In the latest in our series looking at past UEFA European Championships, victorious Germany skipper Jürgen Klinsmann reflects on EURO '96 – a triumph for unity in every sense.
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Talent alone is not enough to take you to the top in football – just ask Jürgen Klinsmann.
As the man who climbed the old Wembley's 39 steps to collect the Henri Delaunay Cup from Queen Elizabeth II, he knows better than anyone the secret of Germany's success at EURO '96. First and foremost, he says, it was the magnificent spirit among Berti Vogts' players that carried them through several daunting tests before they lifted the trophy after victory over the Czech Republic in the final.
"I think the European Championship in 1996 in England was a great experience for us as there was a great camaraderie in the team and we knew that through this team spirit we could compete with the other teams," remembers Klinsmann. "We fought all through the tournament and played really good football, even if we were not the best team. Italy were a bit better, England had a great team, but we had the best will."
Vogts' mantra was 'there are no stars, the team is the star', although his squad had no shortage of gifted footballers. Germany arrived in England with the third-best qualifying record and, in Matthias Sammer, had the eventual player of the tournament at sweeper. They also had Klinsmann. One of seven survivors of West Germany's 1990 FIFA World Cup-winning side, he had scored in the last four major tournaments – the EUROs of 1988 and '92 and World Cups in 1990 and '94 – and would play a prominent role once more as captain.
For the then 31-year-old, a championship whose logo was 'Football's coming home' offered an opportunity to return to the nation where he had made a huge impact with Tottenham Hotspur FC in the Premier League in 1994/95 before joining FC Bayern München. Klinsmann was the first high-profile German in England since goalkeeper Bert Trautmann more than three decades earlier; he would win over the English fans with his engaging, articulate personality as much as his 29 goals in a Tottenham shirt. "I played in a team that had a real chemistry," he says, "everything clicked."
The same could be said of Germany's EURO '96 squad who hit the ground running with two wins, beating the Czech Republic 2-0 before Klinsmann scored twice in a 3-0 triumph against Russia. A 0-0 draw with Italy confirmed them as group winners – and sent the Azzurri home early. Klinsmann broke the deadlock from the penalty spot in an ill-tempered quarter-final against Croatia but left the pitch before half-time with an injury that would rule him out of the semi-final.
In his absence Davor Šuker equalised after 51 minutes yet five minutes later Croatia lost Igor Štimac to a red card and, before the hour, Sammer made it 2-1. Germany's reward was a Wembley semi-final against hosts England. Although Klinsmann was a reluctant spectator, it remains an occasion he will never forget. "There was a tremendous atmosphere – above all, coming from the English fans who sang all the way through the game. It was fantastic, it got under your skin."
Alan Shearer and Klinsmann's replacement Stefan Kuntz exchanged early goals, and Kuntz had the ball in the net again in extra time only to see his header annulled for a push. Germany also survived scares with Darren Anderton hitting a post and Paul Gascoigne somehow failing to connect with Shearer's cross with the goal gaping. As at Italia '90, it took a shoot-out to separate the old rivals and again Germany prevailed, Andreas Köpke saving from Gareth Southgate before Andreas Möller made it 6-5. "I think no player, English or German, will forget that semi-final," Klinsmann says.
Germany duly returned to Wembley on 30 June to end their campaign as it had begun – against the Czechs. Klinsmann remembers a strong determination to avoid a repeat of the surprise EURO '92 final reverse to Denmark. "We had lost the final four years before, in Sweden against Denmark, because we weren't focused 100%, we were just too arrogant. We reached the final and thought, 'OK we will win this title as well', but we underestimated Denmark. That's what we wanted to avoid against the Czech Republic."
As against England, Germany conceded first, Patrik Berger converting a 59th-minute penalty after Sammer had fouled Karel Poborský. However, Oliver Bierhoff, a 69th-minute substitute for Mehmet Scholl, turned the game around. Within four minutes he had nodded Christian Ziege's free-kick past Petr Kouba to bring Germany level; five minutes into extra time, he struck again with the first golden goal to settle a major final.
"That was new – a goal is scored and then immediately it is all over," Klinsmann says. "It was a strange feeling and we didn't know how to react. You first had to try to digest this and then, of course, we started to party." There was another, more significant first, this being the first trophy lifted by the unified Germany. Klinsmann argues that football helped bring the country together in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall coming down.
Those "new players joining the team from East Germany" had to adjust "to a completely new mentality," he explains. Sammer, in particular, offered a shining example. "This process was accelerated by football. Football helped to build the bridge between East and West Germany. And the fact that players like Matthias Sammer or others came to the national team helped a lot in this cultural change, because they were idols for the East Germans."
On a summer night in London, they were all idols, from east to west, as Klinsmann led them up those Wembley steps.
This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the UEFA EURO 2012 Official Preview Guide. Click to purchase.