Matchday 14 – Sunday, 30th June 1996

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Wembley, 73,611

GERMANY   (0)   2   (Bierhoff 73, 95)

CZECH REPUBLIC   (0)   1   (Berger pen 59)

GERMANY:  Kopke; Sammer; Strunz, Babbel, Helmer, Ziege; Scholl (Bierhoff) Eilts (Bode), Hassler; Klinsmann, Kuntz

CZECH REPUBLIC: Kouba; Hornak, Kadlec, Suchoparek; Nedved, Bejbl, Rada; Poborsky (Smicer), Berger, Nemec; Kuka

Three weeks, 30 matches, 13 matchdays had come down to this. The European Championship Final 1996. For the scriptwriters, it was missing the hosts. Narrowly beaten in a penalty shootout on Wednesday, England were still licking their wounds by the time the Final came around. A lot of countries had lost a bit of interest in the match after working themselves up into a frenzy. It had been a festival of football, made all the better by England’s performances. But in the end, Germany got the better of them in the shootout.

Losing finalists four years earlier, the Germans were determined to make up for it. They were up against the surprise package of the tournament, the Czech Republic. Yet, they almost didn’t make it out of the group. Beaten by the Germans in their opening game, they first came to prominence with a win over Italy. In their final game against Russia, they cruised to a 2-0 lead at half-time. Ten minutes into the second half they were pulled back level, then with five minutes remaining they were losing and going out. A goal two minutes from time saved them.

An outrageous goal from Karel Poborsky saw them beat Portugal, and then they prevailed in a shootout against the French in a turgid Semi-Final.

Germany were unbeaten throughout the whole tournament thus far. They beat the Czechs, eased past the Russians and did just enough to draw with Italy to head their group. Croatia gave them a battle in the Quarters and then that epic clash with England in the Semis.

The Germans were without Andreas Moller, who picked up a suspension from the Semis. But they had Jurgen Klinsmann back. Stefan Reuter at right-back was out so Thomas Strunz came in. Thomas Hassler came into midfield for Steffen Freund.

Helmer, Hassler, Sammer and Klinsmann were all in the side which lost to Denmark in 1992. Hassler and Klinsmann were survivors of the last German team to win a major competition, the 1990 World Cup.

The Czechs made four changes from their Semi-Final side. Suchoparek, Bejbl, Kuka and Berger were back. They all missed the France game having played a part in every other game so far. Rad, who’d come in for Latal in the Semi-Final, remained at right-back.

Germany had the better of the opening exchanges, but they couldn’t really create anything meaningful. The Czechs had an opportunity 15 minutes in when Kuka crossed from the left and Poborsky, at full stretch, just couldn’t control his shot and it went over.

By now, the Czechs were coming more into it. Kuka and Poborsky seemed to be involved in everything they did. But the Germans defence was resolute.

With ten minutes of the half remaining, the Germans had a great chance. The ball was headed on in the area and Kuntz chested it up and then tried to hook it past Kouba. It hit the ‘keeper but looped up over him and was heading for the goal. Rada managed to get back and hook it away in the nick of time.

Scholl then had a shot from about 25 yards out but it was always going over. Kuntz was then played through clear of the defence, on the left of the area. As Kouba came out the German tried to chip him, but the ‘keeper put out a hand to block it.

The Czechs ended the half the more dominant but still couldn’t break through.

The half-time whistle blew and the game was still goalless.

Five minutes after the break the Germans had a great chance. Good work by Klinsmann on the right and he played in Scholl. He was tackled but the ball ran to Strunz. With Kuntz unmarked to his left he surely just needed to lay it off to him and they were in. Yet he decided he fancied a bit of the glory and went for the shot himself. It went over.

Almost immediately the Czechs went close twice. A free-kick on the right was played into the area. It went through a crowd of players and Michael Hornak came in on the back post. But the pace of the ball made it difficult to get a decent contact from him and the ball ran wide. Then, Berger had a shot from the edge of the area but Strunz managed to get a touch to take most of the sting out of the shot and it was saved.

