The years between 1988 and 1992 were the most eventful in the history of Europe since the end of the Second World War. The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe meant that the 1992 European Championships saw the first entry of a reunited German team and, in the light of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a team called the Commonwealth of Independent States represented the transitional state between the break-up of the Union and the formation of the independent nations that now play in UEFA tournaments. This sudden expansion of countries was to have a dramatic effect on international football. This would be the last eight nation European Championships, with the number of entrants being doubled for the next tournament, four years later. Held in Sweden, just four stadia, in Gothenberg, Stockholm, Malmo and Norrkoping, were used.
The tournament, held in Sweden, would be shrouded in controversy before it started. The collapse of Yugoslavia had begun with the collapse of the country’s federal government a couple of years previously, and by the start of 1992 Bosnia was engulfed in a horrific conflict and the United Nations had imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia. The team had performed promisingly at the 1990 World Cup, but at the last minute, UEFA decided to uphold the sanctions and expelled the Yugoslav team from the tournament. As the group runners-up, Denmark were requested to make the short journey across the Baltic Sea to make up the numbers. The Danes weren’t particularly keen to enter in the first place. One player, Michael Laudrup, refused to cancel his holiday and didn’t play. His brother, Brian, was called up in his place. Most of the rest of the Danish players, however, did turn out in Sweden. The eight entrants were arranged into two groups of four, with England, France, Denmark and Sweden in one group. Germany, the CIS, first-time qualifiers Scotland and the Netherlands made up the other group. Italy and Spain failed to qualify altogether.
The tournament started with a 1-1 draw between the hosts, Sweden, and a French team that was in a transitional stage between the successful team of 1986 and that which would win the World Cup in 1998. The following day, England (who had, after performance at the 1990 World Cup and a decent qualifying campaign, had high expectations for the finals) huffed and puffed to a goalless draw against Denmark. In the second round of matches, England drew 0-0 again, this time against France, while Sweden practically booked their place in the semi-finals with a 1-0 win against Denmark. Going into the final round of group matches, any of the four teams could still qualify for the finals. Denmark surprised France 2-1 in Malmo book their place in the semi-finals. The England vs Sweden match would go on to become famous for being the first match when the true folly of hiring Graham Taylor would become apparent. England scored first, a very early goal from David Platt, but Jan Eriksson levelled early in the second half, and a wonderful goal from Thomas Brolin gave the Swedes a thoroughly deserved 2-1 lead. It was this point that Graham Taylor withdrew Gary Lineker for Alan Smith, a decision that would create the mistrust for him that would undermine his position in the media for the remainder of his time in charge.
The other group contained the favourites, Germany, and their arch rivals, the Dutch. Both sides started off surprisingly unconvincingly. The Dutch needed a late goal from a young Dennis Bergkamp to claim a 1-0 win over Scotland, while the Germans left it even later – an injury time equaliser from Thomas Hassler snatched a 1-1 draw for them against the CIS. The second round of matches saw Germany beat Scotland 2-0 to knock the Scots out with a game to spare, while the Dutch’s 0-0 draw against the CIS effectively put them out, too. In the final game, the Dutch comfortably beat Germany 3-1, while Scotland picked up a tidy consolation win with goals from Paul McStay, Brian McClair and Gary McAllister beating the CIS. The semi-finals, therefore, threw up Sweden against Germany in Stockholm, while the Netherlands would face Denmark in Gothenberg. In the first match, the extent to which the competition had failed to capture the imagination of the public became apparent when just 28,000 people bought tickets for the 40,000 Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm for the hosts’ match against Germany. After a dull group stage, the semi-finals were a lot more open. Thomas Hassler gave the Germans an early lead, and it looked all over when Karl-Heinz Riedle doubled their advantage just before the hour. However, Thomas Brolin pulled a goal back for Sweden and, when Riedle made it 3-1 to Germany with a couple of minutes to play, Kennet Andersson pulled a second goal back for Sweden to get German nerves jangling again.
The second semi-final is one of the featured matches for this competition. The Dutch had been expected to roll the out of shape Danes over in their match in Gothenberg, but the Danes took an early lead through Henrik Larsen. Dennis Bergkamp levelled for the Dutch when his shot slipped under the body of the Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, but Larsen retook the lead for the Danes just before half-time. Denmark held out until four minutes from time, before Frank Rijkaard levelled things up. There were no more goals in extra-time, and in the penalty shoot out that followed it, only Marco Van Basten, the hero of four years earlier, missed, with Kim Christofte scoring the penalty to knock the Dutch out. The Germans were the clear favourites to win the final, but the Danish team had a built up a clear head of steam by now, and John Jensen gave them an early lead. The Germans battered away at the Danish goal, but an inspirational performance from Peter Schmeichel kept the score down to 1-0, before Kim Vilfort put the result beyond any doubt. The Danes, who would probably have been the underdogs of the eight entrants had they had the same amount of time to prepare as everyone else, had achieved something truly incredible in dragging themselves off the beaches of the world and beating the very best in Europe.
Netherlands vs Denmark – The Match
Netherlands vs Denmark – The Penalties
Denmark vs Germany