Germany moved into the semi finals of EURO 96 with a hard fought 2-1 win over Croatia at Old Trafford. Defender Matthias Sammer was a key presence for the Germans, winning the penalty from which Jurgen Klinsmann opened the scoring. Sammer rounded out his match winning performance by scoring a second half winner after Davor Suker had equalized for Croatia.Klinsmann continued as a front pair with Fredi Bobic in Germany’s now familiar 3-5-2, with Sammer flanked by Thomas Helmer and Markus Babbel in a three man defense. Mehmet Scholl was awarded a start ahead of the injured Thomas Hassler, in what would be Scholl’s first appearance of the tournament.
Croatia were without key midfielder Robert Prosinecki due to suspension, with Nikola Jurcevic shifting into his place alongside Aljosa Asanovic and Zvonimir Boban. Star forward Suker led the attack alongside Goran Vlaovic in a 3-5-2 for the Croats.
With the absences of Prosinecki and Hassler, both teams would be entering this contest without a midfielder who had been a star performer for them so far in this tournament.
With emotions running high, it was a physical and tough tackling start to the game, and Germany star man Sammer received an early yellow card when he dragged down Croatian wingback Mario Stanic in the 5th minute.
Two minutes later, a poor clearance from Germany goalkeeper Andreas Kopke almost gifted a Croatia a chance on goal, but the resulting cross was diverted away by a diving Sammer.
The tackles continued to fly in, and German striker Klinsmann was booked in the 7th minute for kicking the ankles of Vlaovic.
Germany won a free kick inside the Croatian half when Andreas Moller was brought down by Igor Stimac. Moller took a shot from long distance but it was comfortably saved by Croatian goalkeeper Drazen Ladic.
Croatia were pressing high up the field, and created a chance when Asanovic intercepted a German pass 25 yards out and fed Vlaovic inside the penalty area, only for the striker to drag his shot wide of the target.
Stimac became the first Croatian player into Swedish referee Leif Sundell’s book when he committed a hard sliding foul on Klinsmann around the halfway line.
Referee Sundell was likely more involved in the game than he would have liked in the early stages, and that pattern continued when he awarded Germany a penalty in the 20th minute. Central midfielder Scholl was on the ball out wide, and Sammer made a now familiar surging run forward from his defensive position. Scholl picked out Sammer’s run into the penalty area and Nikola Kerkan was whistled for handling the ball as he came over to challenge Sammer.
Klinsmann stepped up to fire the ball into the bottom corner and give the Germans a 1-0 lead with his 3rd goal of the tournament so far.
Croatia tried to respond immediately, and won a corner within a minute of conceding. Asanovic sent a cross over from the corner, but it was headed over the bar by Slaven Bilic.
The nard fought nature of the contest was illustrated in the 24th minute when TV graphics displayed a 50/50 possession split, in a game where 3 yellow cards and a penalty had already been given out.
Croatia created a chance from a lightning strike attack in the 28th minute, when Bilic launched a long diagonal pass in behind the German backline, and Suker capitalized on a slip by Babbel to get in behind before firing his shot straight at Kopke.
Suker was played in behind again soon after, but Sammer came over to challenge before Kopke attempted to clear. Asanovic picked up on the clearance and passed forward to Boban, who created space for himself before shooting over the bar.
Croatia had a penalty appeal of their own when Suker raced onto a through ball before trying to cut inside Helmer and going to ground after running into the defender, but no foul was given by Sundell in what appeared to be a correct decision.
Germany carved out a chance in the 39th minute when Helmer’s cross was sent back across goal by Klinsmann, only for Bobic to hook his shot over the crossbar. This was to be goal scorer Klinsmann’s last action of the game as he limped off with an injury immediately after and was replaced by Steffen Freund.
The heated nature of the game continued and German duo Christian Ziege and Bobic were left on the ground from a collision with Stanic while attacking an Asanovic cross. TV replays showed angered Croatian defender Bilic visibly kicking out at Ziege while the German was laid out on the ground
Croatia pushed for an equalizer before half time, and did apply pressure to the Germans in the final minute of the half. First a Robert Jarni cross found Suker, who’s shot was comfortably saved by Kopke. Then minutes later, a Suker cross was headed over the bar by Boban.
The German defense held strong and they went into the interval 1-0 ahead, having yet to concede a goal in the tournament so far. German coach Berti Vogts made one change at the break, withdrawing striker Bobic and replacing him with Stefan Kuntz.
It was Croatia who carved out the first chance of the 2nd half within minutes of the restart. Boban diverted a one touch pass to Suker in the area, and the striker released a spinning shot that was saved by Kopke.
In a continuation of the first half’s combative nature, the game was delayed when Freund was left in need of treatment after colliding with Boban’s elbow during an aerial challenge.
Croatia equalized in the 51st minute and it was the intensity of their high press that sparked the goal. Sammer played a weak backwards pass under pressure to Freund, who was dispossessed by Jurcevic who charged towards him. The ball deflected off Jurcevic into the path of Suker, who calmly used the sole of his foot to round Kopke before rolling the ball int the empty net and tying the score at 1-1.
Germany tried to respond immediately when Kuntz received a pass forward from Sammer, before creating space for himself and firing a shot well wide.
The fouls continued to accumulate in an aggressive game, continuing when Stimac was dismissed in the 56th minute for a clumsy foul through the back of Scholl while already on a yellow card.
It did not take Germany long to make the extra man count, and it was two defenders joining the attack that created what would go on to be the games winning goal in the 59th minute. Babbel made a run down the flank from his right sided position in the back three and was played in by Scholl. Babbel swung in a cross and Sammer won a challenge with Bilic before smashing a shot home past Ladic to put the Germans 2-1 in front.
