Again one of the really big tournaments with a huge triumph and the obligatory jubilant celebration of a German team. And again a little troublemaker who wants to spoil the fun.
The tournament was held for the first time with 16 teams and was thus equal in size to an earlier World Cup. The commercialisation of football remains on the rise. And everything is still “swallowed” by the paying spectator. But for a final tournament of this kind, there is no doubt: it attracts the masses. However, for the players, certain sacrifices have to be made. Whereas in the past there was a well-deserved summer break after a hard season, which was necessary for the body to regenerate, today’s footballers are “exploited” to a certain extent. A professional career may sound desirable – since fame and fortune come with it, so to speak. On the other hand, the whole life is subordinated to football. Well, I don’t want to sing a lament. I’ll just try to be objective, as usual, and add a few comments in parentheses.
In the tournament itself, Germany did not have “luck of the draw” in the sense that a group with Italy, the Czech Republic and Russia was by no means a “walk-over”. On the other hand, other groups were also comparably difficult. Nevertheless, the sequence of matches was again favourable, as the two outsiders were played first. And as usual, the opening game against the Czech Republic was won 2:0. Why Germany never encounters serious difficulties remains a mystery to me. Respect for the giants?
The second game was won even more easily and clearly 3:0 with an outstanding Jürgen Klinsmann. With that, the ticket for the quarter-finals was already solved. From Germany’s point of view, the pairing with the giants Italy only had the value of possibly kicking Italy out – which could increase the chances for later. The fact that the desperate efforts of the Italians could be “relaxed” in this way is once again typical and played into the Germans’ hands – I won’t tolerate any contradiction here.
Italy had in fact lost 2-1 in the second match against the great Czech team “born” for the occasion. The outstanding, still very young, Pavel Nedved took off to a world career – was of course called up to the Italian Serie A soon after the match, so much were the Italians fascinated by his skills, after which they had to suffer. Another star born there: Karel Poborsky.
For in the last group match, Italy now had to play against relaxed Germany. At the same time, the Czech Republic played against Russia. Because of the defeat of the Italians against the Czech Republic, a victory was obligatory. But only apparently. Because if the Russians, who had already been eliminated, won against the Czech Republic, they could also advance with a draw. Italy probably reckoned with a B-team from Germany, thought, as it would certainly have been usual in Italy. But Germany might have been worried about being accused of distorting the competition, or they saw a huge chance to knock out a giant, so they went into the game with their best line-up. I also give them credit for that, no question. Italy were awarded a penalty early on, which Andy Köpke saved. After that, a really fantastic Italian team was constantly pressing, but they didn’t succeed in overcoming the man with the mighty tentacles in the German goal.
At the same time, the following drama took place: The Czechs, who were leading at half-time, fell behind 2:3 against a very strong Russian team. At that point, the Czech Republic was out and Italy was through. I also remember watching both games live, on two TVs and two different channels, and being in my chair once again in the face of the drama – especially as my friends, the Italians, were concerned. It was unbelievable. Because at the final whistle, the Italians were ahead, but about 10 seconds later they weren’t…. Czech had equalised in injury time.
Now I ask again: Italy, which had a really great team at the time, which played really inspiring football, had to be eliminated in such a tragic and really undeserved way. Why does something like that never happen to the Germans? Unbelievable for me. You couldn’t help but cry with those Italians. It was so unfair. And honestly, I’m also sure: every person who followed this tournament wanted to see this team go further. This also in contrast to how rarely people wanted to see a German team any more – apart from the begrudging ones like me and the locals. German football was often not a revelation. No criticism of the performances at this European Championship. It was very good football for the most part. But Italy was better. And deserved to stay in it.
In the quarter-finals, they met Croatia. In view of the alternative opponents England, Spain, Holland or the then very strong Portuguese, this was once again one of the easier lots. And Germany once again completed this task “en passant”. How much percentage did they have this time? Was it really 100%? Is there such a thing as 100%? For an event in the future? The betting market, at any rate, didn’t come up with it, even though Germany was, of course, the clear favourite.
