German football’s record in European cup competitions is packed with numerous triumphs and unforgettable moments. In total, a German team has reached a final on 41 occasions, winning 18 titles from those finals and have contributed countless, memorable highlights. However, they have also accounted for some major disappointments which have added to the fascination of the European Cup.
The first European Cup game involving a German team was a failure – Rot-Weiss Essen were beaten 4-0 by Scottish champions Hibernian on September 14th 1955 and were knocked out in the first round. However, this was not a bad omen. This was only proof, that everything is hard at the beginning. This applied to the first European cup finalists Eintracht Frankfurt, who were unfortunate to come up against the best side in the world on May 18th 1960. Real Madrid claimed their fifth consecutive European Cup with a 7-3 win over Frankfurt in Glasgow.
Six years passed before Germany could celebrate their first European triumph: Borussia Dortmund beat Liverpool on May 5th 1966 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup – once again in Glasgow – winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Siegfried Held and Stan Libuda. The curse was lifted and the Bundesliga, which was introduced in 1963, gave birth to team after team, who could show off on the international stage.
FC Bayern added their names to the winners list in 1967, as they too won the Cup Winners’ Cup. That day in Nürnberg made Bayern even hungrier for success, and they went on to lift the silverware in all three European Cup competitions – a feat which no team apart from Chelsea, FC Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax has achieved.
Bayern achieved another feat that was hard to repeat: They won the European Cup three consecutive times between 1974 and 1976. The hat-trick has only otherwise been achieved by Ajax and Real Madrid. Since the introduction of the Champions League (1992), no team has successfully defended the title.
The German record champions’ are all about big success on the international stage, but there have also several low moments. The 1999 Champions League final in Barcelona is an unforgettable one. Bayern thought they had already won the trophy, but Manchester United snatched it from them in injury time as they scored two goals in the space of 103 seconds to turn the game on its head to win 2-1. It’s a wound they could heal two years later with a win against Valencia in Milan, but the scar remains.
The memories came flooding back as FC Bayern lost in their own stadium on penalties to Chelsea on May 19th 2012. What was more painful? That defeat in injury time or a penalty shoot-out loss in front of your own fans having dominated the whole game? It’s not worth debating. Bayern compensated for this loss with the victory over Borussia Dortmund in the all-German Champions League Final in Wembley on May 25th 2013 - a day for the history books for German football. These bright days and big disappointments make up the fascination of the European Cup, which provides an aura under the floodlights and promises special nights of football.
With German teams, the positive moments have outweighed the negative. In total, a German team has reached a final on 41 occasions, winning 18 titles from those finals and have contributed countless, memorable highlights. One of those high points is the triumph of 1. FC Magdeburg, who were victorious against favourites AC Milan 2-0 in the Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam in 1974. It remains the only triumph of an East German team, while Carl Zeiss Jena (1981) and Lokomotive Leipzig (1987) have both reached a final.
The European Cup was heavily influenced by the Bundesliga in the 70s and early 80s. In the 1980 UEFA Cup, the teams participating in the semi-finals were all German, with Eintracht Frankfurt winning the all-German final against Borussia Mönchengladbach. In the same year, Hamburger SV reached the European Cup final against Nottingham Forest (lost 1-0). In 1975, FC Bayern (European Cup) and Borussia Mönchengladbach (UEFA Cup) were two German clubs that both progressed to European finals.
And even when the national team was in a crisis after the 1982 World Cup, a Bundesliga team dominated continental club football: Hamburger SV beat Juventus 1-0 in the European Cup final, as Felix Magath scored the winning goal to make it a memorable moment in Athens for HSV.
It wasn’t long ago that the Ruhr Valley was paving the way to success. In May 1997, local rivals Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund could both celebrate success and proud fans of both clubs in the “Ruhrpott” could pay homage to their unloved neighbours.
BVB won against Juventus in Munich and became the first German club to win the newly named Champions League (instead of the European Cup). Lars Ricken propelled himself to legendary status with his goal 20 seconds after being brought on as a substitute. Schalke 04 also won in their two-legged UEFA Cup final against Inter Milan, with a young Jens Lehmann proving to be the decisive factor in the penalty shootout.
His rival in goal for Germany, Oliver Kahn, also displayed this skill in 2001 against Valencia – which was also in Milan. Up until that day at Wembley, twelve years passed without a German triumph, with finances an underlying cause. Clubs, especially from Spain and England, recruited top players and superstars with money they didn’t have.
Some wins in a cup run that ultimately comes to an end are still just as memorable as lifting the title, just like Bayer Uerdingen’s unforgettable 7-3 win against Dynamo Dresden in March 1986. DFB-Pokal winners Bayer were 2-0 down after the first leg of the Cup Winners’ Cup quarterfinal, and were trailing 3-1 at half time in the second leg, before the Uerdingen attack somehow scored goals for fun after the break.
The memories of the big games never fade. Whoever has seen the “Scandal of Bökelberg” in autumn 1971 will still talk themselves into a rage today. Champions Borussia Mönchengladbach played perhaps their best game of that era, as the “Foals” became champions. They swept Inter Milan aside with a 7-1 thumping. However it was all for nothing in the end, after Inter striker Roberto Boninsegna – who was hit by an empty can – was substituted. The alleged “knockout” of the theatrically experienced Italian also meant Gladbach were knocked out. The result was annulled and the replay in Berlin and ended in a 0-0 draw. Thanks to a 4-2 win in Milan, Inter ultimately progressed to the next round. The can is even on display in Gladbach’s club museum.
For Werder Bremen, the European Cup was a platform to promote their image. There were just a dot on the map during the 80s, but then along came Otto Rehhagel with the “Miracle of the Weser”, which became a regular occurrence. Now matter how badly Bremen lost on the road, they would always turn it around at home.
It began with a 6-2 win after extra time against Spartak Moscow in 1987 (after a 4-1 first-leg defeat). In the following year, they turned around a 3-0 away loss to BFC Dynamo in the first leg, winning 5-0 at home. Manni Burgsmüller had already set the tone before kick-off. He shouted “Come on out, you cowards” as he banged on their dressing room door. In 1993, Bremen were trailing 3-0 to Anderlecht after 66 minutes of their Champions League group game but went on to win 5-3. Even Diego Maradona suffered a defeat in Bremen, losing 5-1 with Napoli in 1989.
Since then, it appears as if Bremen sense that they have a duty to give their fans something to shout about at home. It owes itself to this myth.
Something that is yet to become a myth, but still remains as impressive success story, are the women’s Bundesliga teams’ performances in European Cups. The competition was introduced as the UEFA Women’s Cup in 2001/02 and was renamed the Champions League in 2009/10. From the competition’s twelve seasons so far, 1. FFC Frankfurt have won it three times (2002, 2006, 2008), Turbine Potsdam have won it twice (2005, 2010), and FCR Duisburg (2009) and VfL Wolfsburg (2013) have both won the title once.