The period right through from qualification to the finals of the 1992 European Football Championships was not only a period of extraordinary change in European football (what with the creation of the Champions League and Premiership, as well as the introduction of the back-pass rule), it was also a period of transition for the European continent as a whole – particularly with regard to political changes afoot in Eastern Europe. On 3rd October 1990 the East and West of Germany were officially reunified for the first time since the end of the Second World War forty five years earlier, eleven months after the symbolic wall between the east and western half of Berlin had been dismantled
This too brought a unification between the East and West German football sides just a few months after the latter were crowned World Champions after a victorious Italia ’90. Luckily for UEFA, both East and West Germany had been drawn in the same group for the qualifying rounds of Euro ’92, to be held in Sweden. This meant that the pre-arranged qualifier that East Germany was to play with Belgium on 12th September 1990 instead became a farewell friendly for the East Germans, after which the unified side would fulfil West Germany’s fixtures. The East Germans won 2-0 with both goals scored by Matthias Sammer, who went on to play fifty one times for a unified German side until 1997.
As well as Belgium, the unified German side would also be drawn against Wales and Luxembourg. The opening fixture of the group would be Wales (now playing their fixtures at the home of Welsh Rugby, Cardiff Arms Park) hosting Belgium.
Despite Belgium taking the lead on twenty four minutes, goals from Ian Rush, Dean Saunders and Mark Hughes for a 3-1 win.
Two weeks later, a unified German side played their first international away at Luxembourg and went three goals up after forty nine minutes with goal for Jurgen Klinsmann, Uwe Bein and Rudi Voller. In the second half, Luxembourg pulled two goals back though still suffered a 2-3 defeat at the hands of the Germans.
A further two weeks on from this fixture also saw Wales pick up a 1-0 win in Luxembourg. The following March, Wales picked up a 1-1 draw with Belgium in Brussels when a Dean Saunders goal cancelled out an earlier goal from Marc Degryse.
In June, Germany visited Cardiff Arms Park to meet the Welsh. A goal from Liverpool’s Ian Rush on sixty six minutes gave the Welsh a shock 1-0 win over the World Champions, which put them top of the group and was also the first defeat for the post-war unified German side in a competitive match.
Unfortunately, in the return fixture the following October in Nuremburg, Germany inflicted a 1-4 defeat on Wales with goals from Andreas Moller, Rudi Voller, Karl-Heinze Riedle and former East German international Tomas Doll.
The following month the Welsh beat Luxembourg 1-0 at Cardiff Arms Park, which meant that they had only lost just one fixture during their Euro ’92 qualifying campaign, however Germany won their last two games which included a 1-0 away win over Belgium. As a consequence Germany qualified for Euro ’92, with another qualification disappointment for the Welsh.
England went into qualification for Euro ’92 on a high after reaching the Semi Finals of Italia ’90 just a few months prior, however were drawn into a tricky group alongside Eire, Poland and Turkey. Their first fixture in October 1990 would be against Poland at Wembley, which would be the first competitive game under Graham Taylor’s reign. A penalty for Gary Lineker six minutes before half time gave England the lead, whereas a last minute goal for Peter Beardsley secured a 2-0 win for England.
Earlier that same day, Eire – also on a high after their Italia ’90 antics – hammered Turkey 5-0 at Landsdowne Road.
The big head to head between Eire and England occurred one month on, with a 1.30PM kick off on a Wednesday afternoon due to the fact that Landsdowne Road didn’t at the time have any floodlights! Despite the fact that Gazza-mania still raged throughout the country on the back of his performances at Italia ’90 the previous summer (as well as ruling the pop charts too with two top forty hits toward the end of the year), he was dropped for this game in favour of Liverpool’s Steve McMahon and Gordon Cowans of Graham Taylor’s former side Aston Villa.
England took the lead with a goal from David Platt, though an equaliser from Tony Cascarino (who proved a decade on to be ineligible to play for Ireland) gave the Irish a 1-1 draw.
