The Czech Republic opened their tournament campaign with a tough fixture against Germany.
Germany entered the tournament off the back of a successful qualifying campaign, topping a group that included a talented Bulgaria team who had knocked them out of the 1994 World Cup in the USA. In the final game of the group, with first place on the line, the Germans beat Bulgaria 3-1 in Berlin with Jurgen Klinsmann netting twice.
Czech Republic topped their qualifying group, with a last day 3-0 win over Luxembourg seeing them finish one point above Netherlands in Norway in a very tight race. A 3-1 home win over the Dutch stood out as the signature result of the Czech campaign.
Germany set up in a 5-3-2 formation with Borussia Dortmund sweeper Matthias Sammer anchoring the backline alongside Bayern Munich center back Thomas Helmer.
Thomas Hassler featured in midfield, who was coming off a Team of the Tournament showing in Euro 92, and also led the 1994 World Cup in assists. Alongside Hassler in the center of the park, was Sammer’s club teammate Andreas Moller, who was coming off a season where he won the Bundesliga and also led the league in assists.
Stefan Kuntz and Fredi Bobic led the German attack, with Jurgen Klinsmann, who was coming off a 31 goal season with Bayern Munich, suspended for this game.
The Czech’s lined up in 3-5-2 with captain Miroslav Kadlec of FC Kaiserslautern anchoring the backline. Kadlec was coming off a somewhat unique season, having been relegated but winning the DFB-Pokal at club level.
Pavel Nedved and Radoslav Latal were utilized as wing backs, with Pavel Kuka and Karel Poborsky working as a strike pair. Young Borussia Dortmund star Patrick Berger featured on the bench.
The early stages of the game were frenetic and largely without end product. The German’s attempts at possession were stifled well by the hard working Czechs who sat in a deep block and did not engage until the ball entered their own half. On the attacking end, the Czechs emphasized getting the ball forward early and counter attacking when the opportunity arose.
The German backline suffered a blow in the opening 15 minutes, when captain Jurgen Kohler limped off and was replaced by Markus Babbel. Midfielder Hassler took the armband for the remainder of the game.
As the half wore on, a focus of the German game plan involved balls into the wide channels of the front pair as well as Moller who joined the attack well from midfield areas. This served the dual purpose of moving the Czech central defenders out into the wide areas, and pinning Nedved and Latal into deep, defensive positions for long spells and blunting them on the attacking end.
Another problem for the Czechs was caused by sweeper Sammer. The three Czech central midfielders were occupied marking man for man, allowing Sammer to move forward into central areas as an extra man, giving Germany a numerical overload centrally.
The Germans opened the scoring in the 26th minute, and the low pressure game plan adopted by the Czechs played a role. Bayern center back Helmer was given ample time to look forward and find the feet of striker Bobic. Bobic fed incutting left wingback Ziege with a one touch pass, and the young Bayern star strode across the front of defender Hadlek and fired into the bottom left hand corner.
Germany doubled their lead six minutes later, and again it was Helmer who initiated the phase of play. The center back was first to a loose ball and found Hassler, who used his body well before feeding an onrushing Moller. The influential Moller strode forward and cut inside across the face of Hadlek to fire into the bottom left hand corner. Late in the first half, Ziege would again dribble across the front of the struggling Hadlek but shot wide to avoid what would have been a remarkably similar hat trick of goals.
At half time, Czech coach Dusan Uhrin attempted to shake things up and subbed on Berger and Radek Drulak in place of Poborsky and Martin Frydek. Berger would play well in the second half, showing glimpses of the impact to come later in the tournament.
Three minutes into the second half, Berger was played in behind the Germany defense by Jiri Nemec but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
The game could have took a turn soon after, when Germany came close to being reduced to 10 men. Besiktas striker Kuntz received a yellow card for a clumsy challenge on Michal Hornak. The striker committed another similar foul only two minutes later, but received only a talking to by English referee David Elleray. In the end, this physical game would see Elleray give out 10 yellow cards.
A frenetic spell of pressure saw Germany almost ice the game starting in the 53rd minute. A Hassler long throw was flicked on, only for Moller to be denied by a last gasp clearance. From the resulting corner, Ziege rose up to head on goal, only to be denied by a Nedved goal line clearance.
The final half hour saw the Czechs push higher to try and save the game, but a combination of this and some visible fatigue did see Germany get ample room to counter, as well as significant time of the ball as they closed out the final stages of a dominant win.
Powerhouse forward Oliver Bierhoff came off the bench late on to replace Kuntz, leaving few signs of the future impact he would have on the tournament.
POST GAME FALLOUT
Germany produced a very impressive performance, laying down their marker as a tournament favorite ahead of their second fixture against Russia. The midfield duo of Moller and Hassler bossed proceedings throughout, and Sammer’s ability on the ball added a very real problem for opponents. Left wingback Ziege showed that goals could come from multiple areas, and with Bierhoff and Klinsmann on the bench, coach Berti Vogts had an array of attacking options as the tournament progressed.
The Czech Republic would have to bounce back in their next game against Italy after being clearly second best in this encounter. Of concern to coach Uhrn would have been the poor performance of goalkeeper of Petr Kouba, and captain Hadlek, who was partially to blame for both goals. Slavia Prague defender Jan Suchoparek was impressive, while Pavel Kuka showed quality and determinationation in a tough situation up front. Other notable performances came from Berger and Poborsky, who only played half a game each.
26’ GER Christian Ziege (Fredi Bobic) 1-0
32’ GER Andreas Moller (Thomas Hassler) 2-0
MAN OF THE MATCH
CM Andreas Moller (Germany) – The Dortmund midfielder was a force throughout the game for Germany. Linking possession and also driving forward on the dribble to launch counters, including the goal he scored.
3: CM Andreas Moller – Man of the Match
2: CM Thomas Hassler – The short, powerfully built playmaker spread the ball around to great effect and his set plays, including a long throw, were a threat throughout the game. Showed strength and quality to hold off a defender and find Moller in buildup to second goal.
1: CD Matthias Sammer – The sweeper marshalled an impressive defensive line, and also contributed greatly in possession of the ball, joining the midfield area and giving some real problems to the Czechs.
3: CD Jan Suchoparek – The tough tackling Slavia Prague defenders stood strong in 1v1 situations time and again, showing strong ball winning ability.
2: CF Pavel Kuka – The forward showed good movement and ability to link play, also displaying patience and determination while the Czechs toiled to break down a quality German backline.
1: CM Patrick Berger – Introduced as a second half substitute, the lively Berger got on the ball consistently and made dangerous runs forward, adding an edge to the Czech attack.