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 By Uli Hesse

The story of Germany's legendary 1984 DFB-Pokal semifinals

As a football fan, you can have high hopes for this week's semifinals in the German Cup, the "DFB-Pokal".

Needless to say, Tuesday's Bayern-Dortmund game promises to be exciting, but the other semifinal, third-division Bielefeld at home against Wolfsburg, is just as interesting.

However, a lot will have to happen in those two ties for this season's semifinals to be considered worthy of its own Wikipedia page. Something like 26 goals -- without a single penalty -- in 330 breath-taking minutes of football. That's what happened in the 1984 semifinals of the DFB-Pokal, still the only round of German domestic cup competition (apart from the finals, of course) to which an entire Wikipedia entry has been devoted.

Among the sides left in the competition were Bundesliga teams Bayern, Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach. They were all competing for the league title with only three points separating them in the Bundesliga standings. The fourth team was Schalke, at the time holding down second place in the second division.

Monchengladbach and Bremen opened proceedings on May 1, a Tuesday. Amazingly, the game was shown live on national television, a first for a German Cup semifinal. Still more unusual was the fact that the station -- the public-service broadcaster ARD -- shifted the 8pm edition of its tradition-laden and all-but-sacrosanct news programme "Tagesschau" to a new time slot because of the match. Maybe the most incredible thing, in the light of what was going to happen, was that ARD needn't have bothered, as the game was still scoreless with five minutes left in the first half.

But then a 23-year-old by the name of Lothar Matthaus capitalised on a mistake by Bremen's 39-year-old defensive lynchpin Klaus Fichtel to bring the hosts ahead. It was a deeply symbolic goal. Matthaus had just announced that he was leaving the club in the summer to join Bayern Munich. Gladbach's coach, Jupp Heynckes, who had signed Matthaus as an 18-year-old kid, was so disappointed with Matthaus' decision to leave that he took the player out of the starting XI for a game in Mannheim. When Gladbach then fell behind, 2-1, Heynckes brought him on as a sub -- and Matthaus scored twice to win the game for Borussia.

Now he had also broken the spell in this cup semifinal. Only two minutes after his goal, a mysteriously unmarked Norbert Meier tied the game from close range, but in the dying moments of the first half, Norbert Ringels restored Gladbach's lead when he pounced on a loose ball following a corner.

The second half would bring what an annual football yearbook later called "blood, sweat and tears" -- literally. First came the tears. Numerous bengal lights had been lit in the stands throughout the game, but on the hour, a different sort of smoke wafted across the pitch. A fan had hurled a tear gas grenade into Gladbach's penalty area.

At first the game continued, but then Gladbach striker Uwe Rahn and Bremen's Wolfgang Sidka broke down, clutching their faces. The referee suspended the game for five minutes so that the players could clean their eyes.

Then came the sweat. Fifteen minutes from time, Rahn scored Gladbach's third with a beautiful header. But despite Borussia's seemingly commanding lead -- and the television commentator's belief that "the match has been decided" -- the tie was far from over, because Bremen turned the game around in barely five minutes. First Benno Mohlmann headed home from six yards out. Then Sidka scored after a free kick. Eight minutes from time, Uwe Reinders found the far corner from a tight angle to bring Werder ahead, 4-3.

An already exciting game now became downright frantic. In the dying moments, Gladbach first had a goal controversially disallowed, then Matthaus forced a good save from Bremen's goalkeeper Dieter Burdenski. Five minutes into stoppage time, Borussia won their tenth corner of the game -- and the young super sub Jorg Criens scored with a flying header to make it 4-4.

Now came the blood. In extra time, Rahn collided with his own goalkeeper, Ulrich Sude, and broke his nose. He stumbled towards the sidelines, changed his ghastly blood-spattered shirt and cleaned his face, then he carried on. It epitomised the final 30 minutes of this thriller, because the late equaliser had reinvigorated Gladbach, while a Bremen team missing key players like Rudi Voller, Bruno Pezzey and Yasuhiko Okudera was fading fast. On 107 minutes, Criens scored the ninth and final goal of the night with a brilliant individual effort to see Gladbach through to the final.

Borussia Monchengladbach were all smiles after surviving their semifinal thriller versus Werder Bremen.
Borussia Monchengladbach were all smiles after surviving their semifinal thriller versus Werder Bremen.

The moment the game ended, people knew they had been watching an all-time classic. What they didn't know was that the very next day would produce an even bigger drama.

The Schalke-Bayern semifinal was televised, too. And this time, the action began almost immediately. After 130 seconds, Michael Rummenigge set up his brother Karl-Heinz, who brought the overwhelming favourites ahead from seven yards. This was a deeply symbolic goal, too.

Karl-Heinz was in his last season for Bayern, because he had signed a contract with Inter. The big-money transfer not only wiped out Bayern's debt, it also allowed the club to finally go shopping for players of Matthaus's calibre. So Matthaus was coming in because Rummenigge was going out.