A 1-0 win for Poland that same day over Turkey, meant that the return fixture between England and Eire at Wembley the following March would be all-important for both sides. Arsenal’s Lee Dixon gave England the lead, with a shot which deflected in off Liverpool’s Steve Staunton. Poor English marking however allowed Man City’s Niall Quinn to equalise for the Irish on the half hour. With no further scoring the two sides played out a third 1-1 draw in under nine months (their meeting in the group phase of Italia ’90 also brought the same score line).
England however would seize the upper hand five weeks later after Eire dropped a point at home to Poland with a 0-0 draw
England took both points with a 1-0 win over Turkey in Izmir with a scrappy debut goal from Chelsea’s Dennis Wise, parodied here by Baddiel and Skinner on the ‘Phoenix from the Flames’ strand of ‘Fantasy Football League’.
That win put England a point ahead of Eire. The following October, Eire went to Poznan to play Poland and went 3-1 up with goals from Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend and Tony Cascarino. In the final thirteen minutes however, goals from Jan Furtock and Jan Urban gave Poland a 3-3 draw.
Later that same day at Wembley, England beat Turkey 1-0. However few people were happy with the performance. ‘Alas Smith and Groans’ screamed one newspaper, as Arsenal striker and future Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith put the English one up after twenty one minutes. England fans however, who enjoyed two eight goal victories over Turkey within the previous decade, found a single goal victory over the Turks underwhelming. Despite this, the English now had a two point cushion over Eire, meaning that they only needed a draw over Poland in their final fixture to qualify.
England however went a goal behind on thirty two minutes with a goal from Roman Szewczyk and went in at half time still a goal behind. Eire however kicked off for their game away in Turkey an hour later than England and went ahead after eight minutes with a goal from Sunderland’s John Byrne. As it stood, England were on their way out of the tournament. However, with thirteen minutes left to play came a goal made entirely in North London. From a corner swung in from the late David Rocastle of Arsenal (strangely wearing a number nine shirt), headed on by Tottenham’s Gary Mabbutt for his club mate Gary Lineker to volley in on the edge of the six yard box, with the game ending in a 1-1 draw.
Eire went on to beat Turkey 3-1 with a further goal for John Byrne as well as Celtic’s Tony Cascarino on target. The Irish finished the qualifying group unbeaten (even third placed Poland only lost one game), however England would progress to the finals. Jack Charlton said after the game: ‘I’m going to telephone Graham Taylor and tell him that he’s a lucky sod’ (though Taylor’s luck as England manager wouldn’t be much in abundance from here on in).
Joining England for their first ever European Championships would be Scotland, who kicked off their tournament in September 1990 against fellow Italia ’90 qualifiers Romania at Hampden Park, on the back of failing to get out of the group phase a couple of months earlier and an embarrassing 0-1 defeat to Costa Rica (then considered minnows in comparison to Scotland.
Romania took the lead on thirteen minutes, however Scotland took both points with a 2-1 win secured by goals from Hearts striker John Robertson and Ally McCoist of Rangers.
The Scots made it back to back home victories with goals from Gary McAllister of Leeds and another from John Robertson making it a 2-1 win.
In November 1990, against Bulgaria in Sofia the Scots took the lead with a goal from Ally McCoist after nine minutes. Bulgaria however pulled one back with sixteen minutes to go to pull off a 1-1 draw.
The return fixture back at Hampden the following March saw the Scots take the lead with seven minutes to go, with a goal from Celtic’s John Collins. Bulgaria however a last minute goal from FC Porto’s Emil Kostadinov gave the Eastern Europeans a 1-1 draw.
Five weeks later, Scotland secured two points with goals from Gordon Strachan and Gordon Durie in a 2-0 away win in San Marino.
The following September, Scotland went two goals down in the first half away to Switzerland in Berne. In the second half however, goals for Gordon Durie and Ally McCoist gave the Scots a 2-2 draw.
One month on, the Scots fell to a 0-1 defeat away to Romania with a penalty from Gheorghe Hagi.
The Scots however secured qualification to Euro ’92 with a 4-0 win over San Marino at Hampden Park, with goals from Paul McStay, Richard Gough, Gordon Durie and Ally McCoist.
The Scots would be joined by France, making up for the disappointments of failing to reach the finals of Euro ’88 and Italia ’90. The next generation, now managed by former great Michel Platini, managed an impressive eight wins out of eight, scoring twenty goals in the process and conceding just six. Among those within France’s group missing out on qualification were Spain, despite a 9-0 hammering of Albania in Sevilla, a week before Christmas 1990.
