European Cup 1992: One Of Soccer's Greatest Fairytale Endings
The 1992 European Football Championship took place in Sweden. At the time, only eight countries took part in the final tournament. Seven countries had to qualify for the final stage, while Sweden qualified automatically as the hosts of the event.
The teams that qualified were as follows: the former USSR, England, France, Germany, Holland, Scotland, Sweden and Yugoslavia. A situation would arise however. Due to the Balkan crisis (Yugoslav wars) that were occurring at the time, the country was barred from competing.
Their replacement—Denmark. Naturally, the Danes ditched their summer plans to take part in the event. With only two weeks to prepare though, nobody was giving them much of a shot. They were put into Group A along with Sweden, France and England.
In a further blow to their chances, brilliant playmaker Michael Laudrup decided not to take part. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and his defense would be relied upon heavily for this squad.
Unsurprisingly, their first match against England finished in a scoreless draw. Even less shocking was the 1-0 loss they fell to at the hands of their Scandinavian neighbour and hosts, Sweden.
The biggest eye-opener came in their last group game. With a victory needed to advance to the semi-final, Richard Møller-Nielsen's men defeated France 2-1. The victory earned them a semi-final place as runners-up to Sweden.
Next up were the defending champions, the Netherlands, who won Euro 1988. Clearly, the road wasn't getting any easier for the Danes. Leading scorer, Henrik Larsen, struck twice for Denmark in the semi-final match. Dennis Bergkamp struck for Holland, before Frank Rijkaard tallied a late equalizer to send the match into extra time.
No more goals followed, and the game would be decided by a shootout. With the Danes up by one (5-4), the next shooter was a guy named Marco Van Basten. The superstar fired a low-shot to the right side, only for Schmeichel to dive for a superb save. Unbelievably, Denmark were headed for the finals.
Already eliminating the defending European champions, the Danes would have to square off against the reigning 1990 World Cup winners, Germany. The world was stunned in the 18th minute when John Jensen drove the ball into the German goal. Kim Vilfort would add a second to complete the storybook ending.
Germany did all they could to fire back, but an unstoppable Schmeichel denied everything that was thrown at him. Denmark did it. A team that was originally discluded from the tournament had defied all the odds with brilliant goaltending, inspirational defense and hard fought goals.
These elements were what it took to eliminate the defending Euro Cup and World Cup champions in succession. Head coach at the time, Richard Møller-Nielsen, had a less exciting summer planned before his boys got the call to replace Yugoslavia.
"I should have put in a new kitchen but then we were called away to play in Sweden," recalled Møller-Nielsen shortly after their triumph. "The kitchen is finished now. I had a professional decorator do it."
From making a new kitchen, to hoisting the European Cup trophy. Unfortunately, Denmark was eliminated in the group stage of Euro 1996, failing to defend their title.
Still, the Danes got something that doesn't come around too often—that's a second chance. They took full advantage of it, not allowing factors like limited time to prepare, key players missing and the world's best teams get in the way.
I'm sure most Danes remember what they were doing on the historic day of June 26, 1992.
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