The Goal That Made Me Love Football: Letchkov's Flying Header For Bulgaria V Germany, 1994

With Klinsmann and Voller looking dangerous, there could surely only be one winner, right? Wrong...
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With Klinsmann and Voller looking dangerous, there could surely only be one winner, right? Wrong...

I don’t remember much of World Cup 1994- it finished a week before my fifth birthday: neither Diana Ross missing an open goal or Baggio skying that penalty in the final. But I do remember one goal in particular which I’m pretty sure is my earliest football memory. It was in a game played at Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey on July 10th 1994. It was a World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Bulgaria; it was that header from Bulgaria midfielder Yordan Letchkov.

Germany were the defending champions going into the tournament. They had a brilliant squad of players. Klinsmann, Lothar Matthäus, Andreas Brehme, Andreas Möller, Matthias Sammer, Thomas Häßler, the list goes on. They’d started off with a 1-0 win over Bolivia in the opener and ended up top of the group. In the last sixteen they defeated Belgium 3-2, with Rudi Völler grabbing a couple and Klinsmann scoring his fifth goal of the tournament. Bulgaria had, by contrast, scraped through a difficult group with Argentina, Greece and Nigeria, where every team but Greece finished on six points. Hristo Stoichkov had scored a last minute goal in the final group game against Argentina to make it 2-0 and send his side through to the knockout stages with Nigeria, where they beat Mexico on penalties. Argentina had actually been wining the group until the final minute of the game. In conceding that goal they ended up level on points, goals scored and goals conceded with Bulgaria, but lost out due to their negative head-to-head record.

The cross came in, an outswinger from a right-footer, and this instantly recognisable bald eagle stole a march on a Germany defender to plant a brilliant header into the corner, out of the reach of a despairing keeper

I have, of course, absolutely no recollection of any of that, but have since read about it (I’d defy any five-year-old to remember a situation that complicated). I actually don’t remember much of the quarter final itself either. Matthäus scored a penalty early in the second half, and then, about fifteen minutes from the end, the Bulgarians turned it around. After Stoichkov had equalised with a free-kick, Letchkov did his thing. Bulgaria were pressing, I seem to remember, when the ball was played out to the right. The cross came in, an outswinger from a right-footer, and this instantly recognisable bald eagle stole a march on a Germany defender to plant a brilliant header into the corner, out of the reach of a despairing keeper.

It seemed like such an amazing goal. I think I’d also subconsciously absorbed years of anti-German football feeling from an army of older brothers. That definitely makes it a sweeter memory, that I could join them in cheering and celebrating so vociferously at the time. I think I would have grown up playing, watching and loving football anyway, considering how strongly my family followed football. For me though, the recollection of that goal is like recalling a piece of advice a schoolteacher might have given you. You remember everything about it, the tone, the words he or she said, and the circumstances, and you remember them even into old age. That’s how I feel about Yordan Letchkov’s header. I’m pleased that my first football memory was from a World Cup; I now have a ritual to try to watch every World Cup goal or game that I can manage. In 1998 I was coming up to nine years old, and the excitement I got then was all down to watching that Bulgaria game four years earlier.

Incidentally, there’s a great highlights video on YouTube, featuring perms, mullets, diving and long-range shooting galore, as well as some retro commentary from Peter Brackley (another Pro-Evo reference there). I’ve tried to recreate this game on PES actually; sadly there aren’t enough classic Bulgaria players to do it. But the memory of the real thing is enough, to be honest.

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