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Apr 29, 2012

European Championships 1992

Innovations

•  It was the first major football competition where players had their names printed on their backs...
 
Controversies
•  Yugoslavia qualified but their invitation was withdrawn because of a United Nations Resolution following civil war inside the country. They were replaced by Denmark
 
Trivia
 
•  Between the USSR qualifying and the start of the tournament the Soviet Union broke up. As a result, a team under the label the Confederation of Independent States, which included a number of former Soviet republics
 
•  East Germany entered but withdrew from qualifying after German reunification in October 1990
 
 
The story
 
A tournament won by a team that didn't even qualify and had spent much of pre-tournament sunning itself on the beaches of southern Europe, this was to be the last of the eight-team finals tournaments. It took place in Sweden's somewhat small stadia and almost seemed low key yet its eventual conclusion was perhaps the greatest fable in tournament history.
 
Italy, yet to recover from the pain of losing their home World Cup tournament in 1990, had crashed out of the qualifiers to the Soviet Union who by the time the tournament happened, had become the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) after the Soviet Bloc collapsed. Germany had reunified after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the world champions West Germany were now able to call on East Germany internationals like Thomas Doll and Mattias Sammer.
 
Yugoslavia had a golden generation of players. The likes of Dejan Savicevic, Dragan Stojkovic, Darko Pancev and Robert Prosinecki had graced the last World Cup and Red Star Belgrade had lifted the European Cup in 1991. They were heavily fancied to go far in this tournament, but the collapse into civil war of post-Tito Yugoslavia saw UEFA ban them on security grounds.
 
Denmark, who had been edged out in qualification, were installed in their stead. Their players had been settled down for a summer of relaxation, and coach Richard Moller Nielsen had been putting in a new kitchen. Star man Michael Laudrup refused to interrupt his vacation and did not play - his brother Brian was to be his replacement as star player in a team largely without stars.
 
When the underprepared Danes eventually arrived in their fellow Scandinavian country, they opened their account against England. Graham Taylor was England's coach and he had successfully negotiated a qualifying group including Jack Charlton's Ireland. Injury and retirements had denied Taylor the services of Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher, Bryan Robson, John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne. There was no place either for Chris Waddle - then one of Europe's most feared performers at Olympique Marseille.
 
An England side with Keith Curle making a disastrous appearance at full-back were given a rough ride by a Danish team they had underestimated. And nerves were jangling when John Jensen crashed a shot against a post.
 
England's next game was against France, under the tutelage of Michel Platini, a rookie coach who had had a galvanising effect on the qualifying tournament, and who it was hoped could achieve the same as he had as a player. With players like Jean-Pierre Papin, Laurent Blanc and Eric Cantona in his team, he seemed to have the talent yet this was to be a poor showing from the new generation of Bleus. Their first game had been a fortunate draw with hosts Sweden where Papin's finishing had secured a point.
 
England and France's meeting was a poor affair, only lit up by a clash of hardmen in Basile Boli and Stuart Pearce which the Englishman followed by crashing a free-kick against the bar after wiping away the blood from a Boli headbutt. With Sweden beating Denmark with a Tomas Brolin goal, Group 1 would go to the last game.
 
There, England gave an x-rated second half showing as Sweden swept them aside. An early goal from David Platt had put England in the driving seat and hard work had held off the talents of Brolin and fellow forward Martin Dahlin. But after half-time, Sweden played them off the park, and deserved their equalier from a Jan Eriksson header. Then Brolin, in his Parma prime before becoming the porker that played for Palace, played a neat one-two with Dahlin to crash past Chris Woods.
 
England had needed a draw but their hunt for it expired when Taylor made the inexplicable decision to replace Gary Lineker, admittedly off-colour all tournament, with Arsenal tower Alan Smith. England never looked like scoring, Lineker's career was over and Taylor had created a rod for his own back. He was soon to become the 'Turnip' of tabloid legend.
 
So the semis had a distinctly Scandinavian feel. From the other group, the expected finallists arrived in the last four. Holland still had their holy trinity of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten and could now call on the fleet-footed guile of Dennis Bergkamp. Yet they looked off-form as they sneaked past Scotland and could only draw 0-0 with the CIS.
 
Germany had not looked convincing either. Their own draw with the CIS came only after a last-minute Thomas Hassler goal. They had finished Scottish hopes with a clinical enough 2-0 win but when they came to face the Dutch in what was a restaging of the semi-final four years they were destroyed by the thrilling attacking of Van Basten and Bergkamp.
 
A header from Rijkaard, a superb daisy-cutter free-kick from midfielder Rob Witschge and a header from Bergkamp were the least the men in orange deserved. A lone Klinsmann strike was all Germany could provide to a game seen as a dress rehearsal for the final.
 
At least the Germans were to keep their half of the bargain in the last four. They held off a brave effort from the injury-hit Swedes 3-2 through goals from Hässler and a brace from Karl-Heinz Riedle, with Brolin and Kennet Andersson scoring for the hosts.
 
Holland's notorious ability to self-destruct came into being in the other semi. They were up against the Danes, there by default and infinitely inferior to them in terms of achievement and ability. The Dutch were overconfident, even refusing to step up play when Henrik Larsen headed in a Brian Laudrup cross.
 
Bergkamp's equaliser was expected. And beautifully created by he and Rijkaard. But on 33 minutes Larsen again struck. And the Danes took hold with Laudrup and Henrik Andersen shone before both succumbed to injury - Andersen with a sickening knee injury. Rijkaard's late header brought extra-time and it seemed the Dutch would benefit undeservedly. But Denmark held on for penalties with keeper Peter Schmeichel, having just completed his first season at Manchester United, making a series of saves.
 
The shoot-out made even more of a hero of the blond giant as he saved a penalty from Van Basten to put the erstwhile beach bums in the final. Van Basten would all but wave goodbye to international football and it was a sad way to go out for him.
 
But for the Danes, who now had the whole of Europe and most definitely the home Swedish support on their side, had the Germans to face in a final in which the world champions were expected to stroll.
 
And stroll they did for the opening salvos as Schmeichel made several saves in the first 15 minutes.
 
But then came a defining moment as Jensen, who had happily and effectively trotted around the midfield engine-room all tournament, received a Poulsen pass and thumped it past Bodo Ilgner. As Arsenal were soon to find out, the goal was to be a true rarity.
 
Germany, like everybody else, seemed to fold to destiny being with the Danes and failed to really trouble Schmeichel.
 
And when Kim Vilfort, riding on a crest of emotion in the wake of his daughter having leukemia, controlled the ball and swept it past Ilgner again. It was dazzling, it was devastating, it was Denmark, to paraphrase BBC doyen John Motson's commentary pay-off.
 
A lack of preparation had seemingly been the best preparation. 

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