As part of our Euro 96 analysis we turn our attention to the qualification campaign that lead up to the tournament. Today we examine some of the top strikers of the era, focusing specifically on the top 5 scorers from qualifying.
Number 5: Gianfranco Zola, Italy, 7 Goals
At the time of the tournament Zola was playing for Italian Serie A club side Parma, where in the season leading up to the championship (95/96) he would lose his starting place to a certain Bulgarian striker, who will feature later in this list. Zola was never a true number 9 striker in Italian football, typically acting as a foil for a leading line target man, however in his 326 matches in Italy (prior to moving to England) he would score 112 goals. His time in England would see him move into what we would probably term “a Number 10” just behind the striker, or on occasion wide in a front 3. His goal tally would reduce in England, scoring 59 in 229 apps for Chelsea, however his guile and craft often served to create more for others.
In qualifying for Euro 96 Italy would finish in 2nd behind Croatia, despite attaining the same 23 points, but would lose out on a tie breaker that Saw Croatia’s head to head record against Italy see them win out. (Italy would lose 1-0 at home to Croatia and draw 1-1 with in the away match). Zola would take his time to open his account in qualifying, registering his first goal on matchday four and slowly increasing his total by the odd goal until a hattrick on matchday 10 really filled out his numbers.
In Italy’s 442 system Zola’s qualities during counter attack situations will be pivotal. He has the ability to find forward passes at pace, can dribble in tight areas to break pressure, but is also deadly from set pieces anywhere within 25 yards to goal.
Number 4: Hakan Sukur, Turkey, 7 Goals
From 1987 to 1995 Hakan Sukur would solidify himself as one of the leading marksmen in Turkey, scoring 84 goals in 183 appearances, the majority of which being for Turkish champions Galatasary. At the start of the 95/96 season this form would see him move to one of world footballs elite club competitions in Serie A, joining Torino in what was viewed as a major step for his career and that of Turkish players moving abroad. What was to follow was highly disappointing, especially given that it was in a season leading into the European Championship, with Sukur lasting only 6 months in Italy before heading back to Galatasary having only scored once during his five appearances at the Turin club. He would cite a failure to settle in Italy as the reason for his demise, however Sukur would waste no time in getting back among the goals upon his return to Turkish football.
Turkey entered Euro 96 qualification as complete outsiders, having been seeded in pool 5 alongside the likes of Latvia, Cyprus and Malta, and would be drawn against into qualifying group 3 with European heavyweights Switzerland and Sweden. While they weren’t regarded as favorites to make it out the group, they certainly didn’t let that hold them back and would go on a solid run that would see them only lose one game through the entire qualifying campaign. Highlights included a home win against Sweden, who were top 5 FIFA ranked at the time, and a 2-1 win in Switzerland who boasted one of the best home form records in Europe at the time.
Sukur would play a pivotal role for Turkey in leading the line, not only serving as a lone striker or certainly the main striker, but also having to fulfill both the target for attacks and required to put them away. He wouldn’t disappoint and would open his account after the 1st game, doubled his tally after the second, and his final few matches would see him steadily progress to 7 goals. What’s interesting about Sukur’s record is his ability to score the opening goal, which he did in 4 of Turkey’s 8 matches, but also to net at critical times in the match. Sukur has proven himself to be a lethal striker, and Turkey will need him to be on form come the championship starting in June.
Number 3: Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany, 9 Goals.
At the start of Euro 96 Klinsmann was about to turn 32, which in the modern day would likely signal the end of a top level football career, Klinsmann was continuing to prove any doubters wrong by firing in the goals for his country. Throughout the 80s and early 90s Klinsmann had been regarded as one of the worlds best forwards, and from 1981 to 1996 he would have scored 200 goals in 450 matches at club level. His Bundesliga career would start with VFB Stuttgart, where he would make his name on the international stage with West Germany, before moving to Serie A with Inter Milan and Ligue 1 with AS Monaco. After the world cup in 1994 he would move to England to play with Tottenham Hotspur, a season that would see him wrack up 21 goals in 41 appearances, but was probably made most famous for his diving celebration, mocking those who had commented on his theatrics at the World Cup Italia in 1990. In the season leading up to Euro 96 he would return to the Bundesliga to play with FC Bayern Munich, after they had appointed Otto Rehhagel to try to improve on the club’s disappointing sixth-place finish the previous season. Several players, including Jürgen Klinsmann and Andreas Herzog, were purchased and it was widely expected that Munich would steamroll the opposition; but from the very start Rehhagel clashed with the team and the team environment, his single-minded and eccentric ways, incompatible with those at Bayern. Moreover, Rehhagel’s old-fashioned tactics and patronising of the players caused major antipathy in the Bayern team, especially from Klinsmann, who never missed an opportunity to criticise Rehhagel. The team disintegrated in the second half of the season. Rehhagel ousted three weeks before they were to play in the UEFA Cup final, after a disappointing end to their league campaign. He was replaced by Franz Beckenbauer, who led the team to victory in the UEFA Cup. During this time Klinsmann would finish the leagues top goal scorer, netting 16 in the Bundesliga and 31 across all competitions.
