Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Wounded Germans made Northern Ireland pay for the sins of others

Missed opportunity: Conor Washington comes close to scoring against Germany
Missed opportunity: Conor Washington comes close to scoring against Germany
Good old days: the last time we got the better of Germany at Windsor, in November 1982

By John Laverty

I blame the Dutch. Why did they have to go and beat Germany on Friday night? The Germans do lose football matches, but not very often. And when they do, it's always a shock, notwithstanding the calibre of the opposition.

Ergo, the 4-2 home defeat by the Oranje in the Volksparkstadion made it less, not more, likely we could inflict similar damage on Monday.

No international side is better at 'bouncebackability' - a phrase brilliantly coined by former Norn Iron captain Iain Dowie - than Die Mannschaft.

That's why successive defeats for them are as rare as a dry bierkeller.

I'm lucky enough, in a previous life as football correspondent, to have seen a lot of the German set-up at first hand.

They rarely have players who take your breath away a la Best, Messi, Cruyff or Maradona - the likes of Beckenbauer and Mattheus were more 'awesomely impressive' than breathtaking - but, for me, it was the vorsprung durch technik of the collective that left you gasping.

Never was this better illustrated than at Wembley in June 1996, after Alan Shearer had metaphorically lifted the roof off the old stadium by putting England in front after only three minutes of the semi-final.

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I was sitting high up in the rafters with a terrific view - and witnessed an immediate, remarkable catharsis. Rather than panic in front of a raucous, partisan packed house, Berti Vogts' men coolly regrouped.

Their shape stayed the same but the passing got sharper, the runs more penetrative, the telepathy more precise. This was what you call 'going up a gear'. It was stunning to watch. They equalised within a quarter of an hour, and went on to win Euro '96.

Germany's talisman Jurgen Klinsmann, who missed that epic game (ultimately decided by Gareth Southgate's poorly struck penalty) through injury, was again an interested spectator at Windsor Park as Germany did what they invariably always do - recover from a setback.

Any other leading national football association would have sacked their manager after what was hitherto regarded as the ultimate turniermannschaft (tournament team) failed to get out of the group stage for the first time since Adolf Hitler was Chancellor.

You'd have thought former altar boy Joachim Low didn't have a prayer, but the DFB kept faith in him and Germany, now Group C leaders after Monday's 2-0 win in Belfast, will be among the favourites to win the multi-national Euro 2020.

The result came via typical teutonic efficiency, augmented with a degree of quality Michael O'Neill's battlers simply don't possess at this level.

They had spirit in spades, but for our boys to beat the Germans - as they famously did home and away in the Euro '84 qualifiers (although 'West Germany', not us, made it through to the finals) - you need to convert every opportunity you get, a goalkeeper in inspired form… and luck.

Good old days: the last time we got the better of Germany at Windsor, in November 1982

From June 1992 to August 1997, I covered our boys playing Germany four times; Bremen, Nuremberg and Windsor twice.

In over 360 minutes of football - or six hours - I recall only eight or nine genuine scoring attempts against the four-time world champions.

Yet goals from Michael Hughes, Gerry Taggart and George O'Boyle were enough to earn three consecutive 1-1 draws.

The Nuremberg one was the most impressive - coming, as it did, just a few months after Deutschland were uber alles at Euro '96.

This World Cup qualifier was meant to be the victorious Germans' homecoming party in front of 41,000 at the Frankenstadion; instead, it became the finest hour and a half of Bryan Hamilton's ultimately disappointing tenure as Northern Ireland manager.

It wasn't a backs-to-the-wall effort like the friendly in Bremen four years earlier, when Hughesy's sensational solo goal and goalkeeper Tommy Wright's performance of a lifetime yielded 'a result'; ditto a pre-Euro '96 friendly with O'Boyle and Paul Kee in the starring roles.

No, we passed this particular Nuremberg trial with the proverbial flying colours, matching the (admittedly injury-hit) hosts in every department.

The only disappointment was letting Andreas Moller in for a rather soft equaliser just two minutes after Taggs' 39th-minute opener.

It was that epic performance that prompted jubilant Northern Ireland defender and folk hero Barry Hunter to photobomb Hamilton's post-match interview, pitchside with the BBC's Stephen Watson, where he coined the immortal phrase: "What about our wee country?"

It seems churlish, therefore, to remind readers that, in the return fixture the following August, Germany reverted to infuriatingly predictable type by cancelling out another terrific Hughes goal with a late hat-trick from substitute Oliver Bierhoff.

"Windsor Park will always hold a special place in my memory," Bierhoff told me at the World Cup in France the following year.

He added: "That night in Belfast turned my whole career around."

On Monday, not for the first time, our wee country was reminded of Gary Lineker's perceptive remark: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans win."

Belfast Telegraph


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