Euro Moments: Czech mate as Oliver Bierhoff nets 1996 golden goal

After breaking English hearts in the semi-finals, the Germans took home the trophy

The sense of joyous anticipation before Euro ’96 was nicely captured in that song where with the chorus about football coming home which it did, for a bit, before the trophy headed back, with Germany, to rather more familiar surroundings.

In these days when Leicester City’s title success is supposed to have demonstrated that dreams do come true, the fate of the Czechs at that tournament provides a useful cautionary tale.

That lesson being that you should never assume you will win just because it would be a great underdog story although, perhaps even more pertinently, it is dangerous to assume you winning would even be the best story.

Sure, the Czechs were hard not to love in the summer of ’96. To get there they’d packed the Dutch off to the play-off in which they thumped Ireland at Anfield and they then played some exciting football with ill-advised haircuts as they defied the odds to make the final.


What their fairytale merchants had reckoned without, though, was Oliver Bierhoff.

The 28 year-old striker had not so much as made the bench for a single qualifier but got a run out in a couple of pre-tournament friendlies and scored twice, against Denmark, on just his second international appearance.

Legend has it that manager Berti Vogts’ wife Monika then suggested that he be brought to England, insisting that “big fella won’t let you down,” or words to that effect. The Udinese forward made the plane but the notion that Vogts wasn’t entirely convinced is evidenced by the fact that, despite a ludicrously long list of injuries, he still didn’t make the starting line up for the final.

No matter, within four minutes of coming on for Mehmet Scholl, he had headed home a Christian Ziege free kick to cancel out Patrik Berger’s penalty and then five minutes into extra time he made sure of his place in the history books (and lists like this) when his turn and shot was helped into the net, first by a deflection, and then by some decidedly poor goalkeeping from Petr Kouba.

The Germans behind that that goal knew exactly what the strike meant but at the other end of the ground there seemed to be a momentary hint of confusion before the awful truth sank in. Under the ‘golden goal’ rule then in use at major football championships, Bierhoff’s strike had ended the proceedings and a strange sense of anti-climax engulfed half of Wembley.

The Czechs’ dream was over but Bierhoff’s, oddly enough, was only beginning. Within two years he was Germany’s captain and by the time his international career was finishing six years later, he had scored 37 goals in 70 appearances for the nationalmannschaft.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times