The French would pick up four points against the Spaniards, with a 3-1 win in the Parc De Princes in February 1991, with goals for the Marseille pair of Franck Sauzee and Jean Pierre Papin, as well as one for Laurent Blanc, then of Napoli.
The return fixture the following October in Seville saw a 2-1 win for the French secured by goals from Spanish born Luis Fernandez and another for Jean-Pierre Papin. The Spanish actually finished third in the group, however this was due to playing one game fewer, as their final fixture a week before Christmas 1991 away in Albania was cancelled due to political unrest which resulted due to the fall from power of the Albanian Communist party. As neither side had a chance of qualifying, the game was never rearranged.
Another surprise elimination for Euro ’92 would be Italy, despite their third place finish on home soil in the Italia ’90 World Cup. The Italians lost just one game, during the qualifying phase - a 1-2 defeat to Norway in Oslo in June 1991.
The Italians however were held to four draws during the qualification phase which costed them dearly, such as a 0-0 away draw to the USSR in Moscow in October and a 1-1 home draw with Norway in November in Genoa.
Reigning European Champions Holland also secured their passage to Sweden, despite losing their opening fixture away in Portugal in October 1991, with a 0-1 defeat in Porto.
One month on, a 2-0 win for the Dutch against Greece in Rotterdam saw a first international goal for Dennis Bergkamp.
The Dutch hero of Euro ’88, Marco Van Basten bagged five goals in an 8-0 away drubbing of Malta a week before Christmas 1990.
The Dutch secured qualification with a 2-0 win away in Greece in December 1991.
Undoubtedly though, the group of most historical interest in this qualification phase would be that of Group four which included Northern Ireland, Austria, the Faroe Islands but more importantly Denmark and Yugoslavia. The significant backstory of footballing events in this group however occurred five months before a competitive ball was kicked in anger, in the Maksamir Stadium in Zagreb on May 13th 1990, during a Yugoslavian league fixture between the top two sides challenging for the title - Red Star Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb. Inter-ethnic tensions within Yugoslavia had been brewing since 1980, with the death of Marshall Tito who had ruled Yugoslavia since the end of the Second World War, as well as an economic downturn and a growth in unemployment as a result of market liberalism imposed due to IMF loans.
After the fall of the iron curtain at the end of 1990, a rise of Nationalism in both Serbia and Croatia came to an ugly head in the Maksamir Stadium and is often credited as the spark for a decade’s worth of warfare throughout the former Yugoslavia. Among the 3,000 Red Star fans was Serbian Warlord ‘Arkan’, in his guise as a leader of the Red Star ultras – the ‘Delije’. This group clashed with their Dinamo Zagreb counterparts – the ‘Bad Blue Boys’. The police tactics used to quell the trouble were deemed excessive and led to Dinamo star Zvonimir Boban (later of AC Milan) attacking a policeman in defence of Dinamo fans, attaining cult status as a Croatian Nationalist hero. Boban would face criminal charges and be suspended by the Yugoslav FA for six months, consequently missing Italia ’90, where Yugoslavia reached the Quarter Final but were eliminated by a Diego Maradona-led Argentina side on a penalty shoot-out.
Ironically, Yugoslavia’s Euro ’92 campaign started in a province that was no stranger to internal troubles – Northern Ireland. At Belfast’s Windsor Park in September 1990, Yugoslavia ran out 2-0 winners with goals from Red Star Belgrade pair Darko Pancev and Robert Prosinecki.
That same evening however, history would be made at the Landskrona Sports Ground in Sweden in front of just 1,157 spectators. The Faroe Islands were about to compete in their first ever competitive international, however the lack of an indigenous UEFA approved grass meant that the tiny Island national had to play home games in exile. Their opposition would be Italia ’90 qualifiers Austria. Despite being the overwhelming underdogs, the Faroe Islands pulled off a 1-0 win with a goal from Torkil Nielsen on the hour, as well as heroics from goalkeeper Jens Martin Knudsen, who wore a white bobble hat, looking like something akin to Benny from Crossroads. The Faroes however lost their second game away at Denmark 4-1.
