DAN ROBERTS fondly remembers Wales taking on, and beating, world champions Germany courtesy of an Ian Rush goal
There have been better goals. There have been more important goals. But this goal stirred national pride and inspired feelings of identity and a sense of belonging. And it also managed to beat Germany as well – so a fairly important goal you could say.
I was born in England but thanks to countless family holidays back to my dad’s small village in North Wales – usually at the wettest and coldest times of the year – I had always had a strong sense of being at least half Welsh. As far as football went I was always aware of results (usually a draw against Finland it seemed) but coverage of anything but England wasn’t as readily available for me in the 80s as it is today.
Back in the spring of 1991 I had noticed that tickets for the Wales v Germany European Championship qualifying match at the start of June were only a tenner and persuaded some friends to join me on the trip down the M4 into God’s own country.
The qualifying groups for the 1992 European Championship had drawn Wales alongside Belgium, Luxembourg and both East and West Germany. But between the draw and the first group matches Germany had been reunified so it was now going to be one out of four making the finals.
By the time Wales welcomed Germany to the old Cardiff Arms Park they were actually top of the group having played one game more. But just one year earlier West Germany had won their third World Cup and it was the team of Völler, Matthäus and Klinsmann that were unbeaten in their two matches so far – and as confident as ever of making it to Sweden the following summer.
Although not as overflowing with talent as the visitors, this was one of the best Welsh sides never to qualify for a major tournament. With Southall helped by a defensive unit led by Kevin Ratcliffe – and a midfield containing Mark Hughes – Wales were no pushovers, especially with Ian Rush up front. But Germany was on a 15 game unbeaten run and not many gave the home side a chance.
A passionate Arms Park crowd were right behind the team and when Thomas Berthold was sent off for a rash stamp on the Welsh captain with half an hour still to play the odds suddenly swung in favour of the home side. Southall had been forced to make a string of fine saves to keep Wales in the game but now they could try to make their numerical advantage pay.
Less than ten minutes later Rudi Völler picked up the ball in his own half and powered forward before laying a ball out wide to the overlapping Jürgen Koehler. His cross was half cleared to Paul Bodin who collected the ball just outside the Welsh penalty area. It was at this moment that the crowd began to roar.
With just over 20 minutes to play – and with Germany a man down – there was already a lot of space to play into. Bodin took one touch to take the ball slightly further away from his own box and then launched a perfectly weighted, curling 40-yard pass that dropped in front of the sprinting Ian Rush who had German defender Guido Buchwald on his shoulder.
The volume of the crowd rose as the Liverpool forward scampered after the defence-splitting pass. The ball bounced once before Rush used a half volley touch for control, taking him into the penalty area. Buchwald caught up with him just as he reached the penalty spot and as the ball bounced up again Rush angled his body expertly to not only shield the ball from the German defender but to send Bodo Illgner the wrong way too.
The rake of the seats at the old Arms Park was fairly steep and I felt like I was going to fall forward as a celebratory Rush ran towards where we were going mad – along with around 37,000 other delirious Welsh fans.
As with other heart-breaking Welsh campaigns that followed, qualification was not to be. When the return match in Nuremberg came around Germany made no mistake, winning 4-1 with Bodin scoring a penalty for Wales (something he would be unable to do a couple of years later). Germany went on to beat Belgium and Luxembourg in their remaining fixtures and qualified, making it all the way to the final where they would memorably lose to Denmark.
Wales have since risen to unprecedented heights, with a new generation – including my son – finding it hard to understand why they won’t be featuring in Russia this summer. But at a time when draws against Baltic countries were the only stand out memories, Ian Rush scored a goal that beat the world champions and sparked a feeling of real Welsh pride.