Denmark '92 Euros - The Unqualified Champions
The European Championship has given us multiple moments to savour over the years. With talented football and intense rivalries between countries on display, the Euros are a tournament that is immensely anticipated every four years and is arguably the most important international competition outside of the World Cup. Fans all over Europe tune in to see if their country can bring home the coveted trophy, and despite the plethora of super nations, often see underdog victories.
How about the 1980 Belgium team’s run to the final against all the odds?
Or maybe the 1996 Czechs securing a final berth after beating a strong French team that would be World Champions just 2 years later?
And of course, the ‘boring’ Greeks of 2004 winning their first-ever European Championship.
This tournament is clearly one for the longshots, the dark horses. However, there is one story that surpasses the aforementioned in unlikeliness - not because of the quality of the team - but the manner in which they won.
It was Denmark’s triumph in 1992.
But things had been looking quite grim for the Danes. After a 2-0 loss to Yugoslavia and a 1-1 draw to Northern Ireland, their chances for even qualifying for the tournament were looking increasingly bleak and despite a hot streak deep into the qualifying stages, Yugoslavia managed to snatch the top spot and a place in the 1992 Euros.
The whole country was in misery. Instead of preparing for their chance at European Glory, they were lining up for a friendly against Russia.
Then the golden decision from UEFA came and one nation's downfall would become another’s gain. Yugoslavia, in a state of a horrible civil war, was no longer allowed to participate - which allowed Denmark to take part in the ‘92 Euros.
Peter Schmeichel - Goalkeeper
The Manchester United legend was the Danes main saviour when it came to stopping goals from going into the back of the net. His big frame made him a huge presence in the defensive box and his quick reflexes boosted his already incredible shot-stopping even more.
Brian Laudrup - Midfielder
Despite being arguably the lesser-known Laudrup, Brian was still an exceptionally good player. He was responsible for most of what Denmark did on the offensive side on the ball, utilising his creativity and vision to perfection.
Manager Richard Nielsen had come under criticism multiple times for his negative tactics and was also the main cause of Denmark’s best player in Michael Laudrup to quit the national team. Despite these so-called boring tactics, he can say something that his many popular predecessors can’t; that he won Denmark a European Championship.
Nielsen took a defensive approach to the game, lining up the Danes in a 3-5-2 formation. This was down to that fact that they were initially playing attractive football but had nothing to show for it.
Their offensive game plan mainly relied on long balls that were sent to target men Flemming Povlsen and Kim Vilfort. They would then look to head the ball down to the more creative players like Laudrup and Henrik Larsen where they would look to cause damage in the final third.
This resulted in the complete change in the style of play implemented by Nielsen. Where the Denmark of old would be playing a patient possession game, they were starting to play the more quintessential negative style with long balls whilst attempting to rely on Brian Laudrup for creativity and goals.
On the defensive side of the ball, their shape would almost always fall back into a 5-3-2 with everyone along the backline very able, no-nonsense defenders. It was this defensive solidity that would form the basis of their tournament run as they only conceded 4 goals throughout the whole tournament.
As you can see, the style of this Denmark side was not box office. Their pragmatic tactics drew many criticisms from their fans, with their only entertainer being one man in Brian Laudrup. However, no Danes would be complaining now as these were the tactics that brought them to European glory.
After just about edging their way into the knockouts by 1 point in the group stage, Denmark were in the Semis against a solid Dutch team.
It was a tense game, which saw the Danes rush into the lead twice, but each time getting pegged back by the Netherlands.
The penalty shootout was extremely close, with Denmark winning 5-4 - surprisingly the miss from Holland was by 3 time Ballon d’Or winner Marco Van Basten, who was arguably one of the greatest finishers of all time.
But then they were up against the mighty Germans, a side who had dominated international football for most of the past decade.
Despite their heroics in the tournament so far, little hope was given to the notion that Denmark might actually come away with the trophy.
The match started as most expected, Germany asserting their dominance early on with Schmeichel forced into action very early in the game. However, this Denmark team was built to absorb pressure and strike fast on the counter-attack and that’s exactly what happened when John Jenson capitalized on a defensive error to launch the Danes into a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.
The Germans continued to pressure the Danish goal, peppering Schmeichel with shot after shot. The Man United ‘keeper stood tall though and had the Reds and Whites clinging onto a lead going into half-time.
There was more of the same in the second half but Denmark stood firm. Then completely against the run of play Denmark midfielder Kim Vilfort sensationally dribbled past two defenders and lashed one into the top corner in the 78th minute. The whole country erupted, what was an impossible dream months ago was now looking like a reality.
The final whistle blew, and Denmark were European Champions.