These days, Bierhoff is a legend and is general manager of the national team. But, prior to 1996, he was better known in Italy than his homeland and can certainly be considered a late bloomer.
Born in 1968, Bierhoff began his senior football career with Bayer Uerdingen during their stint in the top flight. From there, he moved on to Hamburg in 1988 aged 20, only to struggle.
A short-lived spell at Borussia Monchengladbach thereafter in 1990 lasted just eight games and was remarkably the last time Bierhoff would ever play for a German club.
Instead, the tall front-man moved south to Austria where a prolific season with Salzburg, long before the Red Bull days, brought him to the attention of newly promoted Serie A club Ascoli in 1991. Relegation followed after a disappointing season for both the club and their German striker, but Serie B proved to be where a 24-year-old Bierhoff would find his feet in Italy.
By the end of the 1994/95 season he’d scored 46 times in the second tier and earned a move to Udinese. This time, more mature and more experienced, he was able to compete in Serie A and scored 17 times in the top flight.
The second half of that campaign with Udinese also yielded an international call-up. Fast approaching his 28th birthday, Bierhoff made his debut in February 1996 in a friendly against Portugal, less than four months before Euro ’96 was due to start in England.
The following month, he scored twice in a friendly against Denmark and was named in Berti Vogts’ tournament squad. By the time the competition started, Bierhoff had only been capped five times, although he certainly wasn’t alone in the German squad as a player in his mid or late 20s with little international experience. Only he and Stefan Kuntz played outside Germany.
Having played no part in qualifying and essentially a wildcard selection owing to his club form in Italy, it was hardly a surprise that Bierhoff didn’t start the opening game against Czech Republic at Old Trafford, appearing from the bench in the closing stages with a 2-0 win sewn up.
He did start the next game against Russia alongside Jurgen Klinsmann and set up one of his strike partner’s goals in a 3-0 win, but it would be the only time he did so at the tournament.
Bierhoff returned to the bench for the final group game against Italy. Germany had already secured a place in the knockout rounds, but it wasn’t a rotated side and he didn’t get on the pitch. It was the same when Germany faced Croatia in the quarter-finals and England in the semis.
In the final at Wembley, it was Czech Republic who took the lead in the second half through Patrik Berger. With Germany trailing and just over 20 minutes remaining, Vogts turned to Bierhoff, who hadn’t played since being brought off in the final moments against Russia.
His impact was swift, connecting with a Christian Ziege free-kick after breaking free of his marker to head Germany back into the final at 1-1. That intervention sent the game into golden goal extra-time, where Bierhoff played an even more decisive and legendary role.
With his back to goal in the penalty area after receiving the ball from Klinsmann, Bierhoff found room for a snap shot on his left foot, which appeared to take goalkeeper Petr Kouba by surprise. He could only weakly parry and it squirmed into the far corner to end the game immediately.
Bierhoff went from strength to strength after Euro ’96. He thrived at club level and became the first and still only German player to finish a season as Serie A top scorer when he netted 27 times for Udinese in 1997/98, outscoring Ronaldo, Roberto Baggio and Gabriel Batistuta.
That summer he joined AC Milan and was later made Germany captain when Klinsmann retired after the 1998 World Cup. Where once he was an impact sub, Bierhoff had become a regular starter for his country and finished his international career in 2002 with 70 caps and 37 goals.
After leaving Milan in 2001, he went to Monaco, before one final season back in Italy at Chievo Verona in 2002/03 led him into retirement. Fittingly, he scored a hat-trick in his last ever game as a professional, which saw Chievo fall to a narrow 4-3 defeat to Juventus.
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