Manuel Veth –
Between 1995 and 1997 Borussia Dortmund was one of the best teams in world football. Coached by the legendary Ottmar Hitzfeld, Borussia Dortmund won the German championship in 1995 and 1996, and in 1997, the UEFA Champions League and the old Intercontinental Cup—the predecessor of the FIFA World Club Cup—with a 2-0 win over the Belo Horizonte based club Cruzeiro Esporte Clube from Brazil.
The old Intercontinental Cup was a competition played between the winner of the European Cup, later the Champions League, and the winner of the Copa Libertadores, to crown the best club team on the planet. Before 1980 the match was played in a two-legged tie with the club’s traveling between South America and Europe.
Then in 1980, Toyota became the main sponsor of the competition and the format was changed into one in which the final was in Japan’s capital, Tokyo.
Hence, the Intercontinental Cup victory against Cruzeiro—which included star players such as the Brazilian World Cup winners Bebeto, who along with center back Gonçalves, and striker Donizete were signed just for that one match by Cruzeiro—put Dortmund on top of world football.
The victory against Cruzeiro in 1997 concluded a golden era for Borussia Dortmund
The victory against the Brazilians concluded a golden era for Borussia Dortmund: Ottmar Hitzfeld stepped down, as the coach of Borussia Dortmund following the Champions League victory against Juventus Turin in the spring of 1997, and the Italian, Nevio Scala, became Dortmund’s next coach. Despite winning the Intercontinental Cup, Scala’s Dortmund struggled in the Bundesliga and finished the 1997-98 season in tenth position.
Hitzfeld, meanwhile, moved on to Bayern München where he repeated his Champions League success in 2001. But Dortmund’s golden era could have come to an earlier end when, halfway through the 1995-96 season, Dortmund struggled to defend the German championship which they won in the 1995 season.
Dortmund started the season with two 1-1 ties against 1. FC Kaiserslautern, and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and then lost on matchday three against newly promoted Hansa Rostock. In the meantime Dortmund’s closest rival, Bayern München, started the season with seven wins which, at the time, was a new Bundesliga record.
Borussia Dortmund’s 1996 season got off to a rocky start
After the defeat against Rostock, Hitzfeld told a Sat 1 film crew at Dortmund’s training ground “there’s life in the old dog yet.” Indeed Bayern started to struggle after their seventh victory, and they lost to Dortmund on matchday eight. By matchday 12 Borussia Dortmund was back on top.
But in truth, the Schwarz-Gelben were only on top, because Bayern went on self-destruction mode. In fact, things weren’t going well in and around the Westfalenstadion, as Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park was called back then, either.
As they went into the winter break, Dortmund were top of the league. But there was unrest in the team, as there was general disagreement between the club’s major stars and coach Ottmar Hitzfeld over match preparations and the coach’s tendency to constantly rotate the squad.
It was under those circumstances that Borussia Dortmund travelled to Brazil to take part in the Copa Euro América—an event organised by UEFA and CONMEBOL. Dortmund were not the first team to take part in this now forgotten competition, as both Hamburger SV and VfB Stuttgart had played in the inaugural tournament that was contested between the two German sides, as well as the two São Paulo based team Palmeiras and Corinthians—Palmeiras later won the competition.
The 1996 Euro América Cup was the second time the competition was staged
The 1996 tournament was the second time the competition was staged and, this time, three clubs competed: the title defenders Palmeiras, the legendary Rio de Janeiro based club Flamengo, and Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund opened the tournament against Flamengo on January 20, 1996. I personally remember seeing the highlights on the Deutsche Sports Fernsehen, which is now called Sport1, and being mesmerized when watching this competitive match between the German champion and a team from Brazil. At the time I had a little book about the biggest clubs in world football, and Flamengo was listed among them.
In a time before the Internet, Europeans knew very little about football in South America, and Brazil recognized as a football mecca, both in terms of the national team, but also its club football.
I was curious to see this club from Brazil that played in the black-and-red horizontal stripped shirts. Furthermore, at the time, Flamengo was the club of Brazil’s legendary striker Romário. Romário actually scored in a 1-1 tie between O mais querido do Brasil (the most beloved team in Brazil), and the German champion, Heiko Herrlich, was the scorer for Borussia. Receiving a long ball from midfield, Romário managed to slip away from libero, Matthias Sammer, and then in a one-on-one situation slotted the ball past Borussia keeper Stefan Klos.
A disastrous defeat would lay the foundation for Borussia’s success
Then on January 22, 1996, Borussia Dortmund faced Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras from São Paulo. Coached by Vanderlei Luxemburgo, whose later coaching positions included stints at the Seleção and Real Madrid, Palmeiras’ squad included several players that later emerged as superstars.
In midfield the young Rivaldo, who later became a key player for Barcelona, orchestrated Palmeiras’ offense. Cafu, who later captained Brazil to the 2002 World Cup, played at right-back and, up front, was Luizão, one of only five players who played for all major São Paulo based clubs (Santos Futebol Clube, Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista and São Paulo Futebol Clube). Luizão also went on to win the World Cup alongside Rivaldo and Cafu in 2002.
Rivaldo, Cafu, and Luizão, in particular, played havoc with Borussia Dortmund’s defence. Rivaldo scored three goals, and Cafu and Luizão each score once in a devastating 6-1 victory—Elivélton scored the final goal for Palmeiras, whereas René Tretschok scored for Dortmund.
I remember distinctly seeing the video of the match highlights on German television. For me personally, the result began a bit of an obsession with Brazilian football, and I tried to learn everything there there was to know about the magical men from Brazil who had just completely dismantled the German champion.
Of course, what I didn’t know at the time, was the fact that the game was played at the height of the Brazilian summer. Fortaleza in particular, turns into a cauldron in January, and Borussia Dortmund was simply exhausted from their travels, as well as from the Brazilian heat.
The other thing that I didn’t know was the fact that the heat of the Brazilian summer also had its effect in Dortmund’s dressing room. Questions were asked whether it was necessity that the club travel to Brazil. Furthermore, the result sparked a revision by Dortmund’s coach into the running of the team.
Years later, many squad members identified the trip to Brazil as a key moment in Borussia Dortmund’s German championship defence, which laid the foundation for the Champions League victory in 1997, and the subsequent Intercontinental Cup victory against Palmeiras’ Campeonato Brasileiro Série A competitors Cruzeiro.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.