As the recently-crowned World Champions under new Nationaltrainer Berti Vogts, the new and reunited Germany were joined in a four-team group by Belgium, Wales and Luxembourg – hardly what one could call the most testing of opposition. Yet by the halfway stage the Mannschaft had looked a shadow of the site that had claimed the World Cup in Rome less than a year earlier, as they found themselves standing just one bad result away from an humiliating elimination.
In what was something of a strange quirk of fate, Germany’s four-team group hadn’t originally been drawn that way. When the draw had initially been made in February 1990 – some four months after the fall of the Berlin Wall – both West and East Germany had been placed together in the same qualifying group for the same time. Little did anybody know at the time that the move towards the complete reunification of the two countries would be so rapid, and that the GDR would cease to exist as an independent entity within less than a year.
Given that the reunification of the two Germanies had been confimed by late August 1990, what would have been East Germany’s opening qualifying group fixture against Belgium was reclassified by UEFA as a friendly: the match in Brussels’ Stade Constant Vanden Stock was won 2-0 by the East Germans, with both goals being scored by Matthias Sammer.
The victory in Belgium would be the final game played by the East German national team; a planned friendly in Leipzig to sign things off between the East and West German teams the following month would never take place on account of potential crowd trouble in the former East, and the DFB would never have the opportunity to avenge the infamous single-goal defeat during the two sides’ one and only meeting at World Cup finals in 1974.
The reunited Germany’s first qualifying match against rank outsiders Luxembourg at the end of October 1990 had seen Vogts’ side slip into an easy three-goal lead just after half-time, only for them to take their foot off the gas and allow their less than illustrious opponents to come right back into the match. A crazy eight-minute spell had seen the Luxemburgers pull the score back to 3-2 with twenty-five minutes to go, but the Germans managed to hold onto their lead and claim the two points. The home game against Belgium produced a similarly insipid performance with the game settled by an early Lothar Matthäus strike, and somehow Germany had managed to eke out the maximum four points from their opening two matches.
This good fortune wouldn’t last however, as the next ordinary performance would see the Germans turned over in Cardiff by Wales in what was seen as a genuine shock result. With sixty-six minutes gone a long ball from Paul Bodin found Ian Rush, who did enough to outpace Guido Buchwald and stab the ball past Bodo Illgner. Germany’s cause had not been helped with Thomas Berthold’s dismissal just five minutes before, but in truth it was just yet another ordinary display by a side that looked short on confidence and ideas.
When Wales visited Nürnberg’s Frankenstadion in the return fixture just over four months later, the pressure was all on Vogts and his team: they knew that anything less than a win would have been left them with a smountain to climb. Of course, like many other German teams in the past they responded when they really had to: in a stunning display, the Welsh were swept aside as the Nationalmannschaft stormed to an emphatic 4-1 victory that put them firmly back in charge of their own destiny.
A hard-worked 1-0 away win over the Belgians saw the collection of another two points, and the Mannschaft’s place in Sweden was assured following a 4-0 demolition of Luxembourg. In the end only one solitary point separated Germany from the unlucky Welsh in second place, which showed just how important the 4-1 home victory had been.
Match Results and Details
v Luxembourg, Stade Josy Barthel, Luxembourg, 31.10.1990
Klinsmann 16., Bein 30., Völler 49. / Girres 57., Langers 65.
Team: Illgner – Binz – Berthold, Kohler, Brehme – Strunz, Matthäus (c), Bein (73. K. Reinhardt), Häßler – Klinsmann, Völler
1-0 Andreas Brehme swings in a free-kick from the left; it flies over Luxembourg ‘keeper John van Rijswijck through the penalty area to Thomas Häßler, who fires in a right-footed effort. The shots is going wide, but Jürgen Klinsmann flies in with a well-timed diving header to guide the ball into the net.
2-0 Jürgen Kohler moves forward down the right flank and sends in a high cross into the centre of the opposition area where it is met by Uwe Bein, whose slightly scuffed shot hits the inside of the post. The ball rolls across the face of the Luxembourg goal, where it is immediately crossed back in by Rudi Völler for Bein who stabs it home from a metre out.
3-0 After a patient build-up in midfield Brehme finds time and space on the left to play a lofted cross towards the opposition penalty area. It finds Völler, who shows great close control before curling a stunning left-footed shot into the top left corner of the goal from the edge of the area.
3-1 A Lothar Matthäus pass in the middle of the field is intercepted by Jemp Girres, and Luxembourg break at pace. The little number eight finds Roby Langers on the left and continues his charge forward, and is perfectly placed as Langers clips the return ball in front of the retreating German back line. Girres chips the ball beautifully over the advancing Bodo Illgner to complete what is a world-class move.