A week later though, the Danes would be held to a 1-1 draw against Northern Ireland in Belfast and vitally, would sink to 0-2 home defeat to Yugoslavia, which led to Michael Laudrup, his brother Brian and Liverpool’s Jan Molby quitting the Danish national side after falling out with Denmark coach Richard Møller Nielsen.
Northern Ireland would also hold Austria to a goal-less draw in Vienna in November 1990, though would suffer a 1-4 defeat away to Yugoslavia in Belgrade with a hat-trick for Darko Pancev.
Yugoslavia however would suffer a 1-2 home defeat to Denmark in Belgrade. That same night, the Faroe Islands gained their only other point in their Euro ’92 campaign with a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland at Belfast’s Windsor Park.
A fortnight later would see a 7-0 win for Yugoslavia over the Faroe Islands, which included a first international goal for future Real Madrid, Arsenal and West Ham star Davor Suker, who later went on to star for the Croatian national side as did Robert Prosinecki and Zvonimir Boban who were also on target that night for Yugoslavia. In October, Northern Ireland would pick up only their second win of their Euro ’92 campaign with a 2-1 win over Austria at Windsor Park.
A 2-1 win for the Danish over Northern Ireland in Odense in November 1991 however would not be enough for Denmark to progress to the Finals, as Yugoslavia pulled off a 2-0 victory over Austria in Vienna in what turned out to be their last competitive fixture as a unified country. Denmark were – for the time being at least – eliminated from Euro ’92 by just one point.
During the seven months between the end of the qualifiers and the start of the finals however, the geography of Eastern Europe would change further still. Firstly, following an attempted coup in August 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist as of Boxing Day 1991. The USSR therefore were to compete in Euro ’92 under the guise of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – though didn’t include players from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who had already formed their own football associations.
In the draw for the Euro ’92 finals, in Group One England would be drawn alongside hosts Sweden, favourites France and Yugoslavia. In Group Two, Scotland would face Germany, Holland and the CIS. Ahead of the finals, England would face their Group One opponents France in February. Firstly, England B would defeat a France B side at Loftus Road. Arsenal’s Paul Merson gave England the lead, as well as further goals from his Arsenal team mate Ian Wright and Tottenham’s Paul Stewart for a 3-0 win. Twenty four hours later at Wembley, a debut goal for Southampton’s Alan Shearer and a second from Gary Lineker gave England a 2-0 win. This game would also be remembered for an atrocious sitter from Crystal Palace’s Geoff Thomas, which effectively ended his international career.
Ahead of the finals, England played their last pre-tournament friendly on May 17th against Brazil at Wembley, with England captain Gary Lineker – who was to retire in order to play in Japan’s newly formed J-League the following season – teetering on the edge of equalling Bobby Charlton’s England goal scoring record. Lineker however fluffed his opportunity by missing a penalty in a 1-1 draw. Lineker had missed out on the golden boot award that season by one goal to Ian Wright. Sensationally however, Graham Taylor opted to leave the Arsenal forward at home, even after a stupendous season for the Gunners.
The biggest shock ahead of Euro ’92 however would come on May 30th, with the passing of United Nations Security Council resolution 757, which specifically prohibited Yugoslavia participating in any international sporting events. This ruling came just twelve days ahead of England’s planned opening fixture with Yugoslavia. Denmark, who at the time were preparing for a friendly international with the CIS, were reinstated in the tournament. Not joining them in Sweden was Michael Laudrup, who opted instead to remain on vacation after a season with Barcelona, though his brother Brian Laudrup was called up. The Danish squad however had a great deal of cohesion due to the fact contained ten players who played for Brondby, who the previous year got to the Semi Final of the UEFA Cup.
If there was one benefit however to being called up to perform in a major tournament at such short notice, it’s that expectations were not particularly high. As Denmark squad member Kim Vilfort stated: ‘We couldn't fail…If we lost 5-0 three times then that would not have mattered’. While many believed Denmark were there to simply make up the numbers after Yugoslavia’s disqualification, in contrast nerves in the England camp ran high, especially as after their Semi Final exploits and unbeaten qualifying campaign expectations were fairly high despite the squad not being particularly strong.