The chances that he would go out with another trophy vastly increased only nine minutes later, when the 22-year-old Reinhold Mathy made it 2-0. Mathy, now largely forgotten, was considered one of the most promising German talents at the time but would soon see his career fade.

Mathy's goal seemed to put the game out of Schalke's reach very early, which is why it may have been crucial that the second-division side won a free kick on their left wing only 50 seconds later. Klaus Tauber sent in a sharp cross, Michael Rummenige lost the man he was supposed to mark, Schalke's defender Thomas Kruse, and suddenly it was 2-1. Ominously, the television commentator said: "I don't know if we'll see a game as exciting as Gladbach versus Bremen yesterday."

The reason that the commentator would see another exciting affair was Schalke's local hero Olaf Thon. He would later win three league titles with Bayern, the UEFA Cup with Schalke (in his second stint at the club) and the World Cup with West Germany. But in this cup game, staged one day after his 18th birthday, would forever be remembered as his greatest, or at least his defining, night.

On 19 minutes, Thon started a move near his own penalty area that he finished with a low strike at the other end, tying the game. Schalke's spacious and often inhospitable "Parkstadion" ground was now a madhouse and not even the fact that Michael Rummenigge restored Bayern's lead with a great volley only 51 seconds later could dampen the electric atmosphere -- this was now a highly dramatic cup game and up for grabs.

Olaf Thon, far left in blue during a 2. Bundesliga match in 1983-84, nearly led Schalke to an upset win over Bayern in the 1984 DFB-Pokal semifinals.
Olaf Thon, far left in blue during a 2. Bundesliga match in 1983-84, nearly led Schalke to an upset win over Bayern in the 1984 DFB-Pokal semifinals.

Thon went very close with a right-footed shot. Under today's rules, Bayern's Soren Lerby should have been sent off a few moments later for a reckless tackle from behind on Michael Jakobs. Bayern's Hans Pfluger forced a fine save from Schalke's goalkeeper, former Bayern player Walter Junghans. Then Tauber hit the post. This all happened in a span of just three minutes before the break.

Thon, who stood at 5-ft 7-in, tied the game on the hour with a header, towering high above Lerby. Ten minutes later, another cross sailed into Bayern's box and again the only player who went up for it wore a Schalke shirt. His name was Peter Stichler and his header brought the hosts ahead for the first time in this already epic game.

Bayern sent on another striker, Dieter Hoeness. In the subtle but steady Gelsenkirchen downpour, the Munich giants now threw everything forward. Ten minutes from time, Michael Rummenigge found the target with a flying header after Kruse had mistimed Lerby's cross. Extra time.

Sitting in the stands, Schalke's injured centre forward Jochen Abel told "kicker" magazine: "This is worse for your nerves than the Gladbach game yesterday." Little did he know that if the first 80 minutes had been wild, the last eight were going to be crazy.

In the 112th minute, Junghans let a harmless ball slip out of his grasp and Hoeness nudged it across the line from barely a yard out. Apparently not having learned very much from his colleague who had covered the Gladbach-Bremen game, the television commentator said: "This is the decision in this game." Four minutes later, Schalke's veteran sweeper Bernard Dietz made it 5-5 with a first-time shot from a corner.

Ninety seconds after Dietz's goal, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge spotted an unmarked Hoeness and played a lethal vertical pass. Hoeness was clear through to goal and coolly put the ball between Junghans's legs for the 11th goal of the night. The television commentator said: "Is this the deciding goal? It is. It must be."

Two minutes and two seconds into stoppage time, the referee blew his whistle. But not, as some people thought, to end the game. Instead, he awarded Schalke a free kick 25 yards in front of goal. Thon faked to shoot but stepped over the ball and ran into the box. Instead Bernd Dierssen struck the ball. It hit various legs and thighs in the goalmouth, then Bayern's Klaus Augenthaler headed it to his right -- and into Thon's path. The kid smashed the ball into the far corner with a fantastic left-footed volley. 6-6. Replay.

This game, the replay, has become just a footnote in the story of those unforgettable 24 hours in early May 1984. But it was thrilling and entertaining in its own right. Again Karl-Heinz Rummenigge brought Bayern ahead, again the favourites added a second goal before the first half was over, thanks to a powerful Dieter Hoeness strike.

In the end, the 1983-84 DFB-Pokal was won by Udo Lattek's Bayern Munich, thanks in part to the play of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
In the end, the 1983-84 DFB-Pokal was won by Udo Lattek's Bayern Munich, thanks in part to the play of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

But again the lower-division team came back. A stupendous Thon pass released Michael Jakobs, who pulled one back in the 50th minute. With 18 minutes left, Michael Opitz made it 2-2 with a low shot into the far corner. Seconds later, Thon had a great chance, but Bayern's goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff saved the shot -- and, you could say, the game, the tie and the cup.

Because on 79 minutes, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scored what proved to be the winning goal with a flying header. And three weeks later, Bayern also won the cup final against Gladbach. On penalties. The very first man up in the shoot-out was Matthaus. His shot cleared the crossbar.

You couldn't make it up.

Uli covers German football for ESPN FC and has written over 400 columns since 2002.

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