Germany would enter Euro 96 qualifying having suffered a shock defeat to Bulgaria at the USA 94 World Cup, therefore the mindset was to atone for that performance and that they very much did. Despite being placed with Bulgaria and Georgia, two decent opponents, the remainder of the group served as cannon fodder for most teams, which saw the Germans average almost 3 goals per game. Klinsmann took full advantage of this and would score in 8 of the 10 matches. Despite his entering into veteran territory Klinsmann still absolutely looked the part, retaining his ability to get quick off the mark and had a finishing ability that gave him a variety of ways to score goals. Added to this is Klinsmann’s experience on the big stage, he is one of the few representatives from the golden era of German football in the 80s, so he will no doubt continue to inspire those around him as captain of this team.
Number 2: Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria, 10 Goals
Hristo Stoichkov embodies everything that we would assimilate with a footballing icon in his country. From the moment he started his career in 1982 until 1990, when he would leave Bulgaria, Stoichkov amassed a staggering 95 goals in 154 games. This form would earn him a move to FC Barcelona, where he would join the Cruyff revolution and become a key figure in the famous “Dream Team” side who re-established the club at the top of European football. His partnership with Brazilian forward Romario is still revered to this day. Stoichkov bullish playing persona did not evade him off the field, and a series of disputes with Johann Cruyff would see him depart Catalunya in 1995 for Serie A side Parma, who were managed by up and coming coach Carlo Ancelotti. In this the season leading up to Euro 96 his transition to Italian football would prove more troublesome than that of Spanish football. Stoichkov would only play 23 times for Parma that season netting 5 goals in the process, which remains the least amount of goals he has scored in a full club season.
For Bulgaria however Stoichkov form was in complete contrast, netting in 8 of the 10 qualifying matches. Bulgaria were drawn into group 7 alongside Germany, so they certainly had their work cut out should they wish to finish above the European powerhouse. Their early form saw Bulgaria top the group for a number of weeks, with a 3-2 victory over Germany serving as the catalyst for the placement. Stoichkov would score two second half penalties to get Bulgaria back level, before Kostadinov would score the winner on 69 minutes. Bulgaria’s form would dip in the last two matches, however their qualification would be secure, going through as the second best placed runner up.
Stoichkov offers a variety of attacking threat, predominantly playing off the left like an inside forward, but is also equally as adept as a central striker. He is also deadly from set plays, so no doubt that Bulgaria will look to gain as many free kicks as possible in and around 25 yards to goal. Like Klinsmann Stoichkov is the captain and carries a winning mindset that his teammates will feed off.
Number 1: Davor Suker, Croatia, 12 Goals
Davor Suker began his career in Croatia with Osijek, before moving onto arguably the top club in the nation Dinamo Zagreb. During this time he would net almost a goal every other game, bagging 74 in 151 appearances. In 1991 Seville would take Suker to La Liga where he required little time at all to continue his marvelous goal scoring form, netting 76 times in 153 appearances for the club. It was an interesting time in Seville’s history, as in 92/93 they would pull out all the stops to sign a strike partner for Suker, a certain Mr Diego Armando Maradona. The stability of the club was continually in question during this period, and after an administration in 1995 that threatened to relegate the club, they would sell Suker to Real Madrid during the summer of Euro 96.
If Suker’s goal haul in Spain wasn’t enough for the elite clubs to take note, then his International form certainly did. Croatia were placed in a qualifying group with Italy, which certainly challenged their credentials for winning the group out right, especially as the quality was fairly low from the remainder of the group, so it would further intensify the meetings between the top two. A Suker inspired performance in Palermo on Matchday 3 would see Croatia take all three points from a 2-1 win over Italy, Suker scoring both goals. This would be his third and fourth goals of the campaign already, and over matchdays 5 through 9 he would double then triple his tally to finish on 12 goals.
Croatia are a side that favors a 352 system, with each center back comfortable on the ball they can create attacks very consistently. Added to that they have Prosinecki and Boban in midfield, two players who can provide quality through passes and support play for any top striker. Suker’s role within the team is to play as a split striker, therefore in periods he will pull wide to pick up the ball and dribble at his opponent, but when the ball is on the opposite side of the field he now has license to attack centrally like a true penalty box forward. His is blessed with terrific athleticism, he has a great first touch, and to pull all those qualities together he has an instinct that will consistently put him in a good position to score. There’s no doubt he will be marked tightly at Euro 96, with many opponents seeing him as the major force in Croatia’s ability to progress in the tournament.
Lets look at how their goal scoring would chart across the ten game qualifying period.
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