Read this and watch a re-run of the EURO '96 final.
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Football famously came home for the finals of EURO ’96, but England could not make it to the final, leaving injury-ravaged Germany to take on the Czech Republic’s men of mystery in the Wembley decider.Watch in full on UEFA.tv
Having eliminated hosts England in the semi-finals, Berti Vogts’ side faced EURO ‘96’s surprise package in the final, the Czech Republic having finessed their way through the tournament with some panache (after losing their opening game 2-0 to Germany). As had been the case 20 years earlier, when Czechoslovakia beat West Germany in the EURO final, the Germans were favourites, but this time were so ravaged by injuries that they were given permission to call up an extra player – while star striker Jürgen Klinsmann played in the final despite a calf problem.
Matthias Sammer: The first East German to play for the united national team, Sammer occupied the Franz Beckenbauer role in Germany's defence. The Dortmund sweeper scored against both Russia and Croatia – the winner – en route to the EURO decider.
Oliver Bierhoff: The tall Udinese forward started the final on the bench but had a big part to play. Vogts' wife apparently persuaded him to name Bierhoff in his squad, saying: "He will repay you." It turned out to be a genius move.
Karel Poborský: The scruffy Slavia Praha midfielder made his name at EURO ’96 with some smooth play – and an audacious chip against Portugal in the quarter-finals. He was destined to be Man of the Match in the final – but what medal would he receive?
After a quiet first half, the Czechs were handed the lead; Sammer brought down the lively Poborský in the box and Patrik Berger thumped the ball into the net. However, Vogts then sent on Oliver Bierhoff with 21 minutes to go, and the 1.91m-tall striker demonstrated his aerial power almost immediately, heading Christian Ziege's free-kick past Petr Kouba.
Andreas Köpke denied Vladimír Šmicer a winner at the death, meaning the game went to extra time, where the ‘golden goal’ rule came into play (i.e. the next team to score would win). It took just five minutes for Germany to strike gold, Bierhoff’s left-footed shot hitting Michal Horňák on its way and squirming through Kouba's hands.
Oliver Bierhoff, Germany forward: "I was over the moon. The 'golden goal', a historic football moment that our team created for Germany. The scenes of jubilation, the all-night party back in the team hotel – that's something I’ll never forget. Even today, people I meet ask me about the 'golden goal'."
Matthias Sammer, Germany defender: "It was a sensational feeling, especially because we had suffered so many setbacks during the finals. And most fans in Wembley were hoping the Czechs would win after we eliminated England in the semi-finals. I remember the seconds after Oliver Bierhoff's 'golden goal'. We were already celebrating when we noticed the referee was talking to his assistant about a possible offside. Shortly after, we didn't need to hold back any more."
Berti Vogts, Germany coach: "That year we were a superb team and everyone gave their all for their team-mates. Ahead of the final, we only had nine healthy players left. [Our third goalkeeper] Oliver Reck sat on the bench and had an outfield shirt with him."
Vladimír Šmicer, Czech Republic midfielder: "Germany deserved to win because of their consistency and quality. We know that with them. That’s why they always win. We came back as winners at home, a great moment, a great homecoming. We gave everything: no regrets. It was special for us."
Elsewhere that night
Oddly, three games in the group stage of UEFA’s now-defunct summer tournament – the UEFA Intertoto Cup – took place the same day as the final. LASK Linz from Austria won 4-0 at Faroese side B68, Sweden’s Örgryte drew 1-1 with Segesta in Croatia, and Gaziantepspor beat Hungary’s Vasas 3-2 in Turkey.
Germany’s first major tournament victory since reunification – and their first EURO success since West Germany’s 1980 triumph – ensured that the team were greeted by 30,000 fans upon returning to Frankfurt Airport with the trophy. They have not won a EURO since and took 18 years to claim their next international silverware – the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
EURO '96 remains the Czechs' most successful final tournament as an independent nation, with the stars of that side swiftly picked up by some of Europe’s top clubs. Pavel Nedvĕd left Sparta Praha for Lazio that summer, winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup there in 1999, while Poborský went from Slavia Praha to Manchester United. Šmicer later won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool.