One of the all-time greats in World Cup history, West Germany had recently not quite lived up to their sky high expectations. They had been losing finalists in the two previous World Cup tournaments, and had crashed out to Netherlands in the semi-final of the 1988 Euros at home soil. The draw for the 1990 World Cup had not been a benign one, as they faced recently crowned European Champions Netherlands, with only one team guaranteed to qualify for the tournament from Group 4. Surely the small decline wouldn’t end up with West Germany failing to qualify for a World Cup?
The 1988 Euros hadn’t given West Germany a necessary lift. The team gave an underwhelming impression, and domestic football was also seeing declining attendences and widespread complaints of few goals and dull games. Beckenbauer, the Team Chef, had more or less given a promise of more attacking-minded football after the 1986 World Cup, where his team had looked somewhat devoid of imagination. Beckenbauer was now believed to cogitate on changes to the team in the wake of the 1988 Euros, as also was expected by the public at large. Hermann Neuberger, the president of the German Football Federation (DFB), had openly spoken of the need to rebuild a team with a view to the 1990 World Cup, and it was thought that Beckenbauer would give a chance to new and younger players at the start of the qualification.
A number of promising players had already emerged after Beckenbauer started rejuvenating the squad after Mexico’86. Jürgen Klinsmann, Olaf Thon and Jürgen Kohler were no doubt prospects of the highest calibre. In addition there were also players like Rudi Völler, Andreas Brehme and Lothar Matthäus, who now were the most experienced heads and expected to be leaders in the squad.
West Germany didn’t arrange any friendlies before their campaign for Italia’90 started in late August, and there would be many questions around what the team would look like when kicking off against Finland. There was no space in the calendar for any friendlies as the domestic season started up already in late July, due to West Germany fielding a team at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (in September), to which many Bundesliga clubs would provide players.
West Germany team selection August 1988
Qualifier 1: Finland 0-4 West Germany
31.08.1988, Olympiastadion (Helsinki)
Goals: Völler 2, Matthäus, Riedle.
Line-up (5-3-2): Illgner – Brehme, Kohler, Fach, Buchwald (Rolff 27), Görtz – Matthäus (c), Littbarski, Häßler – Völler, Eckstein (Riedle 76).
Unused subs: Immel, Hermann, Thon.
Olympics: West Germany at the Seoul Olympics
Friendly: West Germany 1-0 Soviet Union
Goal: Shmatovalenko (own goal)
Line-up (5-3-2): Illgner – Reuter, Kohler (Buchwald 62), Herget, Pflügler (K Reinhardt h-t), Hermann – Möller, Rolff, Littbarski (c) – T Allofs, Waas
Amidst periods of uninspired play, the game between two second string selects saw enterprising moments. Both were hampered by a number of absentees, also due to the ongoing Olympic tournament in Seoul, but West Germany probably deserved their win on background of a greater amount of chances created. Andreas Möller certainly with an exciting debut. Buchwald had a headed goal disallowed after replacing the injured Kohler as Protasov’s marker.
Qualifier 2: West Germany 0-0 Netherlands
19.10.1988, Olympiastadion (Munich)
Line-up (5-3-2): Illgner – Berthold, Kohler, Fach, Buchwald, Brehme – Thon, Matthäus (c), Häßler – Völler, Klinsmann (Mill 67)
The two group favourites came head to head only a few months after their semi-final clash in the European Championships, and the West Germans were yearning for revenge. They were on top for large spells in a fine, scoreless game, and they showed their midfield superiority particularly before the break, when the enigmatic duo of Thon and Häßler really ran the Dutch ragged. However, they struggled to create clear cut opportunities, and van Breukelen remained largely untroubled. Fach probably had the pick of the bunch in the first half with a close range effort, whereas Thon struck the crossbar a few minutes into the second half.
Friendly: Bulgaria 1-2 West Germany
22.03.1989, Vasil Levski (Sofia)
Goals: Völler, Littbarski
Line-up (4-4-2): Illgner – Berthold, Buchwald, Kohler, Brehme – Fach (Littbarski h-t), Möller, Matthäus (c), Häßler – Riedle, Völler
Strong fight-back by the West Germans having gone a goal down in hostile surroundings.
Qualifier 3: Netherlands 1-1 West Germany
26.04.1989, De Kuip (Rotterdam)
Line-up (5-3-2): Illgner – Reuter, Kohler (Rolff 75), Berthold, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Matthäus (c), Möller – Riedle, Völler (Klinsmann 34).
Qualifier 4: Wales 0-0 West Germany
31.05.1989, Cardiff Arms Park (Cardiff)
Line-up (5-3-2): Illgner – Reuter, Reinhardt, Berthold, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Fach, Möller – Riedle (Klinsmann 78), Völler (c).
It is a third West Germany draw from four matches, but they came through a difficult fixture with a vital point. Two home wins to conclude their qualification campaign should see them through to Italia ’90. Illgner saved from Rush late on in the first half, whereas the impressive Häßler probably had the visitors’ best effort when he tested Southall from distance inside the final quarter of an hour. Reinhardt with a sound debut as Rush’ marker, but he had to endure a nasty two-footed challenge from Welshman Horne, who was not even booked.
