When West Germany began their bid to reach the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ in August 1988 no one seriously believed that Franz Beckenbauer's side, finalists in Mexico four years earlier, would go into their very last group match needing to win to qualify for the big event.
The West Germans got off to the best of starts with a comprehensive 4-0 defeat of Finland. But back-to-back draws against the Netherlands and another stalemate against the Welsh had the fans fearing for the Mannschaft's chances.
15 November 1989, Mungersdorfer Stadium, Cologne
West Germany 2-1 Wales
Scorers: West Germany (Rudi Voller 25, Thomas Hassler 48); Wales (Malcolm Allen 11)
West Germany: Bodo Illgner, Klaus Augenthaler, Stefan Reuter, Guido Buchwald, Andreas Brehme, Thomas Hassler, Hans Dorfner, Andreas Moller, Pierre Littbarski, Jurgen Klinsmann, Rudi Voller
Wales: Neville Southall, Peter Nicholas, Clayton Blackmore, Mark Aizlewood, Mark Bowen, Gavin Maguire, Andy Melville, David Phillips, Dean Saunders, Mark Hughes, Malcolm Allen
At the time the European Zone consisted of 32 teams drawn into four groups of five and three groups of four. In all there were 13 places at Italy 1990 at stake, with the winners of each group qualifying directly and the runners-up in the groups containing five teams joining them. The remaining two qualifications slots would go to the two best second-placed sides in the three groups of four.
The first of these sections was Group 1, where Denmark strung together some excellent results to raise their hopes of advancing to the finals, while in Group 2 Sweden and England were locked in a fierce tussle. Pitted together in the other four-team pool, the Netherlands and West Germany battled away for top spot.
On the eve of the final round of games everyone knew what they had to do. Romania and Denmark came face to face in a duel that would decide their fate. England, meanwhile, had played all their games but stood only a point clear of Sweden, which meant they had to wait for the outcome of the Scandinavians' visit to Poland.
Over in Group 4 the Dutch had manoeuvred themselves into a position of strength, lying one point ahead of the West Germans with a home game against the Finns to come. With only seven points in the bank as they prepared to host the Welsh and their hopes of winning the group looking remote, Beckenbauer and Co knew they had no margin for error. Anything less than a win would almost certainly see them miss out on one of the two best runners-up slots and a ticket to Italy.
On the back of their appearances in the Final at Mexico 1986 and the semi-finals of the 1988 UEFA European Championships, the Germans were rightly optimistic about their qualification chances.
Unbeaten in seven games going into the decider with the Welsh, West Germany nevertheless knew from experience that Mark Hughes and his team-mates had the resources to cause them an uncomfortable evening, having been held to a 0-0 draw in Cardiff earlier in the year.
Although determined to seize their opportunity and roared on by a capacity 60,000 crowd at the Mungersdorfer Stadium in Cologne, the hosts were rocked when Malcolm Allen gave the Welsh underdogs a shock lead after only 11 minutes. Momentarily knocked off their stride, the West Germans still managed to hit back a quarter of an hour later through Rudi Voller.
The half-time whistle gave The Kaiser the opportunity to rally his troops. Within three minutes of the restart the former Bayern Munich libero's words of wisdom had borne fruit. Pierre Littbarski scampered away down the left and crossed for Thomas Hassler, who powered home an unstoppable volley to send the home crowd wild. It was the little Cologne midfielder's first goal for his country.
When referee Michel Vautrot pointed to the spot in the 77th minute, the German fans thought that was that. Littbarski contrived to miss the penalty, however, much to the displeasure of Beckenbauer. Not that it mattered much. The home side continued to dominate in the closing minutes, and with the likes of Stefan Reuter, Guido Buchwald and Andreas Brehme standing tall in defence, the Welsh never came close to an equaliser.
A popular and skilful dimunitive midfielder, Thomas Hassler won the hearts of the German public forever with his vital match-winning strike.
"I remember it as if it were yesterday. Pierre Littbarski shot off down the left and when his cross came in a Welsh defender inadvertently flicked the ball on. It was coming straight at me but I just hit it without a moment's thought and in it went. It was like a dream come true," Thomas Hassler, West Germany.
What happened next...
After downing the Welsh and clinching their place at Italy 1990, Germany never looked back. Skipper Lothar Matthaus chipped in with four goals in the finals and his Inter team-mate Jurgen Klinsmann added three of his own as the duo picked up from where they had left off in Serie A. Another outstanding performer in that Italian summer was Buchwald, who turned in a string of awesome showings in defence.
Making short work of Yugoslavia, Colombia and UAE in the group phase, West Germany lined up against eternal enemies the Netherlands in the last 16. Goals from Klinsmann and Brehme, the third member of the Inter trio, saw them to a deserved 2-1 win and set up a quarter-final meeting with Czechoslovakia. A hard-fought 1-0 defeat of the Czechs was then followed by a memorable penalty-shootout win over England in the semis.
Waiting for them in the Final at Rome's Stadio Olimpico were Argentina, the side that had edged them out four years previously. There was to be no repeat of that dramatic 3-2 defeat, however, as a Brehme penalty clinched the title for the all-conquering Germans.