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50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #35 Jürgen Klinsmann

Jürgen Klinsmann
Jürgen Klinsmann
Rohith Nair
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 10 May 2018, 19:08 IST
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Playing as a striker throughout his career, Jürgen Klinsmann has scored over 320 goals for club and country ('countries' if you count West Germany and a unified Germany as two nations). But ask him what his favourite goal is and he remembers a bicycle kick against Bayern Munich when he was with Stuttgart in 1987.

"Basically, it was the goal that opened the doors to international football for me," he said in an interview. "Because a month later, Franz Beckenbauer called me up to the national squad and shortly after that I got my first cap."

Beckenbauer certainly recognised talent when he saw it. Once he had handed Klinsmann his debut, the striker would go on to score for the German sides in three different editions of the FIFA World Cup.

Only seven players have scored more than 10 goals in World Cups. Klinsmann is one of them with 11 goals.

His first World Cup was the 1990 edition when he scored thrice. The first two goals came against Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates - routine wins for a West German side stocked with strong talents in each position.

His third was far more important, though. It came against a Dutch side that was equally good with players such as Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, and Ruud Gullit in the lineup - a side they lost to in Euro '88. It was the famous game where Rijkaard and Rudi Voller were sent off in the first half at the San Siro.

Early in the second half, Thomas Berthold's cross was turned in by a flick of Klinsmann's foot. The goal looked remarkably easy but the run he made to the near post while anticipating the cross is what made the goal so good to watch.

Jurgen Klinsmann Germany Netherlands 1990 World Cup
Jurgen Klinsmann single-handedly took on the Dutch
defence
after Voller was sent off

Without Voller as a partner, Klinsmann ran that Dutch defence ragged over 90 minutes, always a constant threat. It was one of the great performances that earned him praise far and wide.

West Germany would then go on to beat Czechoslovakia, England (on penalties), and finally Argentina 1-0 in the final. The final was an ugly spectacle with the referee eventually sending off two players - Argentina's Pedro Monzón and Gustavo Dezotti.

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It was Klinsmann who was fouled by Monzon - a rash studs-up challenge that left a 6-inch gash on his shin. The match was eventually settled in the 85th minute through a penalty, with the final whistle seeing Diego Maradona burst into tears.

"It was just unfortunate that Argentina didn’t open up," said Klinsmann. "They were just sitting back, trying to kill the rhythm of the match rather than playing their own game.
"Unfortunately, it was decided on a penalty, but we were clearly the better team. Argentina never had a chance."
Jurgen Klinsmann Germany 1990 World Cup
Jurgen Klinsmann won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany

1994 saw a unified Germany take part and it gave Klinsmann another chance at the trophy and this time he scored important goals in the campaign: the only goal in a 1-0 win over Bolivia, the equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Spain, and a brace to help Germany beat South Korea 3-2.

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All these goals helped Germany qualify for the knockout stages where he helped them take the lead against Belgium in a 3-2 win before the defending champions were knocked out by Bulgaria thanks to Hristo Stoichkov and Yordan Letchkov.

The 1998 edition was his final chance to get a second World Cup winners' medal but he was close to hanging up his boots by then. At 33, he was the oldest member of the squad after defender Lothar Matthaus and goalkeeper Andreas Kopke but he still wore the captain's armband.

Jurgen Klinsmann Germany 1998 World Cup
Jurgen Klinsmann captained Germany at the 1998 World Cup

And he still managed to score three goals. In doing so, he became the first player ever to score at least three goals in three different World Cups - extraordinary consistency. That has since been matched by Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil) and fellow German striker Miroslav Klose.

He was also the first player to score in three different Euros which has since been equalled by Vladimir Smicer (Czech Republic), Thierry Henry (France), Nuno Gomes and Cristiano Ronaldo (both Portugal).

His goals against the United States of America, Iran, and Mexico saw Germany reach the quarter-finals where they were ousted by a Croatia side that had a certain Davor Suker leading the line.

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Klinsmann had confirmed his retirement before the World Cup, stating: "I will not be playing in the 2000 European Championships. I will be retiring from football after the World Cup."

In the end, he went out on his own terms. And he played for Germany on his own terms too without the added pressure of allowing a younger, fitter player to take his place in the lineup.

Jurgen Klinsmann Germany
Jurgen Klinsmann retired from international football after the 1998 World Cup

From making his mark as a youngster in 1990 to captaining a relatively experienced squad as a veteran in 1998, Klinsmann was a cult hero in the '90s - especially thanks to his move to the Premier League at a time when foreigners were slowly making their way to England's shores.

Nowadays, the 53-year-old German is known more for the way he has divided opinions on the teams he has managed - be it Germany, Bayern Munich, or even the United States.

However, before he took up his badges, he was a legend on the pitch in his own right. It is why Klinsmann is on our list of 50 Greatest World Cup Players.

Published 10 May 2018, 19:08 IST
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