yard box where Kurányi is waiting to stroke it calmly into the back of the net with ‘keeper Arason struggling to make his ground.
Final Group Standings
Other results: Faroe Islands 2-2 Scotland; Lithuania 2-0 Faroe Islands; Iceland 0-2 Scotland; Iceland 3-0 Lithuania; Scotland 2-1 Iceland; Lithuania 1-0 Scotland; Iceland 2-1 Faroe Islands; Lithuania 0-3 Iceland; Faroe Islands 1-2 Iceland; Scotland 3-1 Faroe Islands; Faroe Islands 1-3 Lithuania; Scotland 1-0 Lithuania.
Goals Summary: Ballack, Bobić (4), Klose (2), Kurányi, Ramelow (1), own goals (1). Total 13.