Remembering Germany's UEFA Euro 1996 success
In 1996, a German side featuring the likes of Jürgen Klinsmann, Andreas Köpke, Andreas Möller and Matthias Sammer became European champions. bundesliga.com reflects on how a spirited team guided by Berti Vogts overcame adversity and held their nerve to win the tournament.
Germany had been runners-up at UEFA Euro 1992 and World Cup quarter-finalists two years later. Klinsmann had scored in both those tournaments, and the previous four in total. Then 31, the 1990 FIFA World Cup winner was an obvious choice as captain.
The Bayern Munich striker was returning to familiar territory. In the 1994/95 season he had been a huge hit with Tottenham Hotspur, and he made it back to England with a team that had sailed through qualifying.
The future Germany and USA boss didn't feel his side were the most talented at Euro 1996, but he was confident because of the "great camaraderie" within the group.
"We knew that through this team spirit we could compete with the other teams," he told UEFA in 2012. "We fought all through the tournament and played really good football… we had the best will."
Germany were drawn in a group with the Czech Republic, Russia, and a highly fancied Italy team that had finished as runners-up to Brazil at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.
Watch: Look back on Klinsmann's playing career
"We had to be ready from the off," Köpke, who at the age of 34 was playing his first tournament as Germany's No. 1, told the DFB website many years later. "One bad game and it would have been over."
Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, was the venue for Germany's group matches, and after an early blow they got off to a good start. Without the suspended Klinsmann against the Czech Republic, Germany lost Borussia Dortmund defender Jürgen Kohler after 14 minutes with what would prove a tournament-ending injury.
Left wing-back Christian Ziege fired in a low shot from distance with his right foot, though, and Dortmund attacking midfielder Möller did likewise as two first-half goals gave Germany a 2-0 win.
A central figure
Vogts often stressed that his team was the star - rather than any individual - but one of the keys to Germany's success was Matthias Sammer. He had played in midfield during the 1994 World Cup, but at club level he had excelled as a libero to help Dortmund win their first Bundesliga title in 1994/95.
Benefitting from an injury to Lothar Matthäus in early 1995, Sammer began occupying that role for his country too - ultimately proving himself the best German sweeper since all-conquering former captain Franz Beckenbauer.
Having won the Bundesliga again with Dortmund in 1995/96, the 28-year-old was at the peak of his powers coming into Euro 96.
It was Sammer who broke the deadlock in the second half of Germany's second group game against Russia. In the first half the Russians had hit the post and Köpke had made a big save but popping up out of nowhere - as good attacking liberos tend to do - Sammer scrambled home after his initial volley was saved. Klinsmann added two late goals - the first coming from a delightful outside-of-the-foot finish - for a 3-0 success.
The first two results took the pressure off for Germany's final group match, which ended in a goalless draw with Italy after Köpke saved a Gianfranco Zola penalty. Germany went through to the quarter-finals as group winners and without conceding a goal as a result, and Sammer later said the goalkeeper's penalty stop was a key moment on the road to the title.
"It definitely gave us a boost in the game, and the result meant that Italy were knocked out of the tournament," Köpke noted.
In the last eight Germany remained in Manchester to face Croatia, who were captained by AC Milan playmaker Zvonimir Boban and also boasted in-form striker Davor Suker.
Klinsmann opened the scoring from a penalty - won by the rampaging Sammer - on 20 minutes. In another test of the team's resolve, however, the captain was forced off injured before half-time.
Suker levelled early in the second half by skilfully rounding Köpke, but the Germans got a break when Igor Stimac was red carded. Three minutes later - just before the hour mark - Sammer got in the area again to seal a 2-1 victory.
One reason Sammer was allowed to play so freely was because of the holding midfielder who brilliantly covered for him when he ventured forward from defence: Werder Bremen's Dieter Eilts. The 31-year-old was playing in his first major competition for Germany, and - along with Köpke and Sammer - he would end up being named on the official team of the tournament.
"We had a little bit of luck on our side," Eilts admitted to the DFB when looking back on the quarter-final many years later. "You need that to win a title - you need them to make mistakes with their passing and for yours to reach your strikers perfectly."
The England epic
Next up was a match for the ages - a meeting with the hosts at Wembley in front of close to 76,000 people. The electric atmosphere alone is something that many German players fondly reference to this day, but the match itself was something to behold.
