** Sweden in 1992 saw Denmark come from nowhere to win the tournament for the first time and overcame first Holland in the semi-finals and then Germany in the Final.
Political upheavals across the continent caused major disruption from the start of the qualifying groups. The former East Germany was consigned to history just as the qualifying tournament began and the GDR federation, as one of its last acts, withdrew from the event. This allowed key players, such as midfielder Matthias Sammer and forwards Thomas Doll and Andreas Thom, to play for a unified Germany in the finals.
The Soviet Union, in the throes of secession into independent states, was transformed into the Commonwealth of Independent States by the time the team flew in. Then there was Yugoslavia. They had been one of the more outstanding qualifiers. But the spring of 1992 saw the onset of the country’s violent collapse. UEFA barred them from the finals on security grounds and recalled Denmark – the Slavs’ qualifying group runners-up – in their stead and at two weeks’ notice.
Denmark manager Richard Moller Nielsen heard the news while he was in the middle of decorating his kitchen – the domestic task he had set himself for the summer.
Sweden was a suitably peaceable venue for the climax of a championship. The hosts, in the finals for the first time, deservedly topped group A. Tomas Brolin’s wonderful goal brought them a 2–1 victory over a disappointing England on the last matchday. England manager Graham Taylor gambled on substituting striker Gary Lineker in the closing stages to no avail. The only thanks Taylor received for his efforts was an unflattering vegetable comparison back home in the tabloid press.
Almost unnoticed, Denmark went through to the quarter-finals after finishing runners-up in the group thanks to a 2–1 victory over an under-achieving French side managed by their old hero Platini. He was unable to coax attacking sparkle out of a star duo of Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona and duly stepped down after Les Bleus’ first-round failure.
Platini was not, of course, lost to football. He would take on the co-presidency of the French organising committee for the 1998 World Cup finals then become presidential counsellor to Sepp Blatter at FIFA before being elected as president of UEFA in 2007.
In Group B, Holland and Germany possessed too much firepower and experience for newcomers Scotland and the CIS, although Germany did need a last-minute goal from Thomas Hässler to snatch a point from their opening game against the CIS.
The two semi-finals produced great entertainment. Holland – imperious in qualifying – threw theirs away against Denmark, being held 2–2 and losing 5–4 on penalties. Remarkably the decisive penalty miss was contributed by Marco Van Basten, the hero four years earlier. Brolin scored again for Sweden in the other semi-final, but this time in vain in a 3–2 defeat by Germany.
The final was staged not in the capital, Stockholm, but back in the Nya (New) Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg where the Dutch had come to grief against the Danes. The omens for an upset in a stadium built for the 1958 World Cup had been were set a decade earlier however. The first time was when host club IFK Gothenburg defeated Hamburg in the UEFA Cup Final; the second time was when Scotland’s Aberdeen defeated Real Madrid in the Cup-winners Cup Final.
West Germany, now under the leadership of 1974 World Cup-winning fullback Berti Vogts, were runaway favourites to win the final. But Denmark – from manager Richard Moller Nielsen through goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, skipper Lars Olsen, midfielder Kim Vilfort and forward Brian Laudrup – had not read the script. Goals from John Jensen and Vilfort – allied to the rock-solid inspiration of Schmeichel and sweeper Lars Olsen – duly produced perhaps the greatest shocks in the competition’s entire history.