Idrottsparken, Norrköping, 12.06.1992
Häßler 90. / Dobrovolskiy pen 64.
The Nationalmannschaft’s opening first phase match in Norrköping’s Idrottsparken would pit them against the CIS, the team that had replaced the now recently defunct Soviet Union. Anatoliy Byshovets’ side would come into the match as the clear underdogs, but nobody in their right mind would have marked them down as easy opponents: tactically astute and defensively minded, many expected them to park the bus in what was an intriguing opening encounter.
Led out by striker Rudi Völler in the absence of the injured Lothar Matthäus, Germany – kitted out in their familiar Schwarz und Weiß – kicked off on what was a sunny evening in Norrköping in front of a crowd of just over seventeen thousand.
Right from the kick-off it was clear how the game was going to pan out. The play during the first twenty minutes was scrappy at best, with the CIS side quick to move men behind the ball as soon as there was the sniff of a threat from Berti Vogts’ side who found themselves resorting to shots from distance. Andreas Brehme blasted a shot high over the bar and Guido Buchwald launched one well wide of the target for the Germans, while at the other end a rare break from the red-shirted CIS saw Igor Dobrovolskiy give Bodo Illgner a chance to gently warm his gloves with an easy catch.
With the CIS adopting a defensive approach the onus was on the Germans to force the pace, and try as they might they found it increasingly difficult to break the red-shirted defence down. Stefan Reuter provided sparks of inspiration down the right and Thomas Doll was looking bright out on the left flank, with Reuter in particular falling victim to a number of a crisp challenges.
Rudi Völler had been on the end of a rather innocuous challenge from defender Dmitri Kuznetsov some twenty minutes into the match, though after having some treatment he quickly returned to the pitch with some strapping applied to his left arm. However with just over half an hour gone the skipper tried to get on the end of a half-chance, and walked away grasping his arm with a clear look of discomfort etched on his face; it was not looking good.
As the first half drew to a close the CIS had almost completely retreated into their own half, leaving the ball to the Germans who were still trying patiently to force an opening. Five minutes before the break came the best move of the match, as Doll and Reuter combined to find Thomas Häßler in space down the right. The diminuitive midfielder sent a perfectly-weighted right-footed cross into the opposition box towards Völler. Despite his injured arm the German skipper was just about able to left himself above his two markers, but was unable to direct his header which looped over ‘keeper Dmitri Kharine and onto the roof of the net.
As the teams marched towards the tunnel at the half-time break there had only really been one team in it, and despite the goalless scoreline it seemed that it would be only a matter of time before the Germans would finally make their pressure tell and break the deadlock.
Things would take a dark turn for the Mannschaft during the break however, where it was discovered that Völler had not just sprained but had fractured his forearm. With the tournament just starting to warm up, he would play no further part in it. Having already had to cope with the absence Lothar Matthäus, the injury to yet another key player would make things even more difficult for Nationaltrainer Berti Vogts, who now found himself having to rejig his attacking line-up and turn to what would be his third-choice captain.
The second half kicked off with Andreas Möller on for the unfortunate Völler, with the captain’s armband now being passed to Andreas Brehme.
In what was a tight opening game, Andreas Brehme challenges Igor Dobrovolskiy
Things started as the first half as ended, with only one of the two side trying to play football. The mainly German crowd had by now started to jeer the opposition, who continued to either play the ball back to Kharine or hoof it up the field hoping for a lucky break. With just under ten minutes gone in the half Guido Buchwald combined brilliantly with the sprightly Thomas Doll, whose cute backheel sent the lanky defender free to take a shot on goal. Not the most natural striker, Buchwald’s right-footed shot curled well wide of the far post.
The Buchwald effort seemed to have taken the Mannschaft into a second gear, and they continued to press though without really threatening Kharine’s goal. Then came a swift break at the other end, with the CIS missing a number of chances to have a shot on goal before the drama was ended with Alexei Mikhailichenko’s spectacularly bad attempt to win a penalty as he went sprawling over Manfred Binz’s well-timed challenge. The play then swept again the other way, as a long ball forward from Möller was touched on by Karl-Heinz Riedle for Häßler, who blazed a left-footed shot just high and wide of the target.
The game had now sparked into life, and took another dramatic turn just past the hour mark when Andriy Kanchelskis swung what looked like a regulation cross to the far side of the German penalty area. The ball was chested down by Dobrovolskiy, but fell to Häßler who looked all set to clear the danger. Stefan Reuter however had other ideas, and was unable to stop himself from bowling Dobrovolskiy over long after the ball had gone. The red-shirted midfielder collapsed in a heap, but this was no Marco van Basten dive: there would be no grounds for disputing the decision of the French referee who immediately pointed to the penalty spot.
Dobrovolskiy himself would step up to take the kick, and with what was probably his side’s first shot on target rolled the ball low into the right-hand corner as Illgner went the wrong way. It was like a blow to the solar plexus: out of nothing, the CIS were now 1-0 up. Knowing that Anatoliy Byshovets’ side would now double their defensive efforts, Berti Vogts reacted immediately as he replaced the guilty Reuter with another attacker in the form of Jürgen Klinsmann.
With just over twenty minutes to go, it was a case of all hands to the pump for Vogts’ side. Häßler came close with a free-kick from just outside the box, Riedle’s header was well blocked by Akhrik Tsveiba, and Möller sent a low shot wide of the target; meanwhile, CIS ‘keeper Kharine was booked for time-wasting. As the minutes ticked by things become increasingly desperate, and Illgner in the German goal was almost caught out by a speculative Dobrovolskiy effort from the right touchline that seemed to be flying over the net only to almost hang back and ping off the top of the crossbar.
With Vogts looking increasingly concerned in the dugout, the men in white shirts continued to stream forward against a side that had now given up on all forms of calculated attack. Häßler continued to charge down the right flank and Möller came desperately close, Riedle’s attempt at a Uwe Seeler-style backwards header saw the ball loop and bounce off the crossbar, and Buchwald sent another shot wide. With the final whistle approaching, it just didn’t look as though it was going to happen.
Then with was almost surely the last attack of the match Thomas Doll charged forward. A quick one-two with Klinsmann, a shove in the back from Dmitri Kuznetsov, and the referee’s whistle to signal a free-kick right just outside the penalty area at the left edge of the D.
As Monsieur Biguet marshalled the defensive wall that seemed both unable and unwilling to retreat their ten yards, Häßler stood over the ball. Kharine screamed at his defence, Icke stepped up and sent a curling shot towards the top right-hand corner of the goal. Klinsmann who had positioned himself at the end of wall timed his duck to perfection, Kharine desperately flew high to his left, and the ball smashed against the inside netting.
In the words of the legendary Barry Davies, “Häßler takes… And scores!”
The little number eight charged away towards touchline, fists pumping. There was no time to take the restart; the Mannschaft had been saved with what had been quite literally the last kick of the game.
Germany: Illgner – Binz – Reuter (65. Klinsmann), Kohler, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Effenberg, Doll – Völler (c) (46. Möller), Riedle
CIS: Kharine – Chernyshov, O. Kuznetsov, Tsveiba – Kanchelskis, Shalimov (83. Andrei Ivanov), Dobrovolskiy, Mikhailichenko – Lyutyi (46. Onopko), D. Kuznetsov – Kolyvanov
Referee: Gérard Biguet (France)
Assistants: Marc Huguenin (France), Alain Gourdet (France)
Fourth Official: Rémi Harrel (France)
Yellow Cards: – / Dobrovolskiy, Kharine, Tsveiba
Red Cards: – / –