As the 2018 FIFA World Cup approaches, DFB.de takes you on a journey back through Germany’s previous appearances at the tournament, bringing you everything from historic matches to unusual anecdotes. We now turn back the clocks to 1998...
Coming off a European Championship win just two years prior, the expectations for Germany were high going into France 1998. If they were to win two major tournaments on the trot, however, they would have to do it with the oldest ever German squad in World Cup history (29.81 years). Head coach Berti Vogts opted for experience over youth with 1990 World Cup winners Jürgen Kohler, Thomas Häßler, Jürgen Klinsmann, Andreas Köpke, Andy Möller, Stefan Reuter and Olaf Thon all getting the nod. 37-year-old Lothar Matthäus also made his return to the national side after being left out of the Euro 1996 squad. Despite Matthäus’ return, however, Jürgen Klinsmann remained as Germany’s new captain.
In what was the first World Cup encounter between Germany and USA, the Americans were brimming with confidence going into it. That was due to beating reigning champions Brazil 1-0 in a warm-up game just before the tournament began.
For Germany, it was the first time in 36 years that no Bayern players featured in a World Cup starting eleven. Jens Jeremies did start, although he only moved to Bayern from 1860 Munich after the tournament had finished. Jeremies was the youngest player (24) in a team that averaged 30.36 years, leading L’Equipe to use the headline “Jurassic Parc des Princes”.
Age clearly didn’t matter though, as Germany raced out to an early lead. Klinsmann flicked on a ball from a corner towards Möller, who did just enough to squeeze the ball past the defender on the line. Scored after just eight minutes and 22 seconds, it was Germany’s fastest ever opening World Cup goal.
After a period of missed chances, the lead was finally doubled in the 65th minute. A rebounded pass fell into the path of Oliver Bierhoff on the right, who crossed the ball into Klinsmann. The captain coolly controlled with his chest and threw off his marker in the process, before volleying home into the far corner.
And that’s how the game would end, with Germany clearly performing well below their high standards. Franz Beckenbauer quipped post-game that “our players showed about 60 percent of what they can do today” (in Bild).
Leaving Lothar Matthäus - the most capped player in Germany history - out of the team did not come without controversy. Not a day passed without a question about why he didn’t play against USA. Nevertheless, Matthäus himself remained loyal to his coach: “I would love to play, but I respect the decision of Berti Vogts.”
Even this was overshadowed by some off the field altercations in the lead up to the game against Yugoslavia, however. A section of German fans could not secure tickets to the game in Lens and so took to the streets to fight opposition fans and the police. In what was one of the darkest moments in German sporting history, policeman Daniel Nivel was struck by an iron bar in the melee and lost his ability to speak and to do his job. 96 were arrested, including the ringleaders. Chancellor Helmut Kohl called it a “disgrace to our country.”
Nevertheless, the game still took place. Exactly 20 years after the “disgrace of Cordoba” (3-2 loss to Austria in the 1978 World Cup), things didn’t start very well on this day either. An early 1-0 lead for Yugoslavia could have been much more once half time had rolled around. Vogts had to react. 37-year-old Lothar Matthäus took to the pitch for the first time at the 1998 World Cup, his 22nd total appearance on football’s biggest stage. Even he couldn’t stop a catastrophic error from the usually reliable Andreas Köpke helping Yugoslavia double their lead, though. Thankfully for Germany, an own goal from Mihajlovic and a goal from Oliver Bierhoff saved a point and they would go into the final group game in first place.
With the drama of the events in Lens still looming over the team, Germany now tried to block out all the noise and secure their spot at the top of the group. Lothar Matthäus was named as one of the men to try and do so, playing in midfield for the first time in four years. “I don’t want to control everything,” he said. “I want to be an important part of the team and help those around me.”
Germany still didn’t look entirely comfortable, with other things perhaps playing on their minds. It was that man Oliver Bierhoff who would eventually prove invaluable for Germany yet again, as he headed his country in front in the 50th minute. “He always scores when he’s needed most,” said commentator, Heribert Faßbender. Klinsmann added a second to secure Germany’s spot in the knockout stages.
All of Germany were still wondering where the European Champions had let their form go. Despite topping Group F, this was not the same side that was so successful two years before. Berti Vogts remained defiant: “I never told my team to not play attractive football!” As so often in this sport, it’s the results that count.
Mexico were the opponents in the last 16, who were also unbeaten to this point in the competition. And it showed in the game’s early goings, as the South Americans proved to be a very tricky outfit. They were rewarded just after half-time with what could have been a crucial first goal from Luis Hernandez, Mexico’s star man. He would have had another as well if it were not for Köpke who made a miraculous point-blank stop to deny El Matador.
With 15 minutes to go now, Germany were desperate. Jürgen Klinsmann answered their prayers. His poacher’s finish after the Mexicans couldn’t deal with a cross made things all square. It gave Germany a new lease of life and they looked to kill things off before extra time was needed. And they did so in the 86th minute, when Oliver Bierhoff scored a crucial goal yet again. And what a header it was. It was so perfectly placed into the top-right corner with so much power that the goalkeeper had absolutely no chance. The game would end that way, and Germany progressed to yet another World Cup quarter-final.
It was also Lothar Matthäus’ 24th World Cup game, meaning he overtook Germany legend Uwe Seeler and a certain Diego Maradona to become the player to have played in the most World Cup games ever.
In what was Berti Vogt’s 100th game in charge of the national side, Germany were set to face Croatia in the quarterfinals of the 1998 World Cup. It was only the second time he had faced off against the fairly new state, however. The other occasion was at the same stage of Euro 96 two years prior, when Germany won 2-1 to progress to the semi-finals. Chancellors of both countries were on hand to witness the rematch, with Germany unbeaten whenever Helmut Kohl had been watching from the stands to that point.
It was a feisty start to the game with cards being given out left, right and centre. It wasn’t much of a surprise, with the Croatians renowned for their hard-nosed style of play. Left wingback Robert Jarni said before the game that “we will get our revenge [for the Euros], no doubt about it.” Jarni was clearly a man of his word, as he fired in the opener with a low driven shot into the bottom-right corner.
It would have been much easier for Germany to prevent that goal if they had eleven men on the pitch. A curious red card decision turned the game on its head when referee Rune Pedersen gave Christian Wörns his marching orders five minutes before Croatia took the lead. He wasn’t the last man, nor did he challenge Davor Suker from behind, so the red card came as a definite surprise. Germany had been playing perhaps their best football of the tournament before then, but it was all downhill from there.
First came Jarni’s goal in added time before the break, then Vlaovic scored another thunderbolt to double the Croatian lead. Davor Suker added another in the 85th minute to truly make this a night to forget for Germany.
Germany 2-0 USA - 15th June 1998, Parc des Princes, Paris (43,815 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Möller (8’), 2-0 Klinsmann (66’)
Germany 2-2 Yugoslavia - 21st June 1998, Stade Félix-Bollaert, Lens (41,275 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Mijatovic (13’), 0-2 Stojkovic (54’), 1-2 Mihajlovic (74’ OG), 2-2 Bierhoff (80’)
Germany 2-0 Iran - 25th June 1998, Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier (35,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Bierhoff (50’), 2-0 Klinsmann (57’)
Germany 2-1 Mexico - 29th June 1998, Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier (35,000 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Hernandez (47’), 1-1 Klinsmann (75’), 2-1 Bierhoff (86’)
Germany 0-3 Croatia - 4th July 1998, Stade de Gerland, Lyon (39,100 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Jarni (45’), 0-2 Vlaovic (80’), 0-3 Suker (85’)
Red cards: Wörns (40’)