Franz Beckenbauer had succeeded Jupp Derwall as the West German team manager in 1984. World Cup glory was almost achieved in 1986 in Mexico when the West Germans were narrowly beaten in the final by Argentina, the final score being 3 – 2. Close but no cigar for Beckenbauer’s men, they had to go again. Their next chance for tournament glory would be at the European Championship of 1988 and it would be West Germany who would be hosting the event. Therefore that meant that they wouldn’t have to go through a qualifying phase, so the West Germans organised a series of friendly games to get them in shape for the crunch matches of Euro ’88.
From the middle of April of 1987 the West Germans began to prepare for the tournament they would host the following year. Italy arrived in Cologne that April for a match with Beckenbauer’s team on the 18th at the RheinEnergie Stadion then known as the Müngersdorfer Stadion. The Germans were captained by Klaus Allofs, before a crowd of 55,000 the game finished in a 0 – 0 draw. A few months later in August France were town, or to be exact, Berlin. Before a crowd of 31,000 the West Germans beat the French 2 – 1, Rudi Völler scored both the German’s goal and Eric Cantona found the net for the French. A month later the West Germans were in Düsseldorf at the Rhein Stadion taking to the field again, this time against Bobby Robson’s England. The game finished in a 3 – 1 victory for Beckenbauer’s team, their goals scored by Wolfram Wuttke and a couple from Pierre Littbarski, England’s consolation by was scored by Gary Lineker. A fortnight later Sepp Piontek’s Denmark rolled into Hamburg for a meeting with Die Mannschaft at the Volkspark, the West German’s won by a goal to nil, the goal scored by Rudi Völler. West Germany’s final friendly game of 1987 took place against Sweden in the middle of October at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen, it ended in a 1 – 1 draw with Pierre Littbarski scoring for the Germans and Glenn Hysen finding the net for the Swedes.
As mentioned as tournament hosts West Germany would not have to undergo a qualifying phase, playing a series of friendlies was all well and good but the West Germans thought that organizing a mini tournament before the European Championship got underway in the summer would be a good idea, an ideal opportunity for the players to get in “competition mode” so to speak, and that’s what they did. The Vier-Länder-Turnier, or the Four Nation Tournament in English, took place in late March/early April of 1988. West Germany invited over Argentina, Sweden and the Soviet Union to take part in this football shindig with all the games taking place at the Olympic Stadium in West Berlin. It was something for the German football loving public to get their teeth into with the serious business of the European Championship on the horizon, or at least that was how the Deutscher Fußball-Bund (the German football association) saw it, however it didn’t really catch the imagination of the fans, games weren’t that well attended and to make matters worse West Germany were disappointing on the pitch. The first match saw Argentina take on the Soviet Union. Only 17,000 fans turned up, 17,000 in a huge stadium, still, the Soviets were happy as they ran out 4 – 2 winners, their goals coming from Oleksandr Zavarov of Dinamo Kiev, Hennadiy Lytovchenko also of Dinamo Kiev and with a brace Oleh Protasov also of Kiev. Later in the day West Germany turned out against Sweden. The game finished 1- 1 in normal time so penalties were used to decide who would go through to the final; Sweden won the penalty shoot-out 4 – 2. In the third place play-off game West Germany beat Argentina by a goal to nil, the goal scored by Lothar Matthäus. In the final the Sweden beat the Soviet Union 2 – 0. Now in June and with the start of the European Championship only a week away the West Germans snuck in one more friendly at the Weserstadion in Bremen, this time Ivan Osim’s Yugoslavia would be the guests. The match finished in a 1 – 1 draw.
Eight stadia would be used for the tournament, all large grounds with capacities of at least 60,000. They were the Müngersdorfer Stadion in Cologne, the Neckar Stadion in Stuttgart, the Olympic Stadion in Munich, the Park Stadion in Gelsenkirchen, the Rhein Stadion in Düsseldorf, the Niedersachsen Stadion in Hanover, the Wald Stadion in Frankfurt and the Volkspark Stadion in Hamburg. Franz Beckenbauer chose a twenty man squad for the tournament.
The squad consisted of two goal keepers who were Eike Immel of VfB Stuttgart and Bodo Illgner of FC Cologne. The defenders were Gunnar Sauer of Werder Bremen, Thomas Berthold of Italian club Verona, Hans Pflügler of Bayern Munich, Guido Buchwald of VfB Stuttgart, Jürgen Kohler of FC Cologne, Uli Borowka of Werder Bremen, Matthias Herget of Uerdingen 05 and Andreas Brehme of Bayern Munich. The midfield was made up of Wolfgang Rolff of Bayer Leverkusen, Pierre Littbarski of FC Cologne, Olaf Thon of Schalke 04; team captain Lothar Matthäus of Bayern Munich, Hans Dorfer also of Bayern Munich and Wolfram Wuttke of Kaiserslautern. The strikers were Rudi Völler of Italian club Roma, Jürgen Klinsmann of VfB Stuttgart, Frank Mill of Borussia Dortmund and Dieter Eckstein of Nuremberg. The hosts were drawn into Group A along with Italy, Denmark and Spain.
West Germany’s first match of the 1988 European Championship was the Rhein Stadion in Düsseldorf in front of over 62,000 fans; their opponents were Italy, the game finished 1 – 1. Not the start that West Germany were hoping for. It was in fact the Italians who opened the scoring, Roberto Mancini finding the West German net about seven minutes into the second half. It didn’t stay that way for long, three minutes later Andreas Brehme leveled for the tournament hosts. Four days later West Germany were in Gelsenkirchen to face Denmark, goals by Jürgen Klinsmann and Olaf Thon made sure West Germany took the points.
Three days Beckenbauer’s team were in Munich for their final Group A game against the Spanish, the game ended in another West German victory when Rudi Völler scored himself a brace. That meant West Germany would top the group with five points. Joining them in the semifinal stage would Italy who finished second in Group A with five points also; the West Germans topped the group on goal difference.
In the semi-final The Netherlands were awaiting West Germany. Before a ball was kicked everyone knew this was going to be an explosive encounter between the neighbouring countries, these two just didn’t get on. The game would take place in Hamburg at the Volkspark Stadion, home of HSV. When the Romanian referee blew for half time it was still goalless. It was West Germany who opened the scoring in the 55th minute thanks to a converted penalty from Lothar Matthäus. The Dutch would level about twenty minutes later when they were awarded their own penalty which was ably converted by Ronald Koeman, it was game on.
It was heartbreak for West Germany when with only two minutes left of normal time Marco van Basten scored for the Dutch, putting them in the final. A bitter end for the West Germans, especially on home turf, but they would only have to wait four short years to once again taste world cup glory.
Richard Fenton. September 2016.