Euro 2012 marks the 20 year Anniversary of Denmark’s 1992 European triumph against all the odds. Greece’s 2004 win has perhaps overshadowed the Dane’s achievement in terms of international football upsets, but as fairy tale stories go the ’92 side still lives long in Euro memory.
Euro ’92 was the first tournament where player names were printed on the back of their shirts, so with live pictures transmitted globally, what better stage to make a name for yourself than this. The tournament was hosted by Sweden and was the last tournament to be made up of 8 teams. Sweden, Scotland, Netherlands, Germany, France, England, CIS (former Soviet Union) and Yugoslavia were the original participants. However, due to the Yugoslav wars, Yugoslavia was disqualified from the final tournament leaving Denmark to make up the numbers, affording them just 1 week preparation time. Internal fractions also meant that two of Denmark’s most influential players, Michael Laudrup and Jan Molby would miss the tournament over disagreements regarding the defensive style of play utilised by the manager, Richard Moller Nielsen. With the odds firmly stacked against the Danes, the manager addressed his players with the reassuring words; “Lads, make sure you don’t embarrass yourselves”.
The ’92 tournament
After drawing 0-0 with England and losing 1-0 to Sweden, only France stood in the way of the players’ summer vacations. Prior to the final group game against France, Brondby midfielder, Kim Vilfort was forced to miss the encounter due to family reasons but it seems that this acted as a trigger to assist a resurgent Danish side to beat the pre-tournament favourites 2-1 to set up a semi-final encounter with the Netherlands.
The Dutch team were able to boast many a world class talent with legendary names such as Gullit, Koeman, Bergkamp and Van Basten. But once again the Danes produced a spirited performance and took the match to penalties after a 2-2 draw. Back in the side, Kim Vilfort dispatched his penalty and it was now up to Van Basten to beat the intimidating Schmeichel from the spot. The Dane pulled off a smart stop and Denmark went on to win the shootout and progress to the final where they would play Germany.
Only Germany stood in the way of the ultimate underdog story becoming reality and there was nothing the likes of Effenberg, Klinsmann and Riedle could do about it. John Jensen’s career goal to games ratio was poor for a midfielder scoring a total of 12 goals in 387 games. Yet, after a pull back by Vilfort to the edge of the box, Jensen powered the ball in the roof of the net to make it 1-0 after Denmark’s first real attack. After some outstanding saves from Schmeichel, the game stayed at 1-0 until the 79th minute. After suffering the hardest, most emotional couple of weeks of his life, Kim Vilfort picked up the ball took it past two German defenders and slotting the ball past the keeper, crowning Denmark as European Champions!
Fast forward to today and Denmark will once again take up the mantle of huge outsiders to not only win the tournament but to even qualify from their group. Danish manager Morten Olsen put the task that faces his team into perspective when the Euro draw was made;
“In our group we have Robin Van Persie, the top scorer in English Premier League; Mario Gomez, top scorer in Bundesligue, and Cristiano Ronaldo, top scorer along with Lionel Messi in the Spanish League”.
Conceding 3 first half goals to Brazil during a pre-tournament friendly will not renew any optimism that they can stop the likes of Gomez, Van Persie or Ronaldo in the group stage, so it’s hard to give Denmark any hope of reaching the knock-out stages. However, after drawing Portugal in their qualification group to reach the tournament, a play-off place would have been the realistic expectation in terms of qulaification to the finals. But in the final game of qualification, Denmark produced a very impressive performance to beat a strong Portugal side 2-1 and win the group. With a similar line up expected to start for Denmark in the Championship’s proper, the players will have every confidence they can replicate that performance and beat the Portuguese once again.
Denmark will once again take up the mantle of huge outsiders to not only win the tournament but to even qualify from their group
Even if Denmark do beat Portugal they will need at least a point from either of their other games against Holland or Germany. Despite the outstanding attacking talent of Christian Eriksen, a result in either game will hinge heavily on team unity, professionalism and the back five. The defensive back line is experienced with 131 caps between the usual back four of Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger and Poulsen. The goalkeeping position is likely to be the biggest problem for the Danes with first choice goalkeeper, Thomas Sorensen ruled out with a back injury and Anders Lindegaard not playing any significant competitive football since January due to ankle ligament damage. It might fall on third choice keeper, Stephan Andersen, who plys his trade in French Ligue 1 to start in the opening match. The Evian TG goalkeeper has had an inconsistent season for club and only became a regular starter when first choice goalkeeper Bertrand Laquait fractured his tibia. Both Andersen and Lindegaard have a combined total of 14 caps for their country although none at international tournament level, so it will be a huge test for either of them to face the likes of Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Van Persie in the opening match of Group B.
Twenty years on from their European success, Denmark still have their underdog tag firmly attached going into Euro 2012. The similarities to 1992 don’t end there though, with a household name in Schmeichel (albeit the son of Peter) now featuring on the tournament roster; but any hopes of a championship winning repeat are likely just a pipe dream.
You can follow Paris Wray (Danish Superliga Analyst) on Twitter: @FRfodboldParis