In a pre-tournament interview with ITV via satellite in the week running up to the start of the tournament, host Elton Welsby asked England boss Graham Taylor in a polite enough manner: ‘What's the team going to be on Thursday?’ Taylor snapped back quite aggressively: ‘That's none of your business’. Welsby responded: ‘Well it may be none of my business but I'm sure the England fans watching back home will be interested to know’. Welsby’s studio guest had been Ron Atkinson, clearly taken aback by Taylor and commented after the interview that Graham needed to calm down and relax or his agitation would get through to the players.
The Euro ’92 Finals kicked off on 10th June, with the hosts Sweden meeting the favourites France in Stockholm. The Swedes took a first half lead with a headed goal by centre half Jan Eriksson from a corner taken by Arsenal’s Anders Limpar. The French however equalised just ahead of half time with a goal from Jean Pierre Papin. The opening match finishing in a 1-1 draw.
Twenty four hours on, England met Denmark in Malmo. The two sides however played out an unspectacular 0-0 draw, the major incident being John Jensen hitting the post for Denmark.
The following Sunday, also in Malmo, England met the French. Another uninspiring 0-0 draw followed, however a flashpoint in that game had been a headbutt by Marseille defender Basile Boli on England’s Stuart Pearce which went completely unnoticed by the Hungarian referee. Pearce’s response however was very nearly to take all three points for England with a long range free kick which crashed against the woodwork.
Later that same day, the Swedes seized the advantage by beating Denmark 1-0 in Stockholm, with a toe-poke goal from twenty three year old striker Tomas Brolin of Italian side Parma.
Three days later, going into their final group fixture against the host nation England experienced a familiar problem with hooliganism amongst their following in Stockholm.
On the pitch, England needed a win to be certain of progressing to the Semi Final. After four minutes, David Platt finally got England off the mark after four minutes with a miss hit shot which found its way into Sweden’s net. Six minutes into the second half however the Swedes equalized with another headed goal from Jan Eriksson from a corner, as with the opening fixture.
Despite England needing a goal to avoid elimination, Graham Taylor decided to pull off his captain and main goal scorer Gary Lineker (who needed just one further goal to equal Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record for England), in favour of his old Leicester striking partner Alan Smith, now with Arsenal. With eight minutes to go however England were sunk by a superb Tomas Brolin finish after playing a one-two with Swede team mate Martin Dahlin, the Swedes progressing to the Semis as group winners on the back of a 2-1 win over the English.
Meanwhile, over in Malmo favourites France required at least a draw to progress to the Semi Finals. For Denmark, though this fixture was a must win, as Kim Vilfort stated: ‘We played without nerves because we thought we'd be going home’.
After eight minutes, the Danes took the lead with a goal from Henrik Larsen (obviously not the former Celtic and Barcelona star). On the hour, the French pulled a goal back through Jean-Pierre Papin. With twelve minutes to go however, former Luton striker Lars Elstrup (on as a substitute) put the Danes ahead and the French in turn suffered the humiliation of an early exit with a 1-2 defeat. For Lars Elstrup, there would be one more year of playing for Danish side Odense before he turned his back on football and retired to join a religious sect known as the ‘Heart of the Sun’.
Meanwhile in Group Two, Scotland would be drawn into a tough group against the CIS, reigning European Champions Holland and reigning World Champions Germany. In the opening game, the Scots would succumb to a Dennis Bergkamp goal fifteen minutes from time and a 0-1 defeat.
Later that same day, the CIS took a shock lead just past with hour with a penalty from Igor Dobrovolski of Genoa. The Germans however spared their blushes with a last minute equalizer from Thomas Hassler securing a 1-1 draw.
Three days later, the Scots would be eliminated as a result of back to back defeats, the Germans winning 2-0 with goals from Karl-Heinz Riedle and Stefan Effenburg. That same day, Holland played out a 0-0 draw with the CIS
The final group fixture saw the Dutch up against their bitter German rivals. Within fifteen minutes Holland were two up, with goals from Frank Rijkaard and Rob Witschge. Jurgen Klinsmann pulled one back for the Germans eight minutes into the second half, before Dennis Bergkamp sealed the points for the Dutch with a goal eighteen minutes from time to seal a 3-1 win.
