Berlin (AP) – In the Eternal City, the German footballers had just won the world title for the third time, when Franz Beckenbauer uttered sentences for eternity.
As down-to-earth and relaxed as in his tournament analysis, the outgoing team boss simply declared the German national team unbeatable due to the increase in players from the GDR after the reunification. The roster is getting bigger and the team even more compact, Beckenbauer said, still innocently introducing the answer to a journalist’s question at the July 8, 1990 press conference in Rome.
But then came the phrases that set the bar high for his successor Berti Vogts – and which are still legendary today. “We have been number 1 in the world and number 1 in Europe for a long time now. Now the players from East Germany are joining them. I believe the German team will not be beaten in the coming years,” said Beckenbauer, adding how to repeat, “I’m sorry to the rest of the world, but we won’t be beaten for years to come.”
“The outgoing team boss would have liked to have done it without such an exaggerated assessment of the German footballer’s abilities,” said Hamburger Abendblatt at the time. But that even an “emperor” is not a prophet became clear the following summer: the years predicted by Beckenbauer lasted only 332 days. On 5 June 1991, coach Berti Vogts’ side lost 1-0 to Wales in Cardiff – after 16 games without a defeat, it was their first ever bankruptcy against the Welsh. “The better team lost,” complained captain Lothar Matthäus, one of the ten world champions on the field.
As in the previous international matches, the former GDR footballers had trouble getting into the world championship team. Only Matthias Sammer established himself as a regular customer at an early stage. The Dresdner, employed by VfB Stuttgart in the year of reunification, was allowed to play in the DFB from eleven in the first game of the national team after the dissolution of the German Football Association (DFV) on November 20, 1990.
On December 19, the German team played with former GDR national players for the first time and won 4-0 against Switzerland in Stuttgart. “It was a wonderful moment for me when the national anthem was played”, said Sammer after 23 GDR internationals and his first with the eagle on his chest. “I consciously looked down and thought about my football life. It didn’t bother me. It was a very pleasant feeling.”
The second “Ossi” in the Vogts team was striker Andreas Thom. With a lightning goal less than 20 seconds after being substituted, the GDR captain celebrated a stunning debut after having already played 51 caps in the DFV auspices. “I would be annoyed if I hadn’t played,” said Thom, who had switched from BFC Dynamo to Bayer Leverkusen. “It is also a matter of luck that I scored so quickly,” he said and added thoughtfully: “But nowadays it is much faster, although you have to deal with a lot first.”
As early as 1990, there were indications that Beckenbauer’s prognosis of the permanent unbeatability due to East German growth was not fulfilled. Because there was little room for newcomers on the field – the title bonus of the world champions was too heavy, Vogts already indicated after the Sammer debut. “I knew about Matthias’s injury, but in my opinion he had the right to be the first player from the former GDR to play with the world champions,” he said at the time. And Andreas Thom also expressed his doubts: “In the future it will not be easy to stand up for this team of world champions.”
The statistics confirmed his prediction. In the ten years from the World Cup title to the end of Lothar Matthäus’ selection career in 2000, 21 East German players played in the national team. Sammer, Thom and Thomas Doll were in the selection at the 1992 European Championship with the 2-0 final defeat to Denmark, and at the 1994 World Cup in the US with the quarter-final knockout. against Bulgaria Sammer and Ulf Kirsten. Sammer, Steffen Freund and Rostock René Schneider – who never played in the DFB dress after his debut in 1995 – were lined up to win the European Championship title in England in 1996.
In the 74 international matches between the 1990 World Cup title and the 1996 European Championship victory by Oliver Bierhoff’s Golden Goal, national coach Vogts had used eleven players from former GDR clubs. Among them are actors such as Schneider, Bernd Hobsch and Heiko Scholz (both Lok Leipzig), who each played only one international match, or Dirk Schuster with three.