?Germany were beaten in the final of the European Championships in 1992 before being knocked out by Bulgaria in the quarter-finals of the World Cup just two years later.
However, they came into UEFA Euro 1996 as one of the early tournament favourites. Die Mannschaft were drawn in Group C along with Italy, Czech Republic and Russia.
A Roberto Baggio double ensured Italy booked their place in the final of the World Cup in 1994, but they were eventually defeated on penalties in the final by Brazil. As for Russia, they missed out on a place in the knockout stages of that competition by one point, with the Italians pipping them to the place. The Czech Republic, meanwhile, were set to play in their first European Championships since the break-up of Czechoslovakia.
These were all nations with a point to prove.
Die Mannschaft overcame the Czech Republic 2-0 in their opening game, with Christian Ziege and Andreas Möller grabbing the goals. Berti Vogts’ men went on to comfortably beat Russia 3-0 before drawing 0-0 with Italy.
This ensured Germany qualified for the knockout stages as group winners, while the surprise package that were the Czechs also qualified as they finished second, despite finishing level on points with Italy.
The quarter-finals saw Germany prevail over Croatia, winning 2-1. They then broke English hearts as they defeated England on penalties in the semi-finals. The two nations couldn’t be split after normal time and extra time, meaning a penalty shoot-out was required.
Penalty after penalty after penalty flew in…until Gareth Southgate stepped up and saw his penalty saved before Möller fired in to send his country through to the final.
Their opponent in the final? Well, it was the Czech Republic once again, who had overcome both Portugal and France to reach the final.
The Czechs were able to recall Patrik Berger for the clash as well as a number of suspended players, whereas the Germans were struggling with injuries. So much so that, in fact, Jürgen Klinsmann played despite a calf problem.
Despite the injuries, Die Mannschaft refused to let it affect them such was their hunger and desire to win, to be the best. The first half saw the Czech Republic sit deep and try to soak up pressure, and they were let off the hook as Stefan Kuntz missed two chances. At the other end, Pavel Kuka went clear but shot straight at Andreas Köpke.
However, the Czech Republic were awarded a penalty on 59 minutes after Mattias Sammer brought down Karel Poborský inside the area. Up stepped Berger and he fired in to give his side the lead.
Germany needed a response.
As a result, Vogts turned to Oliver Bierhoff. who had not featured in any of their three previous games, despite the mounting injuries.
And yet, he was sent on with 21 minutes to play. Could he be the man to help rescue his country? Well, just four minutes after coming on, Bierhoff headed in Christian Ziege’s free-kick. And although Germany pushed for a winner, they were unable to find one in regular time.
However, there was to be no classic extra time because, instead, there was the golden goal rule.
One goal to decide the winner.
With five minutes gone, Bierhoff held up the ball before turning on the edge of the box and striking a left-footed shot which hit Michal Hor?ák on its way through to Petr Kouba. The shot-stopper was unable to readjust his feet in time, with the ball slipping through his grasp and into the back of the net.
As Bierhoff ran off in celebration, he didn’t notice the flag being held up by the linesman, neither did the referee. The linesman lifted it and then lowered it as he hesitated before once again raising it to signal an offside against Kuntz. However, Kuntz didn’t interfere with play and, as a result, the goal stood, sparking wild celebrations.
Bierhoff had etched his name into German folklore, helping secure their third European Championships title. It was a thrilling encounter and one that will live long in the memory for Germans.
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