Oliver Bierhoff marks the anniversary of his match-winning appearance in the EURO '96 final by casting his mind back to a career-defining performance.
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Oliver Bierhoff had made his Germany debut just four months previously and had only managed a solitary start and one substitute appearance at EURO '96 before coming off the bench in the final.
What followed would be a career-defining cameo. Bierhoff first drew his team level with Czech Republic, then scored an extra-time golden goal to secure Germany the title of European champions for the first time in 16 years. He and UEFA.com sat down to reminisce 24 years on.
You only made your debut for Germany a couple of months before EURO ‘96 and hadn’t played many competitive games. Was it difficult to prepare for the final?
Oliver Bierhoff: Yes, it was difficult because we secretly reckoned that we would win the game. We were slight favourites and, as a striker on the bench, you don’t think that you will come on or be able to have much influence if you’re winning by one or two goals.
Of course I was happy because we had reached the final and as a player you just want to play. It was great to be there but obviously I would have liked to have played a couple of minutes longer.
But before the game, I did tell myself to just enjoy the experience, take in the atmosphere and be happy when we win the trophy.
Germany had already beaten Czech Republic 2-0 in the group stage. What did your coach, Berti Vogts, learn from this game and did it influence his strategy for the final?
I don’t really remember what was said before the final. The situation was completely different for the group game. In the final we had a couple of suspended players, some injured players.UEFA.tv: EURO top scorers
We were on our last legs, in a way. Our thinking was: "Let’s pull ourselves together, gather our last strength, throw everything in." But we knew that we were the better team, we just needed to stay alert and not underestimate them.
You had to sit on the sidelines for over an hour. How did you feel? Powerless, frustrated, nervous? Did you look out for weaknesses in the Czech defence and goalkeeper that you could exploit?
Afterwards, you always like to be able to give a highly professional, detailed report but that’s not always the case. You obviously observe the game specially. Before the game, the atmosphere was impressive at the old Wembley Stadium; the Queen came, it was a really great atmosphere.
During the first half I was still quite relaxed, you’re watching on and looking at how people behave. But then I got a bit nervous when they scored and I started to warm up and wanted to get on quickly.
I was a bit annoyed because it took quite long. But put it this way: with the Czechs’ penalty, my heart rate went up because I realised that I would be the striker who would probably come on and get a chance.
Tell us about the golden goal. People say that it was a bad error by Petr Kouba but, in the past, you have said that the shot looked far easier to save on television than it was in real life. Why is that?
I don’t know if that is wishful thinking or truth. The ball had a bit of spin on it and I think someone’s foot may have got to it at the start, skewing the flight a bit more. Nevertheless, he should’ve held on to it, but that’s not of interest to me any more. I think Thomas Helmer played a long ball from defence because we no longer had the energy to create chances. The long ball came in, I nodded it on to Jürgen Klinsmann, who took it out onto the right and then crossed in.
I received the ball with back to goal. I held my opponent off, I wanted to get it onto my right foot – my stronger foot – and then move into the middle to have a wider spectrum to shoot and to have more of a chance. Marco Bode, who played on the left, shouted: "Go round here, come round this way!" I didn’t know if he wanted the ball or something, but I turned myself around and took a blind shot.
I knew roughly where the goal and the goalkeeper were and, of course, I got lucky. The ball trickled into the goal.
Can you try to describe that feeling of scoring the winning goal in a EURO final?
It’s hard for me to describe. It’s quite funny, I have never before or since taken my shirt off. In a final like that, you are so focused that you don’t think about everything that’s going on – the fact the world is watching, that people are celebrating in Germany. That all comes after.
It’s just a battle with the team and, in that second, it was a moment of happiness and relief that I was sharing with my team-mates, in which we had finally won the title that we had fought hard to obtain for so long. For me, as a player who’d always lived on goals and that was my bread and butter, it was only fitting that I scored the final goal.
However, the significance of that goal for my career or what it meant for Germany didn’t cross my mind until the next morning at breakfast.
What was it like lifting the trophy, and what memories and emotions come rushing back when you think of the celebrations?
Actually, the nicest moment was with the lads in the dressing room. That’s where everyone lets loose, you celebrate together, you’re happy together. You’ve just spent six or seven weeks together with each other, 24/7.
After a long season, you know that you now have three or four weeks off. You’ve really earned the break, you know you can really party and blow off some steam.
That was the best part. Another thing that was nice was the lap of honour in the stadium, under the lights. The people were so happy, there was a great atmosphere, many German fans were there. No player should have that lap of honour taken away from them.Download the EURO app