Ullevi, Göteborg, 18.06.1992
Klinsmann 53. / Rijkaard 4., Rob Witschge 15., Bergkamp 72.
Germany took on great rivals the Netherlands at the Ullevi Stadium in Göteborg in their final first phase group match, with both sides exactly what to do to ensure their place in the semi-finals. With Berti Vogts’ side marginally ahead of the Dutch on goal difference, they just needed a draw to progress regardless of the result in the other final fixture; for the Dutch on the other hand a point may not have been enough with the CIS sitting close behind them in the group standings.
Prior to the kick-off the Germans sat at the head of the table with three points from their two matches and a goal difference of +2, the Dutch were in second – also on three points – with a goal difference of +1, and the CIS sat in third on two points with a level goal difference on account of their two draws – all ahead of the already-eliminated Scotland who sat at the foot of the table with no return from their two matches.
This all meant that a goalless draw between the Dutch and the Germans and any positive result for the CIS would have put the latter through ahead of the Oranje, and it was clear from the beginning that to make sure their place in the last four Rinus Michels’ side would have to win. The CIS for their part knew that a win would give them an excellent chance of progressing, while even a draw could take them through should things fall their way in the other match.
Knowing what had to be done, Vogts put out a more defensive formation than had been the case against Scotland. The 1-2-5-2 formation was restructured to a more conservative 1-4-3-2, with Thomas Helmer and Michael Frontzeck – both of whom were making their first appearance at the tournament – coming in for Matthias Sammer and the unlucky Guido Buchwald, who had suffered a head injury in the final ten minutes of the previous game. With first choice defenders Buchwald and Stefan Reuter both out through injury – Reuter had also suffered a head injury against the Scots – the new-look defensive lineup was not one that Vogts would have necessarily selected.
On what was a fine dry evening in front of a boisterous and majority-orange crowd of 37,725, Italian referee Pierluigi Pairetto got the game underway – and within two minutes had awarded Germany a free-kick just outside the Dutch penalty area when Karl-Heinz Riedle was tripped. It was the wrong side for the magical man Thomas Häßler however, and he left it for Andreas Brehme whose left-footed effort crashed against the Dutch wall.
With three minutes on the clock Marco van Basten collapsed under a nothing challenge from Jürgen Kohler – yes, those two again – and the Dutch were awarded a free-kick around halfway inside the German half. The free-kick was taken by Ronald Koeman – the villain of 1988 – whose floated ball into the German box found the head of Frank Rijkaard – the villain of 1990. Rijkaard’s header looped towards the German goal, and ‘keeper Bodo Illgner, probably thinking that it was floating wide of the far post, just seemed to stand and watch as it almost plopped into the net.
Unknown to the German crowd – these were the days before mobile ‘phones – Scotland had taken the lead against the CIS through a seventh-minute Paul McStay strike, but for those present the tension of being behind so early must have been unbearable. In fact, it is now impossible to imagine this feeling today where everything is but a few simple clicks away.
The Dutch had quickly settled into their stride, and with their more defensive formation the Mannschaft were finding it difficult to establish themselves in the midfield. Numerous free-kicks were given away as they attempted to win possession, and when Ruud Gullit was upended by Stefan Effenberg Rinus Michels’ side were awarded another free-kick well over thirty yards out.
Ronald Koeman had been expected to take one of his famous long run-ups, but instead he tapped the ball inside to Rob Witschge who struck a low left-footed shot that skidded through the quickly-disintegrating German wall and into the low right-hand corner of the net past the diving Illgner. To the German supporters in the crowd, it must have been as it the world was starting to cave in: with only fifteen minutes gone, their side now had to score twice against an increasingly confident Dutch side without having to rely on what was going on up the road in Norrköping. Little did they know that just moments after Witschge had scored the second Dutch goal Brian McClair had scored another for the Scots.
Rob Witschge’s free kick puts the Dutch 2-0 up inside fifteen minutes, and Germany’s hopes are left hanging by a thread.
After twenty-five minutes the Dutch lead could very easily have been three, as yet another long ball into the German box was nodded back down by Bryan Roy for the ubiquitous van Basten who cracked a stunning left-footed volley that crashed against the crossbar with Illgner flailing helplessly. The makeshift German defence were running the risk of being torn to shreds, and it would be left those those ahead of them to try and wrest the iniative away from a Dutch side that looked more impressive with each touch of the ball.
One man who continued to look dangerous was the hard-working Jürgen Klinsmann, who showed that he still had plenty to offer. He remained firm and enthusiastic in chasing every ball, and tested Hans van Breukelen with a firm right-footed shot. The play soon flowed the other side however, and after Adri van Tiggelen had charged forward the loose ball fell to Rijkaard who forced Illgner into a fine save.
