UEFA Euro 2020

Germany 2-1 Czech Republic: The story of Euro 96's golden goal

Sean Walsh
Oliver Bierhoff celebrates scoring the winning goal
Oliver Bierhoff celebrates scoring the winning goal / BORIS HORVAT/Getty Images
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From 90min.de writer Guido Müller

A few weeks ago, the six-year-old son of a good friend of mine looked at me as if I had just turned his entire - admittedly short-lived - worldview upside down. Shortly before, he was enthusiastically running after a football in the garden, trying to juggle it with his right foot. His father warned he should use both feet, 'otherwise he will never have a professional career'. Advice ignored.

Then, a little out of breath, the son stood in front of me and almost shyly asked if he could ask me something that obviously moved him.

"Yeah, sure!" I said. "Tell me!"

"Do you think we can be European champions?"

And while those words were being said, a twinge of uncertainty flitted across his childlike face. Almost as if he sensed that he was asking an unsuitable, because actually self-answering, question. Like asking if he could smear honey in his hair or something ridiculous like that.

"Of course we can," I answered. But the skeptic crease just above the base of his nose (like his father's, I thought) told me that he didn't believe me.

Memories of the summer of 1996

England v Holland
Euro 96 was the talk of Europe / Ben Radford/Getty Images

And then I started talking. About my journey into an uncertain but highly anticipated future. About my arrival in a country other than the one I was born in. And of a tournament where Germany were not considered among the favourites.

When the tenth European Championship started on June 10, 1996 at Wembley Stadium, I had only been living in Madrid for four months. 

Because of my love for a Spaniard, I decided to take this important step at the age of 23. I should never regret it for the next twenty-one years. Although years later, and despite the sacramental seal of marriage, the relationship broke up. But that's for another time.

With wise foresight, I had planned the first part of my annual holiday so that I could watch as many European Championship games as possible. To follow a major tournament entirely outside of my home country for the first time was, of course, a dramatic experience. As well as the fact that my new living environment caused a shift in focus.

Davor Suker of Croatia (left) goes round Mehmet Sholl of Germany
There was a lot of hype about Croatia heading into Euro 96 / Simon Bruty/Getty Images

Sure, in Spain people talked about the 'selección', about the 'furia roja', about the top favourites of the tournament. The Netherlands, France and England (as hosts) were named. Even Croatia were fancied due to some of their players plying their trade in La Liga - Robert Jarni at Real Betis, Robert Prosinecky at Barcelona, Davor Suker at Sevilla.

Spaniards - fans and media alike - did not think of their own team as favourites. Their national team had disappointed too often, or fallen to uncontrollable twists of fate.

These could sometimes be quite physical - like Mauro Tassotti's elbow against Luis Enrique in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in the USA two years earlier.

The images of the blood-covered face of the current Spanish national coach had burned themselves into the collective memory of the Spaniards - and were wonderfully suited to the footballing version of the eternal Via Crucis, to which football on the Iberian Peninsula, at least at national team level, was apparently condemned.

And so Euro 96 took place for me mainly between my living room (basically the whole apartment) and the parents' house of my partner.

But from the quarter-finals - after Spain were eliminated by England on penalties - the air was noticeably different in the football-crazy country. Only the most undaunted fans in the land followed the action for the rest of the tournament.

My future father-in-law, however, didn't want to have anything to do with Euro 96 after Fernando Hierro's penalty hit the crossbar and Miguel Nadal's effort was saved by David Seaman. And so, after consulting the family, I decided to watch the final within my own four walls, where I had already watched Germany succeed where Spain failed to conquer England on penalties.

Stuart Pearce (left) consoles teammate Gareth Southgate
England were eliminated by Germany / Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

My friend, who had little football affinity, made a good face for the bad game - and watched.

So on June 30, 1996, I was thousands of miles away from the feverish tension and passionate atmosphere of my native Hamburg, where I would have been surrounded by fellow sufferers.

And while the Czechs and Germans, who had crossed paths at the beginning of the tournament during the group stage, were fighting for the crown of the continent, I remembered the final four years earlier. 

I followed the first part of Euro 92 in Hamburg, another on an inter-railing trip with two friends across Europe and the last part in my parents' holiday home on the Costa del Sol. 

I saw the final, which we lost 2-0 to the underdogs from Denmark, with half a dozen Andalusians who were delighted that the Danes had defeated the Germans.

Pierluigi Pairetto's wrong call

German goalkeeper Andreas Kopke saves a goal attem
It was a hard-fought final / BORIS HORVAT/Getty Images

Four years later, the Czechs scored an illegitimate penalty after Matthias Sammer fouled Karel Poborsky outside the box. The Italian referee thought it was inside, and I felt like I had gone back in time.

Could the 1990 World Cup be the only title I could celebrate in my life? Half an hour before the final whistle at Wembley, it certainly looked like it.

At some point during the broadcast from London, the Spanish reporter addressed the newly created golden goal rule.

And while I was explaining to my dearest friend what this innovation was all about, I saw out of the corner of my eye that a certain Oliver Bierhoff had been brought on for Mehmet Scholl.

Like most of the fans in front of the screens in Germany, I couldn't believe it. 'Why is he bringing him on now?'

Oliver Bierhoff of Germany scores the equalising goal with a header
Bierhoff proved everyone wrong / Stu Forster/Getty Images

After all, Scholl seemed very inspired that day. The Spanish commentator even dared to speak of a wrong decision by Berti Vogts. Hardly anyone in Spain knew who Bierhoff was. 

But before I had fully weighed up all the pros and cons for this strange substitution, Germany were awarded a free kick on the right side.

Christian Ziege hit it with his left foot towards the goal. It just kept going and going and going, and finally landed right on the head of - of course - Bierhoff.

We had more time to complete the comeback, which given the situation twenty minutes earlier, was more than a German fan dared to hope for.

"What is the golden goal?"

And now the golden goal became interesting again. My friend still didn't understand how it worked.

"So you have to go into extra-time...what if a goal is scored?"

"It's game over!"

"And if not?"

"There's a penalty shootout!"

I was just about to give well-known examples from other sports when I realised that Spaniards understand as much about ice hockey as Germans do with camel races in the desert.

But it didn't matter, because everything was explained anyway.

Because just five minutes after the restart, Bierhoff came back to the ball on the edge of the Czech penalty area. 

Somehow he managed to wriggle around his opponent Karel Rada, who was far too passive, and was allowed a clear shot at goal.

Bierhoff's shot flew with little power and fairly centrally at Czech goalkeeper Petr Kouba. My brain had already disengaged itself from the matter - Kouba was going to save it with ease.

But suddenly the ball jumped out of Kouba's hand and flew towards the net. He made a quick dash to the line, but it was too late.

Today I don't know which came first. Whether it was the reporter's cry that the game was now decided after this 'gol de oro', or my joy that a German team decimated by ten injuries in a 23-man squad had won the final.

At least I'll never have to explain what a golden goal is.


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