Then joy for Berti Vogts and his team, who had struggled manfully through the tournament, overcoming injuries to key players that made their defeat of England last Wednesday a monumental achievement in their history.
Anybody who supposed that Germany's 11th appearance at a final of a major football championship was guaranteed to enhance their reputation as the pre-eminent force in European football ignored the technical expertise, collective and individual, that helped inspire the Czech Republic to a place in the ultimate match of Euro 96. European champions in 1976 when they defeated the Germans on penalties, and World Cup finalists in 1962, the Czechs lived dangerously through this tourna- ment, but their technical proficiency and teamwork was always enough to suggest that they would give the favourites all they could handle.
A personal point of view is that the Germans were not given nearly enough credit for the efficiency and resilience that enabled them to overcome the loss of such notable performers as Jurgen Kohler and Jurgen Klinsmann when defeating England in the semi-final after a penalty shoot-out that had pulled the plug on national expectations and euphoria.
That disappointment ensured that the Czechs would have the backing of most neutrals in the crowded Wembley last night even though the Germans were able to again include Klinsmann, who achieved great popularity when turning out at Tottenham Hotspur two years ago and was voted the 1995 Footballer of the Year in England.
Whatever remedies have been applied to Klinsmann's damaged right calf, an obvious impairment in mobility suggested that the Germans were looking more to his talismanic effect rather than expecting any dramatic contribution. In any case, it was soon apparent that a glowing encounter against England had drained more from the Germans than the Czechs had expended when defeating France at Old Trafford at the same stage in similar circumstances.
Of course, it was ridiculous to suppose that the Czechs would be inferior in their understanding of practical strategy, a point they proved quickly when putting a strain on the discipline and method that had quickly established Germany as a team to beat throughout the championship.
In denying Matthias Sammer the space he cleverly exploits when breaking out in support of attacks, the Czechs reduced the effectiveness of Germany's sorties from midfield, and if they were less threatening generally than England were last week, plenty of anxiety was caused to German defence. A patched-up German team showed signs of weariness, and winger Karel Poborsky was always willing to exploit an instinctive talent for running the ball at defenders and seeking imaginative routes to goal. The Germans were frequently at full stretch.
However, neither goal had been threatened seriously until the Czechs were awarded a penalty in the 59th minute when Sammer was judged to have brought down Poborsky in a race for the German goal-line.
As with so many decisions in this championship, it was dubious and television replays showed the Italian referee, Pierluigi Pairetto, had blundered. Not only did Sammer play the ball, but contact was made outside the penalty area. The possible irony then was that one of the championship's best players would be involved in a moment that cost the team a great victory.
Patrik Berger drove the ball past Andreas Kopke, and here was another opportunity for the Germans to display the fighting spirit that stood them in such stead against England. Bierhoff was not reckoned to be good enough for a place in the starting line-up but a crisis brought him into the game, and almost with the first touch of the ball he brought the Germans level in the 73rd minute.
His winner in extra time, a shot that sneaked just inside the far post and Petr Kouba's fingers, brought Germany their seventh major championship and left England and their supporters wondering what might have been.
At half-time there was a poignant moment when Terry Venables came out to receive the Fair Play Trophy on behalf of his squad. A day earlier he had learned of the sudden death of his close friend, the former Fulham footballer Bobby Keetch. Upon hearing the news, Venables broke down and it was doubtful if he would attend last night's proceedings. He came in tribute to a lost companion.
Czech Republic (0) 1 Germany (0) 2
Berger pen 59 Bierhoff 73, 95
(at Wembley; aet; golden goal decisive)
France 0 Czech Republic 0
(Czech Republic won 6-5 on penalties after extra time; at Old Trafford on Wednesday)
Penalty shoot-out details
France Czech Republic
Zidane scored Kubik scored
Djorkaeff scored Nedved scored
Lizarazu scored Berger scored
Guerin scored Poborsky scored
Blanc scored Rada scored
Pedros saved Kadlec scored
England (1) 1 Germany (1) 1
Shearer 3 Kuntz 16 75,862
(Germany won 6-5 on penalties after extra time; at Wembley on Wednesday)
Penalty shoot-out details
Shearer scored Hassler scored
Platt scored Strunz scored
Pearce scored Reuter scored
Gascoigne scored Ziege scored
Sheringham scored Kuntz scored
Southgate saved Moller scored
FIVE GOALS: Shearer (England).
THREE GOALS: Stoichkov (Bulgaria), B Laudrup (Denmark), Klinsmann (Germany), Suker (Croatia).
TWO GOALS: Bierhoff (Germany), Casiraghi (Italy), Sheringham (England), Sammer (Germany).
SUSPENDED FROM FINAL: Reuter, Moller (Germany).