UEFA Cup '88 – heroic defensive battle


20 April 1988 – a really important date for the Werkself. Thanks to a hard-fought 0-0 draw away to Werder Bremen, who were confirmed as champions of Germany a few weeks later, Bayer 04 qualified for the UEFA Cup final 30 years ago today.

After winning the first leg 1-0, one thing was clear to all Bayer 04 players ahead of the decisive encounter at the Weser Stadium: It will be a hard game, a stiff breeze will come up that will drive the attack-minded Werder forward and bring forth wave after wave of attacks. The final training session ahead of the all-German clash was a change from the usual practice on the European stage: Bayer 04 did not train at the hosts’s ground – the Weser Stadium was already very familiar – but instead at home at the Haberland Stadium. Afterwards, the squad travelled to the team hotel in Bremen by coach only to discover on arrival that there was extensive building work due at the hotel. The upshot was the Bayer 04 players were up and about one hour earlier than expected at 7.30 in the morning because the drills were already hammering away. That also happened at 14.30 when the team wanted to grab some sleep in the afternoon. Some might have unjustifiably suspected a green and white motive.

Erich Ribbeck’s team had to improvise again to make up for some important absentees. Thomas Hörster underwent a groin operation that ruled him out for the rest of the season and he was replaced as sweeper by Wolfgang Rolff. On top of that, Christian Schreier and Tita were also sidelined through injury, two mainstays in the Bayer 04 attack. And the Werkself front line suffered another blow shortly after the kick-off: Herbert Waas limped off twelve minutes into the game and the youngster Marcus Feinbier took his place. It appeared to be fair compensation that Werder’s strongest forward in the air Frank Neubarth was suspended. But that did not shake the green and white confidence. “We’ve already overcome a lot of other challenges,” said Werder’s key defender Gunnar Sauer pumped up before the game.

He replaced the injured Herbert Waas early on: Youngster Marcus Feinbier.
We were solid at the back, but had problems posing a threat up front

Bayer 04 had the backing of 3,000 supporters at the Weser Stadium who faced a similar battle vocally against Bremen’s superiority in numbers as the Werkself players did on the pitch. As expected, Werder threw the kitchen sink at the Leverkusen goal but struggled against the brave defensive work of the visitors to create clear-cut goalscoring opportunities. “We were solid at the back, but had problems breaking free and posing a threat up front,” said goalkeeper Rüdiger Vollborn after the game. That changed in the second half. Marcus Feinbier had the first great chance with a volley from eleven metres out that went over the target. At the other end, Vollborn would have been equally helpless with a header from Manni Burgsmüller that also flew just over the bar.

Klaus Täuber in challenge with Bremen’s Michael Kutzop

It went into the final ten minutes, Bremen mounted a desperate and increasingly hectic final attack in search of the goal to take the tie into extra time. The Leverkusen defensive line of Rolff, Erich Seckler and Alois Reinhardt threw themselves into every attempted attack from the hosts. Andrzej Buncol and Jean-Pierre de Keyser could have won it in counter attacks on 84 and 85 minutes but failed to find the target. In the third minute of added time, Erich Ribbeck was pleading for the final whistle from the touchline, a final Bremen cross came to nothing and then the celebrations could start. 0-0, Bayer 04 were through to the final and Rüdiger Vollborn sprinted out of his goal, jumped over the advertising hoardings, and climbed the fence in front of the Bayer 04 fans to celebrate the victory with the ecstatic supporters.


Leverkusen really deserved to go through to the final and they played with incredible calm and composure

The dressing room witnessed the Werder bubbly flowing that the Bremen general manager Willi Lemke had put on ice for his players but then kindly donated to the Werkself. “I’m over the moon and and proud of the team,” coach Erich Ribbeck said to the TV and Germany coach Frank Beckenbauer also congratulated and showed his respect: “Leverkusen really deserved to go through to the final and they played with incredible calm and composure.” In addition to the sporting plaudits, the Bayer 04 players also earned a win bonus of 20,000 Deutschmarks each.

Done and dusted: Falko Götz, Alois Reinhardt and Andrzej Buncol (l. to r.) celebrate the semi-final win at Bremen.

The Werkself were unbeaten in the 14th European game in the club’s history and battled through to the final with great determination. The opponents Espanyol from Barcelona knocked out Club Brugge in the semi-finals and also saw off Borussia Mönchengladbach and the two Milan clubs Inter and AC. Leverkusen did not lack confidence. “Nobody beat us in 14 games. Not Feyenoord, not Barca, nor the German champions Bremen. What could go wrong in the final?, ” was the overriding assessment of the team. Bayer 04 were ready to spring a surprise on the world of football. And 4 May 1988, the day of the first leg at the Estadi Sarria, was to see all hopes extinguished at a stroke.

Match stats:

Werder Bremen: Reck – Sauer – Kutzop, Bratseth (Schaaf 59’) – Wolter (Ordenewitz 46’), Votava, Meier, Hermann, Otten – Riedle, Burgsmüller
Bayer 04: Vollborn – Rolff – Seckler, A. Reinhardt – De Keyser, Cha, Buncol, Falkenmayer, Hinterberger – Waas (Feinbier 12’/Götz 86’), Täuber

Referee: Lund-Sörensen (Denmark)

Booked: De Keyser, Seckler

Attendance: 30,000





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