East Germany through the 80s until the qualification for Italia ’90 had been an interesting journey, but ultimately they had always failed to deliever tournament participation. This would naturally have disappointed the country’s ministry of sports, as they had always sought to promote the country’s prosperity through high level sports. The closest they had come to qualification had been ahead of Mexico ’86, at least point wise, as they trailed second placed Bulgaria by a sole point after eight matches. They had finished strongly and won their last four qualifiers, so the poor start of three defeats from their opening four had been their failure. Two results had stood out: a 2-1 win in Belgrade against Yugoslavia, where a 20 year old Andreas Thom had notched both goals, as well as a wonderful 2-0 home win against reigning European Champions France in Leipzig in September ’85.
Ahead of the ’82 World Cup, East Germany had lost twice to Poland in a three teams strong group, which had also contained Malta, whom they had beaten twice. In the qualification for the 1984 European Championships, they had started with three successive defeats in a group consisting of four teams, and this is when the GDR FA had decided to let go of manager Rudolf Krause, only a year and a half after he had taken over from legendary boss Georg Buschner, who had been manager since 1970! After a 0-0 draw in Switzerland in May ’83, current coach Bernd Stange (40 at the start of the ’90 qualification) would take over the reins, and after the summer they won their remaining two qualifiers: 3-0 at home to the Swiss, and then 2-1 at home to Scotland. Belgium qualified from this group with ease having won their first four matches.
The start of the Stange era saw a highly successful period for the East German national team, as they won six and drew the other from his first seven in charge. It took eleven months until he tasted defeat for the first time, going down 1-0 to England at Wembley in September ’84, courtesy of a late Bryan Robson goal. On the back of this run, as well as a subsequent 5-2 home win against Algeria, they came into the qualification for Mexico ’86, which would start so disappointingly. The 3-2 home defeat to Yugoslavia in the opening qualifier had been their undoing, succumbing to a late winner from the visitors. Then came another European Championships qualification, where they had been paired with both the Soviet Union and Iceland, whom they would renew acquaintance even for this current qualification group, as well as a France in decline and a poor Norway. They had finished second, two points behind their Eastern Block comrades, but only the winners had qualified.
The finish of the previous qualification had once again been a solid one, as they had won three and drawn at home to the Soviet Union, where they had even led until ten minutes from time, from their last four matches. East Germany had been a relatively decent home side, though they had lost three times in home qualifiers during the decade: Poland, Belgium and Yugoslavia had all won in Leipzig. With the national team often changing venue from one qualifier to the next, was the Zentralstadion perhaps something of an unlucky ground for GDR? In total, they had played 13 home matches since the start of the 80s, five of them in Leipzig, where the other two had yielded a draw and a win, both against France. The eight remaining home ties had been played in Jena, Halle, here in East Berlin (2), in Potsdam, in Karl-Marx-Stadt (2), and in Magdeburg. No defeats. East Germany would again spread their home qualification campaign around the country, and the ill-fated Zentralstadion was indeed among the four chosen venues (for the visit of Austria).
On the player front, manager Bernd Stange sure had some quality performers at his disposal. Since the last qualification campaign, only Lokomotive Leipzig defender Uwe Zötsche had seemed to retire from national team level, though perhaps had 28 year old striker Ralf Minge also decided that enough was enough in the blue jersey. He had featured four times in the previous qualification, though he had a bit of a reputation for either being substituted during the game or appearing from the bench.
They had some fine players, and goalkeeper and team captain René Müller was one of the most notable ones. However, he appeared to have opted out of the national team following a poor showing during a 3-3 home friendly against Romania in the spring of ’88. Müller had only kept goal during the first half, and he had been publically blamed by manager Stange for punching a Ladislau Bölöni corner into his own goal (GDR had been 2-1 up at half-time). There appears to have been surprisingly little commotion regarding the Müller situation, considering he had been the first choice in goal and team captain for a long while until the start of 1988. It is possible that Stange’s criticism of Müller led to the ‘keeper deciding to leave the national team. Müller, the GDR Oberliga ‘Player of the Year’ for both the 1985/86 and 1986/87 seasons, would never play for his country again until after Stange had departed. There did appear to be capable candidates for the goalkeeper’s position, though, with Jörg Weißflog of lowly Wismut Aue seemingly leading the charge, just ahead of Bodo Rudwaleit of champions Dynamo Berlin. Behind them, there were Magdeburg’s Dirk Heyne, who was another highly rated “Schlußmann”, and Detlef Zimmer of Stahl Brandenburg.
Reigning domestic champions were Dynamo Berlin, who had won on goal difference ahead of Lokomotive. They boasted players such as defender Frank Rohde, attacking midfielders Rainer Ernst and Thomas Doll, as well as super star in the making Andreas Thom. Third had been Dynamo Dresden, who supplied the national team with players such as midfielders Jörg Stübner and exciting prospect Matthias Sammer, and indeed striker Ulf Kirsten. However, one of the up and coming East German players at the start of the qualification was wide midfielder Rico Steinmann, who belonged to Karl-Marx-Stadt. He was still only 20.
There would have been strong arguments for East Germany to finish “there or thereabouts” at the start of the qualification. Surely, with the crop of players available to fine manager Stange, they were candidates for second spot behind the Soviet Union (once again).
Stange’s assistant was Harald Irmscher.
Friendly: Bulgaria 1-1 East Germany
Line-up (4-5-1): Rudwaleit – Röser, Stahmann, Rohde, Kreer – Stübner, Thom (c), Pilz (Kracht 82), Ernst, Steinmann – Kirsten
Friendly: East Germany 1-0 Greece
Line-up: Weißflog – Kreer, Stahmann, Lindner, Döschner – Stübner, Raab (Rohde 76), Sammer (Doll 72), Steinmann – Thom (c), Kirsten
Friendly: East Germany 1-2 Poland
Line-up: Weißflog (Rudwaleit h-t) – Lindner, Stahmann, Rohde, Döschner – Doll (Sammer 65), Raab (Scholz 85), Ernst (Stübner 65), Steinmann – Thom (c), Kirsten