East Germany : Wall Falls, World Cup Hopes Crushed (Pt 1)


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Dynamo Berlin striker ANDREAS THOM (left), the leading goal-scorer for the Deutsche Demokratische Republik during the quest for a ticket to Italia ’90, watches from behind as East Germany international midfielder MATTHIAS DOESCHNER of Dynamo Dresden dribbles the ball against Austria during the World Cup qualification match of November 15, 1989, at the since-renamed PRATERSTADION in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna. (IMAGO photo)
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Deutsche Demokratische Republik trainer EDUARD GEYER had already experienced one great upheaval just a little over a month prior to getting out of bed on the morning of November 9, 1989.

A Torblitz in the final ten minutes of the October match with the Soviet Union at the Ernst Thaelmann Stadion in Karl Marx Stadt had completely changed the complexion of the German Democratic Republic’s chances at qualification for the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy.

A loss at the hands of the occupying U.S.S.R. would have knocked the East Germans, who had only ever qualified for one World Cup final tournament before, out of the competition with one game to spare.

Instead, goals from Dynamo Berlin striker ANDREAS THOM (with a huge assist to Dynamo Dresden striker ULF KIRSTEN) as well as midfielder MATTHIAS SAMMER of Dynamo Dresden saw to it that the Deutsche Demokratische Republik could, in all likelihood, guarantee the second and final spot at Italia ’90 from Europe Group 3 with the defeat of Austria in the last qualification match at the Praterstadion in Vienna.

9 pts — f/a + 5 — Soviet Union
7 pts — f/a + 4 — Turkey
7 pts — f/a – 1 — East Germany
7 pts — f/a – 3 — Austria
6 pts — f/a – 5 — Iceland

Although Turkey had done well to take full points from both matches home and away against the D.D.R., defeat in Moscow against the table-topping Soviet Union in their final World Cup qualification match was highly likely. Indeed, the match in Vienna looked to be decisive. The odds-on chances were very much so that for East Germany, even just a draw and the single point from Austria would be enough to book passage to Italia ’90.

Geyer and the rest of the East German squad were gathered at a sports school in Leipzig preparing for the away match in Austria now just six days away. Then came the historic, vague announcement from SED Politburo official GUNTER SCHABOWSKI that East Germans would be allowed to travel abroad. By the end of the evening, everything had, once again, changed dramatically for the national footballers of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

Geyer, in an interview with Der Tagesspiel twenty years later, recalled watching television that night after training. More and more players flowed into the common area with the TV to see what was transpiring. “We could not arrange everything – the borders are open? How is this to go?”

Geyer stated that no one gave thought to the idea of taking advantage of the symbolic fall of the Berlin Wall and its immediate implications. “To leave training camp before the most important game we had ever – that would have been the very last.”

However, the political earthquake definitely had its aftershocks for the players. Suddenly, the normal “calm, focused preparation”, as put by writer Dominik Bankow, went up in smoke at the sports school in Leipzig after November 9. “The concentration diminished,” Geyer said. “The players were busy with many other things.”

Such as thoughts revolving around lucrative professional contracts with football clubs from abroad.

“Suddenly,” recalled RICO STEINMANN, then a 21-year-old midfielder with FC Karl Marx Stadt who would later sign with 1.FC Koeln and finish his career with FC Twente Enschede in the Netherlands, “we had the opportunity to play all over the world, or at least in the Bundesliga.”

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