In general, I can hardly remember any special financial movements at this European Championship. One thing I know for sure: the European Championships were never as convincing in terms of financial results as the World Championships. But I know just as well that the preliminary round was not unfavourable. We didn’t lose, I’m pretty sure.
The semi-finals were coming up. And that semi-final is what makes this whole European Championship worth telling. The fact that Germany is there again and again is something you just accept. The English – who, by the way, have always maintained objectivity, not only because of their bad luck, as I could gather from numerous live broadcasts with English commentary – had the fantasy, especially this year and on top of that in their own country, that this time they could succeed. Even if the respect, which also has something to do with sportsmanship, fair play and objectivity, was certainly appropriately great.
The two goals came quite early. 1:0 England, Alan Shearer, then the equaliser – no problem for Germans, such a thing. The rest was characterised by tension and yet rather doggedness and caution – only exciting because of what was “at stake”, but not too valuable in footballing terms. Extra time was on the cards. The golden goal was introduced for this goal – and abolished again soon afterwards. However, I blame this unique (stupid) rule for the fact that this time, too, it was “Germany over everything”.
Because in extra time came the scene that is often forgotten here in Germany, when Paul Gascoigne only had to push a ball rolling across to the German goal over the line. He was at full speed and would have easily reached the ball if he had not, like Usain Bolt, who could afford it, reduced his speed shortly before the goal line. He was already raising his arms, saw himself as the all-time greatest English hero, was already about to beat his chest like King Kong, when he — all of a sudden realised that the ball had a little more speed than he had assumed. “Oooh, he’s fast. Now I’ll have to hurry up for the “glory”…”. Thinking and desperately extending his long leg and — missing the ball were one. It was too late. The one tenth of a second of hesitation made the difference. What German gives a damn about that? Nothing with Gascoigne and English hero. No trophy in the form of a scalp from the seven-headed beast. Sheer horror on all non-German faces.
The obligatory penalty shoot-out had the obligatory winner. Once again, the coin fell on (Bundes-)Adler. “They just can’t do it” was the tenor. Luck? We” don’t have it. “We” are the best. Here and always.
And please be careful: don’t use the name “Gareth Southgate” too often in England — and at the same time identify yourself as German. You can still see it in his facial expression today — but let’s not go there.
How many words should we say about the final? The opponents were the Czech Republic. Isn’t that curious? The Czechs were already out, until injury time, and, if I may ask, how would they have fared against this great Italian team? All ifs, buts and coulds don’t count, I know. Everything was ready again for the great German triumph. What else could get in the way? The Czechs? We’d already “had them for breakfast” in the preliminary round, hadn’t we?
Well, Oliver Bierhoff had to be substituted to make up for the 0:1. Vogts had the proverbial “lucky touch”. Cross, Bierhoff’s header, in, 1:1. That’s how Germans do it. Don’t chase after the ball for long. Just give the ball to him and put it in the goal. That’s it. Do something about it, world! But what? Extra time was assured. Then once again the ball in the penalty area, Bierhoff turns – or tries to, like Gerd Müller once did –, doesn’t hit the ball at all, at least not as intended, and it rolls in. Golden Goal. The first in history…!? Germany, Germany, Germany, GERMANY. Above everything. Above everything in the world. I’ll remember that. It could be a hit.
What’s the point of all these tiresome qualifying games and the whole final tournament anyway? Couldn’t Germany just be declared cosmic champions, for all time — and be excluded from such ridiculous earthly tournaments with this ruling?
If the team were to be eliminated in qualifying five times in a row now, or so I theorise, they would be back at about par, luck-wise. Only then it would always be said in Germany: “They’ve lost again.” And Waldi would certainly have a few nice conversation partners to rub his “another low point” in their faces.