Euro 1992: A Football Fairytale

Euro 1992 Winners Denmark celebrate with the trophy in Gothenburg

In 1992 a football miracle occurred. A tiny nation of just five million people, who had not even qualified for the European Championship shook the football world with a sensational triumph on a glorious Summer in Sweden. This is the story of the Danish Dynamite.

Denmark had burst onto the international scene when they beat England at Wembley and qualified ahead of Bobby Robson’s men for Euro 1984 in France. With their superb brand of attacking football the Danes were Semi Finalists, losing on penalties to Spain. For a nation of former part time footballers it was an impressive achievement.

The upturn in Danish fortunes can be traced back to 1979 when German manager Sepp Piontek was appointed. The no nonsense former defender installed the discipline and organisation that was previously missing. He was also fortunate that perhaps the greatest ever generation of Denmark players emerged in the same era. Players like sweeper and Captain Morten Olsen, Jan Molby, Jesper Olsen, Allan Simonsen, Michael Laudrup and Preben Elkjaer. The only weakness that continued to haunt Denmark at that time was the absence of a top class goalkeeper.

Euro 1984 Denmark team that beat Belgium 3-2 to reach the Semi Finals in France

Denmark followed on from that excellent tournament by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time. They had finished top of a very tough group ahead of the USSR, Switzerland Republic of Ireland and Norway. In Mexico the Danes were drawn in a ‘Group of Death’ alongside South American Champions Uruguay, 1982 World Cup Finalists West Germany and Scotland.

Denmark swept all before them after a fortunate 1-0 win over Alex Ferguson’s Scotland a 6-1 thrashing of Uruguay and a 2-0 victory over West Germany. They were now regarded as dark horses to win the World Cup, but they imploded in their last 16 tie with Spain losing 5-1 in Queretaro, thanks to a four goal salvo by Real Madrid striker Emilio ‘The Vulture’ Butragueno.

1986 World Cup Denmark team that beat Uruguay 6-1
Back Row L-R Frank Arnesen, Sören Busk, Michael Laudrup, Sören Lerby, Henrik Andersen, Preben Elkjaer
Front Row L-R: Morten Olsen, Troels Rasmussen, Klaus Berggreen, Jens Bertelsen, Ivan Nielsen

However by 1988 a golden era was coming towards an end. An ageing Denmark team qualified for Euro 1988 but they lost all three games in the Finals in West Germany to the hosts, Italy and their old foes Spain. Denmark failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup finishing behind a strong Romanian team.

In the Euro 1992 qualification campaign, Yugoslavia won Group 4 on 14 points one ahead of Denmark. However following the Yugoslav Civil War which had erupted the previous year Yugoslavia were placed under UN Sanctions. UEFA and FIFA then suspended the Yugoslavian team from competitive football on the 31st of May 1992. So Denmark were drafted in at the last minute to take their place for the 1992 European Championship.

Danish manager Richard Moller Nielsen had to assemble a squad with many of his players on their Summer holidays. With Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, and Brian Laudrup the Danes had some excellent players, however Jan Molby and Michael Laudrup were not included in the final squad after disagreements with the manager.

Denmark were expected to make up the numbers at Euro 1992 in Sweden. They were drawn alongside the hosts, favourites France who had won all eight games in their qualification ahead of Czechoslovakia and Spain and Graham Taylor’s England. On the 11th of June 1992 Demark faced England in Malmo.

Euro 1992: Denmark line up to face England in Malmo

As with most opening games it was a cagey affair with both defences on top. Gary Lineker searching for the goal that would equal Bobby Charlton’s record of 49 had a couple of half chances. At the other end it was Denmark who went closest to breaking the deadlock. John Jensen hit the inside of the post with Chris Woods beaten. Graham Taylor gave a tetchy post match interview with the BBC’s Des Lynam after the goal less draw, when he denied that England had played negatively.

Denmark were pleased to have a point on the board and then faced their old rivals Sweden in Stockholm. In an exciting game Denmark failed to take their chances and a Tomas Brolin goal gave Sweden victory. That defeat meant that Denmark had to beat France in their final game to reach the Semi Finals. The French team managed by 1984 victorious captain Michael Platini had drawn 1-1 with Sweden and 0-0 with England. They knew that a draw against the Danes would take them into the last four.