"I would recommend everyone watches a replay of this game," Germany midfielder Steffen Freund wrote in a column for UEFA on the eve of Euro 2020. "You will have goosebumps after 15 minutes at the latest."
Germany were without the injured Klinsmann, and England got off to a flyer when Alan Shearer headed in his fifth goal of the tournament after only three minutes.
The impressive Thomas Helmer raided forward from centre-back, however, to set up Stefan Kuntz - Kilinsmann's replacement in attack - to slide home the equaliser on 16 minutes. Kuntz, as it happens, would later win the European Championship as coach of the Germany U21 team in both 2017 and 2021.
An intense and physical contest went to extra-time, where things got even more dramatic. This was the first European Championship played with the golden goal rule, meaning that the next strike would be the winner.
England's Darren Anderton hit the post, Kuntz had a goal disallowed, and Paul Gascoigne was inches away from touching in Shearer's cross in an additional period packed with chances.
Penalties were needed to decide an enthralling encounter - as had been the case when the sides met in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. The first 10 spot-kicks were all successful, with Thomas Häßler, Thomas Strunz, Stefan Reuter, Ziege, and Kuntz netting for Germany. In sudden death Köpke saved England's sixth attempt from Gareth Southgate, giving Möller the chance to win it.
Like his Dortmund teammate Reuter, Möller had been yellow carded during the game and would miss the final through suspension. The 28-year-old put that disappointment behind him to smash his spot-kick down the middle and beyond the reach of England goalkeeper David Seaman.
"We scored so perfectly," Möller told the BBC 20 years after the event. "Seaman didn't have any chance to stop a penalty."
"None of us could walk straight," Eintracht Frankfurt keeper Köpke revealed after the game. "The fight over 120 minutes was insane. England deserved it just as much as we did.
"Luck was on my side to save one of the penalties - all the previous ones had been taken really well."
Depleted but defiant
Germany would face the Czechs again four days later at Wembley in the final, but their triumph over England had come at a heavy cost. Freund tore his cruciate ligament in the closing stages, and both Reuter and Möller - among others - were unavailable.
Klinsmann shook off his injury to return, and Bayern defender Helmer was patched up to play once again. By half-time, though - when Eilts became the latest player to succumb to injury - only 12 of the squad's original 19 outfield players were available.
Vogts' understrength team then fell behind after Sammer took down Karel Poborsky just outside the area. A penalty was awarded rather than a free-kick, and Dortmund's Patrik Berger put the surprise finalists in front on 59 minutes.
With Germany in trouble, Udinese forward Oliver Bierhoff was sent on after 69 minutes. Four minutes later he headed home at the back post from Ziege's free-kick to send the game into extra-time.
Like several of the Germany players, Bierhoff was an unlikely hero. He had left his homeland for Austria and then Italy, only earning his first cap - at the age of 27 - in February 1996.
With five minutes played in extra-time, however, the current national team director ensured he would be remembered forever. Bierhoff, under pressure and with his back to goal, controlled the ball just inside the area. He turned to his right and struck a left-foot shot that took a deflection, squirmed past Czech keeper Petr Kouba, and went in off the post.
"Then it was pure happiness," Bierhoff told UEFA in 2016. "The strange thing is that never before and never after have I taken off my shirt [in celebration]. But in that moment it was clear that the burden fell off me along with that shirt."
The first trophy Germany had won as a unified country was delivered by a united squad. Köpke, who saved smartly from Vladimir Smicer at 1-1, said everyone had played their part.
"I don't think that any of the 1996 squad need to particularly thank anyone," the current Germany goalkeeping coach told the DFB. "We all gave it our best and more."
Klinsmann said later that football had helped build a bridge between East and West Germany after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, with Sammer a prime example. From Dresden in the old East Germany, he was unsurprisingly named European Footballer of the Year in 1996.
"We had a good command of our 3-5-2 system and we were somewhat unpredictable," Sammer explained to the DFB in 2008. "We had outstanding technicians, but our trump card was solidarity and the collective will to end the tournament as champions. There were better in terms of play and tactics, but no one could beat us."
Greater than the sum of their parts, Germany were kings of Europe for a third time.
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