Friendly: Republic of Ireland 1-1 West Germany
06.09.1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Line-up (4-5-1): Illgner (Aumann h-t) – Reuter, Augenthaler, Buchwald (A Reinhardt h-t), Pflügler – Häßler, Möller, Dorfner (Fach 85), Littbarski (c), Thon – Wohlfarth
Both teams without key players; none of the Italian based boys were in action for West Germany. Draw eventually a fair result.
Qualifier 5: West Germany 6-1 Finland
04.10.1989, Westfalenstadion (Dortmund)
Goals: Möller 2, Littbarski, Klinsmann, Völler, Matthäus (pen.)
Line-up (4-4-2): Illgner – Reuter, Augenthaler, Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler (Bein h-t), Matthäus (c), Möller (Mill 81), Littbarski – Völler, Klinsmann
After a sluggish first half, where pace is low enough for the visitors to keep up, West Germany turn on the style in the second half, and they could easily have scored more times than they did. They simply overpowered the Finns in midfield, and the front two linked up well. Möller’s first two goals at international level in front of his home crowd.
Qualifier 6: West Germany 2-1 Wales
15.11.1989, Müngersdorfer Stadion (Cologne)
Goals: Völler, Häßler
Line-up (4-4-2): Illgner – Reuter, Augenthaler (A Reinhardt h-t), Buchwald, Brehme – Häßler, Dorfner, Möller (Bein 82), Littbarski (c) – Völler, Klinsmann
Jubilation and relief on the final day of the qualifiers, as West Germany qualified for Italia’90 with a 2-1 win against Wales. It is a baffling thought that a mere goal against in the dying minutes of that match would have spelled exit from the tournament, but such were the draconic criteria for the teams ending as runner-ups in group 1, 2 and 4 in the 1990 qualification.
By comparison, there wasn’t too much that distinguished the Netherlands and West Germany in group 4. The Netherlands in general didn’t quite look the force they had been when they were crowned European Champions, and a certain ascendancy could be witnessed in their German counterparts. On the strength of their two encounters in autumn 1988 and spring 1989, West Germany probably delivered the better performance.
A crop of new and exciting midfielders were emerging in West German football in the late 80s. There was now not only Olaf Thon, but also Thomas Häßler and Andreas Möller. Adding to this the experienced Littbarski and the ever more influential Matthäus as a holding midfielder, the team combined a level of fluidity and tempo on the ball rarely anywhere else in the footballing world. This contributed to an overall more exciting West German side than the one we had seen in Mexico 1986.
Regarding the team’s formation, Beckenbauer admitted toward the end of the qualification campaign that he hadn’t yet decided about whether to field a back four or a back five. He started the qualification with a 5-3-2, but appears (for the time) to have converted to a 4-4-2 toward the end. All evidence suggests that the team was familiar with both formations, and that Beckenbauer would be able to switch according to his needs.
Final position: 2 (out of 4 – qualified as one of two second placed teams from the three groups of four)
Total record: 6 3 3 0 13-3 9
Home record: 3 2 1 0 8-2 5
Away record: 3 1 2 0 5-1 4
Number of players used: 22
Number of players including unused substitutes: 27
Ever-presents (540 mins): 2 (Illgner and Brehme)
Leading goalscorer: Rudi Völler (4)
Yellow/red cards: 7/0
– game by game
|Name||Fin (a)||Ned (h)||Ned (a)||Wal (a)||Fin (h)||Wal (h)||Apps||Mins|
|Pos||Player||Average rating||Number of rated games|
28.02.1990 France 2-1 West Germany
Line-up: Illgner – Berthold, Augenthaler, A Reinhardt, Brehme – Häßler, Matthäus (c), Möller, Bein – Klinsmann, Riedle (Littbaski 66)
25.04.1990 West Germany 3-3 Uruguay
Goals: Matthäus, Völler, Klinsmann
Line-up: Illgner (Aumann h-t) – Berthold, Buchwald, Kohler, Brehme – Häßler, Matthäus (c), Littbarski, Bein (Thon 68) – Klinsmann, Völler
26.05.1990 West Germany 1-0 Czechoslovakia
Line-up: Illgner – Kohler, Augenthaler, Buchwald – Häßler (Thon 76), Littbarski (Möller 69), Matthäus (c), Bein (Berthold 76), Brehme – Klinsmann (Mill 76), Völler
30.05.1990 West Germany 1-0 Denmark
Line-up: Aumann (Köpke h-t) – Kohler (Reuter 77), Augenthaler (Steiner h-t), Buchwald – Häßler (Hermann 81), Littbarski (Berthold h-t), Matthäus (c) (Thon 67), Bein (Möller 67), Brehme (Pflügler h-t) – Klinsmann (Mill 67), Völler (Riedle 67).