Euro 1992: Denmark line up to face France in Malmo

The Danes attacked from the off and took the lead in the 8th minute through Henrik Larsen. France pushed forward but could not break through the Danish defence and at half time the Danes lead 1-0. In the second half Jean Pierre Papin the brilliant French striker signed by AC Milan for a world record £10M, scored a superb equaliser as he curled the ball past Schmeichel in the 60th minute. France then sat back playing for the draw that they needed. In the 78th minute Luton Town striker Lars Elstrup fired Denmark ahead again after beating the French offside trap. France poured forward but Denmark held on for a famous victory.

In the Semi Finals Denmark faced holders Holland, who had beaten World Champions Germany 3-1 and Scotland 1-0 in the group stage. The Dutch were strong favourites with the AC Milan trio of Gullitt, Rijkaard and Van Basten, Barcelona sweeper Ronald Koeman who’s goal had won Barca’s first ever European Cup at Wembley against Sampdoria also in their ranks. Up front Ajax striker Denis Bergkamp was in lethal form.

Euro 1992: Denmark line up to face Holland in the Semi Finals in Gothenburg

On the 22nd of June 1992 Denmark and Holland produced a classic, one the greatest ever games in European Championship history. With nothing to lose the Danes took the game to Holland and Henrik Larsen headed them in front in the 5th minute. Holland fought back and Denis Bergkamp’s shot from the edge of the box was fumbled in by Schmeichel. Brian Laudrup continued to run at the Dutch defence and he set up Larsen’s second goal as he fired home in the 33rd minute. Denmark led 2-1 at half time. Holland pinned the Danes pack throughout the second half and Frank Rijkaard equalised in the 85th minute. With game finishing 2-2 the Semi Final went to extra time and then penalties.

Euro 1992: Schmeichel saves Marco Van Basten’s penalty in the SF shoot out in Gothenburg

It was Euro 1988 top scorer Marco Van Basten who had a goal disallowed against the C.I.S (former Soviet Union) and hit the bar against Germany, who was the only man to miss from the spot. His weak penalty was saved. It ended a miserable tournament for the AC Milan striker who had failed to score at Euro 1992. It was left to Kim Christofte to send Hans Van Breukelen the wrong way to send Denmark into the Final against all the odds.

Euro 1992 Final: Denmark line up to face World Champions Germany in Gothenburg

On the 26th of June Germany faced Demark in the Final at the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg. Few people gave the Danes a chance but they revelled in their underdog status. Peter Schmeichel made two superb saves early on, turning aside a Jurgen Klinsmann drive and coming off his line to smother Matthias Sammer’s chip. Then against the run of play Denmark took the lead in 18th minute. John Jensen much maligned for his poor scoring record from midfield, fired a powerful drive beyond Bodo Illgner from the edge of the box. The goal stunned Germany and they struggled to regain their rhythm as Denmark lead 1-0 at half time.

In the second half Germany threw everything forward and in a frantic two minute spell captain Lars Olsen made a superb goal line clearance and from the resulting corner Schmeichel brilliantly kept out Klinsmann’s bullet header. The Germans became more desperate and visibly demoralised and in the 78th minute Kim Vilfort (with aid of an unseen handball) fired Denmark further ahead. It was poignant moment, as he had spent the tournament flying backwards and forwards to visit his sick daughter in hospital. She would tragically pass away after the Final following a long battle with Leukemia.

Denmark held on and at full time they were European Champions. They had stunned the whole of Europe and beaten France, Holland and Germany for a richly deserved triumph. It was the day that the underdog fought back. It would not be until Euro 2004 when Greece triumphed, that another rank outsider would become European Champions.

Denmark’s triumph owed much to player of the Tournament Peter Schmeichel and flying winger and later Rangers player Brian Laudrup. They were surrounded by good experienced players who played for clubs all over Europe. The Danes enjoyed playing without pressure and went into each game with nothing to lose. Euro 1992 was a footballing fairytale that Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen would have been proud of. It was a victory that capped a superb tournament and a wonderful Summer of football.

Euro 1992 Champions Denmark

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