As half-time approached the Germans had finally started to come back into the game, putting together some neat passing moves with Klinsmann breaking at pace and Häßler finally showing some of the fine form he had shown in the earlier matches. The pacy Andreas Möller had also started to see more of the ball, and sweeper Manfred Binz was being far more adventutous in his forays into the opposition half in support of the midfield. The referee’s whistle blew, signalling the end of what had been an action-packed first half.
The German players would have no doubt been informed of what was going on in Norrköping when they reached the dressing room at the break, and when they returned to the field their confidence would have been massively boosted. As the news of Scotland’s two-goal lead over the CIS started to filter its way through the crowd, some German supporters could actually be heard shouting for Scots; football being what is though, nothing was decided yet. There were still another forty-five minutes to go in both matches.
No doubt bouyed by the good news from elsewhere, Berti Vogts’ side started the second half as confidently as they had finished the first. Within two minutes a well-struck Häßler curler took a nasty deflection and force van Bruekelen into a fine one-handed save, and the tackling was far more direct and purposeful. Substitute Matthias Sammer – on for Manfred Binz – was quickly snapping at the heels of Bryan Roy, and Jürgen Kohler found his way into the referee’s book for a challenge on van Basten.
It had been Germany’s best passage of play, and things were capped off when a Häßler corner was powered home at the near post by the leaping Klinsmann. Having dragged themselves back into a match that they looked completely out after twenty minutes, it was all Germany now: Effenberg was feeding the midfield beautifully, Häßler was here there and everywhere, and busy Klinsmann was a constant thorn in a Dutch defence that was getting increasingly fidgety.
Less then five minutes after Klinsmann’s strike the scores could very easily have been level: after some fine and patient interplay involving Effenberg, Klinsmann and Häßler, Brehme sent a delicious curling ball with his left foot into the Dutch box towards Riedle; a desperate Frank Rijkaard got there first, only to send the ball onto the crossbar with van Breukelen rooted to the spot.
As the minutes ticked by there was still only one team in it; apart from one threatening Dutch move that had seen van Basten screw a shot across the German goal the first half an hour of the second half had belonged to Berti Vogts’ side. Häßler was narrowly wide of the target on seventy minutes after some fine build-up play from Sammer, but just moments later the killer blow came against the run of play as Rijkaard found Aron Winter down the right. Winter slipped past Sammer brilliantly, before clipping the ball back into the German box where it was met by the hitherto anonymous Dennis Bergkamp.
Bergkamp’s firm downward header was perfectly directed and flew into the bottom left-hand corner, leaving Illgner with no chance. After all the pressure that had been exerted, it was a crushing blow in a game that probably deserved to finish with both sides sharing the spoils. With their two-goal advantage restored, the Dutch confidence quickly returned.
Riedle was replaced by Thomas Doll as Vogts sacrificed a striker to shore up the midfield, and with the score still being 2-0 in Nörrkoping the Nationaltrainer would have been confident of his side’s progress. The CIS had scored only one goal in almost three matches – and that from a penalty – and the very thought of them being able to conjure up three in ten minutes was impossible to comprehend, even for the biggest freak-result fantasist. Things were finally settled with six minutes left in Nörrkoping, as a Gary McAllister penalty gave Scotland what would surely be an unassailable three-goal lead.
Even after conceding the third goal Germany continued to play as they had done throughout the second half. Witschge was perhaps slightly lucky not to concede more than a corner after bowling Sammer over in the penalty area, one poor touch from Doll with the Dutch goal at his mercy allowed van Breukelen to collect the ball, and a well directed snapshot from Effenberg was smartly pushed around the post by the Dutch ‘keeper as his defenders were kept busy right until the very end.
When the whistle blew to call time on what had by a distance been the most entertaining match of the tournament, both sides were assured of their places in the semi-finals. Having finished top of the group the Dutch would be drawn against surprise team Denmark, while the Mannschaft would meet hosts Sweden in Stockholm. The 3-1 result had arguably been a flattering one for the Dutch; one had to wonder what might have happened had the Germans been able to turn out a fully-fit defence.
The Germans and Dutch had by far been the two most impressive and entertaining teams at the finals, and many commentators and pundits expected them to grace the final the following week at the same venue. But football, as one famous ex-player once said, is a funny old game.
Germany: Illgner – Binz (46. Sammer) – Brehme (c), Helmer, Kohler, Frontzeck – Häßler, Effenberg, Möller – Klinsmann, Riedle (77. Doll)
Netherlands: van Breukelen – R. Koeman – van Tiggelen, F. de Boer (62. Winter) – Wouters, Rijkaard, Bergkamp (88. Bosz), Rob Witschge – Gullit, van Basten, Roy
Referee: Pierluigi Pairetto (Italy)
Assistants: Domenico Ramicone (Italy), Maurizio Padovan (Italy)
Fourth Official: Tullio Lanese (Italy)
Yellow Cards: Kohler / –
Red Cards: – / –
First Phase Group 2 Table
Other results: Netherlands 1-0 Scotland; Netherlands 0-0 CIS; Scotland 3-0 CIS.