3-2 A hopeful long ball from Guy Hellers finds the sprightly Langers on the right, and he has enough pace to take the ball past Kohler and shoot from an acute angle. The shot is on target, and beats the unsighted Illgner at his near post.
v Belgium, Niedersachsenstadion, Hanover, 01.05.1991
Matthäus 3. / –
Team: Illgner – Berthold – Reuter, Beiersdorfer, Brehme – Häßler, Sammer, Matthäus (c), Doll – Klinsmann (77. Helmer), Völler (88. Riedle)
1-0 Lothar Matthäus causes all sorts of confusion in the Belgian penalty area, and after his cross is half-cleared the ball finds its way back to the German skipper who is on target with a crisp first-time shot. ‘Keeper Michel Preud’Homme appears to claw the ball away only to see it put into the back of the net by Rudi Völler, but replays clearly show that Matthäus’ shot had already crossed the line beforehand.
v Wales, Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff, 05.06.1991
– / Rush 66.
Red Card: Berthold 61.
Team: Illgner – Berthold – Buchwald, Kohler, Brehme – Reuter, Helmer, Matthäus (c) (46. Doll), M. Sammer (74. Effenberg) – Klinsmann, Völler
1-0 Having just seen Germany reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Thomas Berthold, Wales break from the back through Paul Bodin, whose well-placed long ball finds Ian Rush. Rush shows great control and outpaces Guido Buchwald before guiding his shot past the advancing Bodo Illgner with his left foot.
v Wales, Frankenstadion, Nürnberg, 16.10.1991
Möller 34., Völler 39., Riedle 45., Doll 73. / Bodin pen 84.
Team: Illgner – Binz – Buchwald, Kohler, Brehme – Reuter, Doll (78. Effenberg), Matthäus (c), Möller – Riedle (65. Häßler), Völler
1-0 Andreas Möller takes a short corner and takes the return pass from Thomas Doll, and then tracks back to the edge of the Welsh penalty area. He then unleashes a powerful right-footed shot which catches everyone including Welsh ‘keeper Neville Southall by surprise.
2-0 From nothing, Germany are gifted a goal as fullback Gavin Maguire attempts a suidical pass into his own penalty area. It turns into a perfectly weighted cross for Rudi Völler, who directs a glacing header across Southall and into the right-hand side of the net.
3-0 From deep in his own half Andreas Brehme initiates an attack, finding Lothar Matthäus in space down the left. Stopping a few yards short of the byline Matthäus puts in a teasing cross with the outside of his right boot, and Karl-Heinz Riedle times his leap perfectly to send a powerful header past the static Southall.
4-0 Möller charges down the centre of the pitch and plays a pass out to the right to find substitute Thomas Häßler, whose cross is only half cut out by Wales skipper Kevin Ratcliffe. The loose ball falls invitingly to Thomas Doll, who drills it home.
4-1 Ian Rush is bundled over in the box by substitute Stefan Effenberg, and the referee points to the spot. Paul Bodin places his kick firmly to Illgner’s left, sending the German ‘keeper the wrong way.
v Belgium, Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, Brüssel/Bruxelles, 20.11.1991
Völler 16. / –
Team: Illgner – Binz – Buchwald, Kohler, Brehme – Reuter, Möller (80. Effenberg), Matthäus (c), Doll – Völler, Riedle
1-0 Andreas Möller takes a short corner, leaving the ball for Thomas Doll who plays the ball into the Belgian box. The cross is slightly overhit, but Karl-Heinz Riedle manages to retrieve the situation by heading the ball back into the danger zone from the byline. Rudi Völler is on hand to nod the ball home past ‘keeper Michel Preud’Homme.
v Luxembourg, Ulrich Haberland Stadion, Leverkusen, 18.12.1991
Matthäus pen 15., Buchwald 44., Riedle 50., Häßler 62. / –
Team: Illgner – Binz – Reuter, Buchwald, Kohler – Brehme, Möller (70. Bein), Matthäus (c), Doll (46. Häßler) – Riedle, Völler
1-0 Thomas Doll makes a strong run down the right, and manages to hook a cross back into the box from the byline; Karl-Heinz Riedle does brilliantly to chest the ball down and is all set to pull the trigger when he is hauled back by Marcel Bossi. Lothar Matthäus’ penalty is perfectly placed as he drives it past John van Rijswijk who dives the right way.
2-0 Sweeper Manfred Binz chips an intelligent ball over a trio of advancing defenders, finding Guido Buchwald just outside the penalty area. The German number six takes the ball on his head before bustling past his marker and crashing the ball across van Rijswijk and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net for his first international goal.
3-0 Buchwald and Andreas Brehme combine to engineer a swift break down the left flank, and Buchwald’s perfectly placed left-footed cross is nodded in with aplomb by Riedle who easily outjumps his marker.
4-0 Brehme finds space on the left to a teasing cross, which skims over the heads of two Luxembourg defenders before falling to substitute Thomas Häßler. Häßler’s first shot with his right foot ricochets off a defender, but he makes no mistake when the ball comes back to him as he cuts inside to launch a stunning strike into the roof of the net with his left.
Final Group Standings
Other results: Wales 3-1 Belgium; Luxembourg 0-1 Wales; Belgium 3-0 Luxembourg; Belgium 1-1 Wales; Luxembourg 0-2 Belgium; Wales 1-0 Luxembourg.
Goals Summary: Völler (3), Matthäus, Riedle (2), Bein, Buchwald, Doll, Häßler, Klinsmann, Möller (1). Total 13.