Never has a tournament begun with less pizzazz than Euro 80. Due to UEFA's failure to properly promote its flagship event, West Germany and the Netherlands's stultifying opening wins over Czechoslovakia and Greece were watched by pitifully tiny crowds in Rome and Naples. Already the competition was looking like a dead duck.
But while the Netherlands were now shadows of their old selves, West Germany had simply played too cautious a hand against Czechoslovakia, leaving out the 20-year-old Köln playmaker Bernd Schuster. Now he made a grand entrance to teach the drippy Dutch a lesson at San Paolo.
The game, by some distance the most enjoyable of this anaemic tournament, was a show of bristling German firepower in the Neapolitan sun. And despite Klaus Allofs's hat-trick, the day belonged to Schuster. Winning only his seventh cap, he was already convinced of his own greatness, with some justification. Here, shrugging off the baggage of being labelled the new Günter Netzer, he lit up the match with his technical gifts.
Dutch goalkeeper Piet Schrijvers, back after sustaining a nasty facial wound against Greece, could do nothing about West Germany's first goal. It was the product of effervescent work by Schuster, who twisted away from two defenders to crack a hard shot against the post. Allofs, following up, buried the rebound.
Schuster seemed to be playing in three positions simultaneously, with the similarly elegant Hansi Müller running through his own repertoire. Schrijvers and Hugo Hovenkamp cleared Horst Hrubesch's header off the line between them, while Karl-Heinz Rummenigge should've had a penalty when Michel van de Korput flattened him. With Johnny Rep snuffed out by Manni Kaltz, the Netherlands were as insipid as they'd been against Greece.
As always with this fixture, needle was ubiquitous. Numerous dirty challenges, mostly Dutch, went in; and Rummenigge complained of "roughness, sometimes going beyond what's permissible". The bad feeling boiled over as René van de Kerkhof elbowed Schuster in the head, and Arie Haan and Toni Schumacher almost came to blows after colliding. Moments later, Schumacher became embroiled in more handbags with Huub Stevens. German manager Jupp Derwall, noticing the goalkeeper's temper boiling over, sent a substitute to stand behind his goal and calm him down.
On the hour, 1-0 became 2-0. Schuster dispossessed Haan too easily and fed Müller, who casually set up Allofs for an outside-of-the-boot drive that nestled in the corner. Within minutes, West Germany were out of sight. The irrepressible Schuster darted to the byline, and Allofs kneed home his cross.
The Netherlands fought back, out of sheer embarrassment, and a dreadful decision by referee Robert Wurtz gifted them a penalty. Bennie Wijnstekers was tripped well outside the box by 19-year-old Lothar Matthäus, but made sure to fall inside it. Rep's kick into the top corner was unsaveable.
Late on, Willy van de Kerkhof applied more orange gloss to the scoreline when he banged a magnificent shot low to Schumacher's left, but a draw would have been a nonsense. The game ended with Schuster and Rep trying to headbutt each other in front of Wurtz, who indulgently separated them before admonishing Rep for . . . dissent.
ITV's commentator Gerald Sinstadt, double-jobbing for the Times, wrote in his match report: "West Germany's road to Rome is as broad and inviting as the sunniest autostrada."
So it would prove.