Then on 57 minutes, the Czechs had the chance of the match. Poborsky was sent clear on the right of the area. Sammer was running across to meet him. Poborsky managed to get to the ball first, but Sammer was already committed to the tackle. He brought down the Czech and the Italian referee pointed to the spot. Replays showed the challenge to be just outside the box.

Remember Seedorf missing his spot-kick for the Dutch against France in the shootout? A player walked in front of his run-up. Well, Strunz had obviously decided this was a good tactic and tried the same as Patrik Berger was at the top of his mark. But Berger struck his kick firmly and it went under Kopke’s body for the opening goal. They had deserved it. They’d given as good as they got and was probably the more industrious. Could they really do it? Czechs lead 1-0.

It was tough on the Germans as the contact definitely was outside the box, but they couldn’t dwell on it.

Helmer was then booked for a cynical block on Kuka, who’d have been away and clear. With 20 minutes to go, Klinsmann set Hassler up for a shot but he blazed it over.

Bertie Vogts then made his second change bringing Oliver Bierhoff on for Mehmet Scholl. Now they were more attacking. Within a minute they had a free-kick on the right.

Ziege floated it in left-footed to the far post. It went beyond the defence and into the six-yard box and up rose Bierhoff to equalise. All it needed was for the ‘keeper to come and claim it, but he remained stuck on his line. What an introduction to the game. 1-1.

The last quarter of an hour was pretty frantic, end-to-end stuff. Klinsmann tried all he could to lift his team. Challenges flew in.

With two minutes to go, Uhrin brought on Smicer. He’d scored the goal late on against Russia which got them through the group. Then he went off in the Semi-Final with a head injury. Two days later he got married. Now he was brought on to try and win it for the Czechs. And he almost did.

On the right about 20 yards out, he twisted and turned to make room for the shot. It was just tipped wide by the ‘keeper as it looked dangerous. It would’ve been a great moment for Smicer but he was denied.

The game was still level at the end of 90 minutes and so we had golden goal for the fourth time in the tournament. Would we have our first goal of this new format?

Against England, Germany almost suffered an early defeat when Anderton hit the post minutes into extra time. They would get their own chance.

Bierhoff had the ball outside the area, slightly left of centre. He turned and hit a left-footed shot. It took a slight deflection yet Kouba looked well placed to catch the ball. Reaching above his head, the ‘keeper did get two hands to it, but inexplicably the ball squirmed loose and bounced agonisingly towards the empty net.

Time seemed to stand still as millions watched the bouncing ball head towards goal. Would it spin wide? Would Kouba get back to grab it? We all watched. Yet that was the problem. Everyone stood and watched, including Kouba. The ball did spin but against the post and in.

What a moment for Bierhoff. One start in the whole tournament, against Russia, and only one other sub appearance, against the Czechs in the opening game, and now he’d come on with his side a goal down and scored twice to win it. He’d also scored the first ever golden goal and in the Euro Final too.

None of us had seen this before and were half expecting the Czechs to kick off. But of course that was it. Five minutes into extra time and the game was over. No one was quite sure what to do next. Bierhoff ran away celebrating, taking off his shirt. Eventually it dawned on all those around that Germany had won the game.

It was tough on the Czechs. They’d given everything and had played their part in making the tournament a special one, but in the end the Germans won.

The game had been cleansing for German coach, Bertie Vogts, who was coach in Gothenburg four years earlier when they suffered the shock defeat to the Danish. Now, along with Klinsmann, Helmer, Sammer and Hassler, they had returned to taste victory at last.

 

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series looking back at Euro ’96. As I said at the start, for many of us we grew up around people who’d experienced the World Cup in England in 1966 and were always envious of them. Now we had our own tournament to remember for the rest of our days. Okay, it didn’t go quite as well as it had 30 years before, but we all had our own memories to take with us. For some, it was the best of memories for an England team.

ITV is showing action from all England’s matches, as well as some others, from 11th May.