Germany play in the third place play-off tonight, and if any nation’s presence in the last four should come as no surprise it should be theirs. The 2010 World Cup represents the twelfth time Germany (or West Germany) has appeared in the semi-finals, that’s one more occasion than the rest of this year’s semi-finalists combined. Only twice in the last eight tournaments have Germany failed to reach the World Cup semi-finals, the first of which came courtesy of a shock quarter-final defeat to Bulgaria which happened on this day sixteen years ago.
The 1994 tournament was Germany’s first World Cup following reunification. As West Germany they had reached four of the previous World Cup Finals, winning in 1974 and 1990 and finishing as runners-up in 1982 and 1986. Understandably they were duly marked out as favourites to reach a third successive final in America. Thanks to the goals of Jurgen Klinsmann and Karl-Heinz Riedle Germany had topped their group, defeating Bolivia and South Korea either side of a 1-1 draw with Spain. In the second round Germany then despatched of Belgium 3-2 to progress to a quarter-final in Giants Stadium.
For Bulgaria, 1994 represented their sixth tournament, but despite featuring in sixteen games across five tournaments Bulgaria had yet to win a World Cup finals match. They had reached the second round in 1986 thanks to draws with Italy and South Korea, but had been eliminated by hosts Mexico in the second round. After being defeated 3-0 by Nigeria in their opening game of this tournament it looked like 1994 was to offer a similar story for Bulgarian fans.
The 1994 Bulgaria side would be made of stronger stuff than their predecessors though, this being ‘The Golden Generation of Bulgarian footballers. The main man was Barcelona forward Hristo Stoichkov who would go on to win the tournament Golden Boot and be crowned European Footballer of the Year at the end of ’94. Stoichkov was supported by Hamburg midfielder Yordan Letchkov, Sporting Lisbon’s Krassimir Balakov and Porto’s Emil Kostadinov whose last-minute goal against France in the final qualifying match had taken Bulgaria to the USA at the expense of the French.
At the finals Bulgaria recovered emphatically from opening game defeat to win their second game against Greece 4-0 and then secure top place in the group with a 2-0 victory over previous tournament runners-up Argentina. The second round would give Bulgaria chance to exact revenge on Mexico for defeat at the same stage eight years previous. A feisty fixture, each side had a man sent off and three others cautioned in a 1-1 draw that would be settled on penalties. In the shoot-out Bulgaria, aided by toupee wearing future Reading goalkeeper Borislav Mikhailov, triumphed 3-1 to set up the quarter-final with Germany.
To fully appreciate this clip then you really must watch it with the sound on for two reasons. The first is John Motson’s desperately tenuous link between Jurgen Klinsmann and the then recent release of the film The Lion King. The second is the quite brilliant crowd reaction to Trifon Ivanov being struck in what is liberally described as the “stomach” by a fierce shot from Andreas Möller. The crowd noise that greets the two replays as they are aired in the stadium confirms that Möller managed to hit a decidedly more delicate area than the stomach.