England fans of a certain vintage will go all gooey-eyed at the mere mention of Euro 96.
Football finally came home (kind of) and while the Three Lions ultimately fell short in their pursuit of major international tournament glory, the competition helped to unite the nation and restored pride in a team that had flattered to deceive for the majority of the 90s.
However, one thing England fans will conveniently overlook when recalling the aforementioned European Championship is how instrumental the competition proved to be for Germany too.
Following the unification of East and West Germany in October 1990, the national team had yet to secure European Championship or World Cup glory for their united nation.
Berti Vogts’ side had fallen at the final hurdle of Euro 92 having been beaten in the final by Denmark, while their 1994 World Cup campaign saw them dumped out at the quarter-final stage by Bulgaria.
Their triumph at Euro 96 represented a watershed moment for a country that had spent 41 years divided at the core, and Borussia Dortmund’s midfielder turned sweeper Matthias Sammer proved to be instrumental in helping unite Germany once again.
Prior to Euro 96, Sammer had already etched his name into the history books by becoming the first Eastern German-born player to represent the newly reunited nation.
The Dortmund man was therefore seen as a symbol of unity by all associated with German football and so it’s perhaps apt that he was such a driving force behind Germany’s maiden triumph.
Having excelled in a deep-lying midfield position in his early playing days, Sammer’s expert reading of the game and ability with the ball at his feet saw him deployed in a sweeper role at club level and national team boss Berti Vogts soon followed suit.
Playing slightly behind Markus Babbel and Thomas Helmer, Sammer’s defensive nous saw Germany navigate their way out of Group C without conceding a single goal, though he was afforded the freedom to play out from the back and would produce regular late runs from deep in a bid to aid his side’s attack.
The Dortmund man opened his account for the tournament against Russia with exactly such a burst from deep, as his volley was palmed away by Dmitri Kharine before Sammer followed in to hand his side the lead in a game which ultimately secured their passage through to the knockout rounds.
Sammer’s greatest display of the tournament came in Germany’s quarter-final tie against a stubborn Croatian outfit. After Jurgen Klinsmann had put his side a goal to the good, Davor Suker levelled the scores before Igor Stimac’s dismissal saw Miroslav Blazevic’s side reduced to ten men.
Eager to make their man advantage count, the Germans streamed forward in search of a winner and it was once again the late runs of Sammer that proved crucial as he evaded the Croatia backline to latch onto Babbel’s cross before firing his side into the semi-finals.
Their last-four clash is a game England fans will certainly never forget. Having played with a back five for their first four outings of Euro 96, Vogts tweaked his system and pushed Sammer into midfield as he looked to suppress the mesmeric talents of Paul Gascoigne.
The move proved to be a masterstroke, with Gazza unable to dictate proceedings as Sammer along with his midfield partners Steffen Freund and Dieter Eilts stifled England’s midfield.
Nobody needs reminding how the contest ended as Germany booked their place in the showpiece event against the Czech Republic.
The final failed to really live up to its billing and once Oliver Bierhoff had cancelled out Patrik Berger’s second-half penalty there was an air of inevitability at what was coming next.
The Germans continued to push and probe, and eventually they were handed their reward as
Bierhoff struck a Golden Goal in extra time to ensure it would be Vogts’ side who lifted the trophy.
Sammer’s contribution throughout Euro 96 can’t be underestimated, with his defensive nous helping to shore up the backline and runs from deep proving a key facet to the Germany side’s style of play as they looked to break teams down.
Nobody won more man of the match awards at Euro 96 than the Dortmund man and he would go on to be named UEFA’s Player of the Tournament. A truly unique talent who helped deliver Germany’s first major trophy since their unification and sparked the return of the German national team as we know it.