Germans however were also guaranteed their place in the Semi Finals, as at the same time as this match the CIS played Scotland in Norrkoping. The Scots were two goals up by half time with goals for Paul McStay and Brian McClair. The Points were sealed for the Scots after Gary McAllister put away a penalty six minutes from time to secure a 3-0 win – their first at the European Champions, while for the CIS this would be their last international game. The republics of the former Soviet Union would now compete in international tournaments as twelve separate national sides (though this their first as a unified nation).
The following Sunday came the first Semi Final, involving the hosts Sweden against Germany in Stockholm. Thomas Hassler gave the Germans the lead on eleven minutes, the lead doubled on the hour with a goal from Karl-Heinz Riedle. Five minutes later, the hosts pulled one back with Tomas Brolin from the penalty spot. As the Swedes pushed for a late equaliser, a second from Karl-Heinz Riedle restored Germany’s lead. Kennet Andersson pulled one back in the last minute, however it didn’t stop the Swedes crashing to a 2-3 defeat.
The Germans meanwhile progressed to an incredible ninth major tournament final out of thirteen championships, hoping to meet them again would be their Dutch rivals, who faced the unfancied Danes in their Semi-Final. Incredibly, Henrik Larsen gave Denmark the lead on five minutes. Dennis Bergkamp however would equalise midway through the first half. Ten minutes later however Larsen would put Denmark back ahead. With four minutes to go, Frank Rijkaard saved the blushes of his Dutch team mates with a late equaliser.
With no further scoring after extra time, the game finished 2-2 and a penalty shoot-out was required. Peter Schmeichel saved Holland’s second penalty, taken by the Dutch hero of Euro ’88 – Marco Van Basten. Holland’s former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, Hans Van Breukelen, tried gamesmanship with the Danish penalty takers with the art of ‘sledging’ and staring them down ahead of each confrontation, before backing his way to the goal line.
Such tactics however failed to break the Danes, who held their nerve and converted all five of their penalty kicks, with Brondby’s Kim Christofte slotting away the decisive penalty to send the Danes to their first ever major tournament finals and surpassing the efforts of the great Danish side of the early to Mid-1980s.
The Danes went on to meet Germany in Gothenburg the following Friday evening (a highly unusual time for a major tournament final). Against the run of play, on eighteen minutes a tremendous shot from John Jensen of Brondby (nicknamed ‘Faxe’ after a popular Danish lager), put the Danes ahead. With just twelve minutes left to play, Kim Vilfort doubled the lead for the Danes.
The goal for Vilfort was all the more poignant as he had spent the majority of Euro ’92 beside his daughter Line, who was suffering from Leukaemia and had even missed the final group game against France as a result. The Danes pulled off a shock 2-0 win to seal a championship which they didn’t even originally qualify for.
For Vilfort sadly, his young daughter passed away not long after the final of Euro ’92. After Jensen’s heroics he moved on to England to play in the inaugural Premiership season for Arsenal, replacing David Rocastle in the centre of Midfield, after the latter moved on from Highbury to join League Champions Leeds United. Jensen however failed to live up to expectations and failed to score a goal for the Gunners until New Years’ Eve 1995. Despite scoring from his own goal line in training - as shown below - Jensen explained: ‘the harder I tried to score, the worse it got. Every time I gathered the ball the cry would go up ‘shoot, shoot, shoot'. It was crazy’. Jensen even hilariously sent up his failure to replicate his goal with Baddiel and Skinner on ‘Fantasy Football League’ four years later.
Undoubtedly, the story of Denmark in Euro ’92 simply couldn’t have been scripted any better, hence why a Danish language film, by the name of ‘Sommeren '92’ was released in 2015 to commemorate it.
Euro ’92 would however be the last European Championship Finals competed for by eight sides, as Euro ’96 would be extended to sixteen qualifiers. And, as will be seen tomorrow, along with the global success of the Premiership (launched just a couple of months after Euro ’92), Euro ’96 would mark the full rehabilitation of the image of Football in the eyes of the British public at large.
Published 6th July 2017