The runs forward centrally from Sammer, and down each flank from Babbel and Helmer were a key part of Germany’s plan all game, and it was fitting that two defenders had combined in the attacking third to settle the game in their favor.
Croatia went close to an equalizer in the 63rd minute, and once again it was the combination of Jurcevic and Suker troubling the Germans. Jurcevic picked up the ball out wide and swung a cross to the back post, where Suker’s header on goal was saved by Kopke.
Suker dropped deep to receive possession near halfway, before releasing Vlaovic with a long pass, but Germany midfielder Dieter Eilts won a tackle to concede a corner. The corner failed to beat the first man, and Sammer hacked the ball away to clear his lines.
As had consistently been the case throughout the tournament, Eilts had been a key presence in the German midfield. Eilts was a consistent source of blocks, interceptions and tackles for Germany, shielding the back three and setting the platform for Moller and School to join the attack. Eilts’ ability to drop and cover in the backline also freed up Sammer to make the runs forward that had been so effective all tournament.
Croatia continued to press a Suker twisted and turned on the edge of the penalty area before having his shot blocked. The rebound fell to Vlaovic who blasted his shot wide of the target.
Wingback Jarni was released down the left flank for Croatia in the 67th minute before sending over a pinpoint cross. Suker got on the end of the cross, but his powerful header forced yet another save from Kopke. Suker was making Kopke work hard so far in this game, having had 6 efforts on goal so far with every one of them being on target.
Croatia utilized the opposite flank a minute later, Jurcevic was played in down the right and won a corner under pressure from Eilts. Yet again the corner failed to beat the first man and was headed clear by Sammer.
Germany carved out a golden chance to pad their lead with a slick move in the 73rd minute. Sammer passed wide to Ziege who released Kuntz down the left flank with a one touch through ball. Kuntz drove to the byline and squared to a wide open Scholl at the back post, only for the midfielder to skew his shot badly off target.
Germany won a wide free kick when Stefan Reuter passed to Scholl out wide, and the midfielder was barged over by Bilic. The crossed free kick was half cleared and fell to Sammer, but his attempted pass into the penalty area was intercepted to end the attack.
Croatia manager Miroslav Blazevic made his first substitution in the 78th minute, bringing on Mladen Mladenovic in place of the hard working Jurcevic.
Croatia won an 85th minute corner when Asanovic was played in down the right wing, but was tracked step for step by Reuter who deflected the cross behind. Asanovic took a low, driven corner that was worked clear by a combination of Moller and Sammer. Croatia won the ball back and came again, this time Boban’s cross finding Suker who had his shot blocked by Babbel.
The hostile nature of the game was not helped any when Ziege was barged into the advertising boards by Mladenovic. Croatia played on while Ziege was down off the field and won a shotting range free kick when Asanovic was fouled by Moller. Boban took the free kick but his attempted shot was driven into the German wall.
Germany launched a counter attack that came to an abrupt end when Scholl was floored by Stanic before the pair exchanged angry words.
German coach Vogta made his final substitution in the 88th minute as Germany looked to close the game out, withdrawing midfielder Scholl in favor of Hassler.
As Croatia pushed for a dramatic equalizer, Jarni used his pace to burst down the left flank in the 90th minute, his cross was met by Vlaovic at the penalty spot but the strikers header was well off target.
Croatian defender Bilic won the header from the resulting goal kick, and found Suker who advanced on goal before firing wide of the target.
The final whistle blew and Suker appeared to exchange words with the referees while the Germans celebrated a hard fought win with their fans.
Germany would advance to the quarter finals with a number of strikers contributing to the cause so far in the tournament.
Klinsmann would be hoping to recover from injury in time to face England in the semi final, and it had been a stop start tournament so far for Germany’s leading scorer. Klinsmann missed the opening game through suspension, before returning to the starting lineup and netting two late goals in a 3-0 victory over Russia. Klinsmann and Germany were held scoreless by Italy in the final group game, before he scored his 3rd goal of the tournament here and limped off soon after.
Vogts had plenty of options, with three other center forwards had contributed alongside Klinsmann in the tournament so far, with Bobic, Kuntz and Oliver Bierhoff having all registered an assist during group stage play.
Star midfielder Hassler would be pushing to return to the starting lineup against England, but Scholl had played well enough here to make it a difficult decision.
Croatia would have been disappointed to exit here, but had done enough to be fully proud of their performance in the country’s first ever major tournament. Striker Suker had bowed out with 3 goals and announced himself as one of the premier forwards in world football, a fact underlined by him earning a move to Real Madrid after the tournament
20’ GER Jurgen Klinsmann PK (Matthias Sammer) 1-0
51’ CRO Davor Suker (Nikola Jurcevic) 1-1
59’ GER Matthias Sammer (Markus Babbel) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#6 CD Matthias Sammer (Germany) – The star defender was a force at both ends of the field, standing strong against Suker throughout the game, while also deciding the game on the attacking end. Sammer won the initial penalty by forcing a handball from Kerkan, before scoring the decisive goal from a Babbel cross in the second half.
3: CD Matthias Sammer – Man of the Match.
2: CM Dieter Eilts – The anchor of the German midfield, Eilts shielded the German back four well, winning a lot of ball and tracking Croatian runners to good effect as Germany ground out the victory.
1: CM Mehmet Scholl – Good in possession throughout the game, Scholl linked defense and attack well, and also missed a gilt edged chance to ice the game with after a good late run into the box.
3: CF Davor Suker – Suker scored the first goal Germany had conceded all tournament, and forced a number of saves from Kopke all game.
2: CM Zvonimir Boban – A solid all round performance from the midfielder combined composure on the ball with defensive steel.
1: CD Slaven Bilic – The tough tackling defender was a force all tournament at the back for Croatia, and it was no different here in a tough game against Klinsmann and company.