This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
A tournament that has largely struggled to come to terms with its expansion to an eight-nation event, the 1980 European Championship can at least now lay claim that its winner is the right and just one. West Germany saved the best until last, inclusive of a clinching goal that arrived with only two minutes left to play, against a Belgium side that wasn’t lacking in talent, only the bravery to let it loose.
Guy Thys and his team had all the tools to make an impression in this tournament. Yet, while this is exactly what they did, it was done with a pragmatic approach that jarred with players of the calibre of Jan Ceulemans, François Van der Elst, René Vandereycken and Julien Cools.
At Thys’ own admission, prior to the final, his team had reached this point by playing the percentage game. Defensive in their dealings with Ron Greenwood’s England, intermittently expansive against Spain, they were then fiercely protective of their goal difference advantage, in the group decider, with the hosts, Italy.
Remedying the lack of a semi-final round of games must surely be on the agenda for UEFA before the 1984 finals, which will be hosted by either the newly crowned champions, or France, with a decision to come next year. While the Football Association still have an interest voiced in bringing the tournament to England in four years’ time, the scenes of tear gas and rioting, in Turin during the group game between England and Belgium will have done their hopes little in the way of favour.
Regardless of where the 1984 European Championship rests, footballing negativity, as such as that seen in Italy during the last 12 days, cannot be encouraged to prevail in future tournaments.
Belgium, so surprised were they in reaching the final themselves, had not even considered booking accommodation in Rome for the weekend of the final, while such was their eagerness for home, they asked UEFA to consider implementing a penalty shootout in the event of a deadlock being reached after 120 minutes of play, rather than be inflicted with another 48 hours in the Italian capital, awaiting the scheduled replay.
If fear and suspicion was the name of the game for Belgium, West Germany were a vision of footballing decadence. They have impressively regenerated since showing signs of being human, signs that they encouragingly displayed to the rest of the world two years ago in Argentina.
At the Stadio Olimpico, it was via the assured and talented promptings of Bernd Schuster that Jupp Derwall’s side opened the scoring, with only ten minutes on the clock. Fine movement and a swift interchange of passes with Klaus Allofs ended with Schuster laying the ball off to Horst Hrubesch, who controlled on his chest before striking a powerful shot that unkindly bounced right in front of the Belgian goalkeeper, Jean-Marie Pfaff, before flying into the back of his net.
Unfortunate on Pfaff, but not symptomatic of his evening, the Beveren shot-stopper went on to pull off an array of spectacular saves to regularly deny West Germany the wider lead that their play deserved.
Denied the services of the impressive Erwin Vandenbergh due to a thigh injury, Belgium were in no position – or seemingly the mood – to go toe-to-toe with the 1972 European champions, in terms of free-flowing football. With experience at the core, Thys’ decision last October to turn for inspiration to Wilfried van Moer – a man whose first appearance for Belgium was back in 1966 – was far-reaching for a team that was one adverse result away from seeing qualification drift from their grasp.
At 35 however, Van Moer was faced with a bridge too far; despite being alongside Vandereycken, a man over eight years his junior, the youthful ebullience of Schuster, the talented but unpredictable Hansi Müller, and the growing stature of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge proved to be too strong a challenge.
Schuster, at just 20, seems symbolic of this new West Germany, a young team that has suddenly matured far sooner than even their most enthusiastic supporters had speculated. The Köln midfielder with the world at his feet, and Barcelona courting his signature, will star in many a European Championship and World Cup to come.
Dominant for such long periods, it was due to a combination of Pfaff’s agility and West German profligacy that Belgium worked their way back into the game. The loss of Hans-Peter Briegel was an unsettling one for West Germany, just ten minutes into the second half. Twenty minutes later, Thys’ side were level when Vandereycken converted a controversial penalty.
Van der Elst appeared to be brought down just outside the West Germany penalty area by Karlheinz Förster, yet as the Anderlecht star fell beyond the 18-yard line, the referee pointed to the penalty spot, despite the protestations of those in white shirts.
An incident that bore striking similarities to Willie Young’s so-called professional foul on Paul Allen in the FA Cup final last month, while the rules clearly need changing when it comes to a player being brought down by the last man, the wrongly awarded penalty was a glaring error that could have changed the outcome of the game.
With Belgium counting the seconds down toward a period of extra-time, however, Hrubesch popped up again to win the game with a headed goal that was unerringly reminiscent of Tommy Smith’s in the 1977 European Cup final for Liverpool against Borussia Mönchengladbach, at the very same end of Rome’s cavernous Olimpico.
A comfortingly entertaining final, at the end of an unsettlingly unsatisfactory tournament, won by the best of the eight teams that set out for glory on 11 June, the 1980s are suddenly looking likely to be West Germany’s personal playground.
By Steven Scragg @Scraggy_74