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Denmark late show steals spotlight

Denmark had just two weeks to prepare after replacing Yugoslavia, but Richard Møller Nielsen's team pulled off an amazing coup.

EURO '92 ©Getty Images

June 1992 may not have been the best month for decorating kitchens, but it is loaded with memories for football romantics everywhere. After failing to qualify, Denmark were invited to replace Yugoslavia at the last minute, and they gladly ditched their summer plans to become unlikely champions of Europe.

"I should have put in a new kitchen but then we were called away to play in Sweden," recalled Danish coach Richard Møller Nielsen shortly after their triumph. "The kitchen is finished now. I had a professional decorator do it." Although clearly professionals in their own domain, there was an appealingly ramshackle feel about this Denmark side, and altogether they had just two weeks to prepare after Yugoslavia were barred because of the developing Balkan crisis.

In a further blow to their prospects, brilliant playmaker Michael Laudrup decided against taking part, so it was no surprise when they began by drawing with a workmanlike England team 0-0. Nor were there any shocks when they succumbed 1-0 to their Swedish hosts, who were given real attacking verve by newcomers Tomas Brolin and Martin Dahlin. What was more out of place was the 2-1 victory over Michel Platini's France in their last Group 1 outing which earned them a semi-final berth as runners-up to Sweden.

If the changes blowing through the continent had affected Group 1, they were also keenly felt in Group 2, where Germany fielded a unified team for the first and the now-dissolved USSR competed as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Holders the Netherlands came out on top, however, with exciting young striker Dennis Bergkamp making the difference against the CIS before scoring in their 3-1 win over second-placed Germany.

Bergkamp also found the target for the Netherlands in the semi-finals, yet with Henrik Larsen striking twice for Denmark it took Frank Rijkaard's late equaliser to take the match into extra time. And with no more goals forthcoming, exuberant shot-stopper Peter Schmeichel added to the buzz surrounding his displays by denying 1988 hero Marco van Basten in the shoot-out, diving low to his left to catapult the Danes into the final.

Møller Nielsen's men were far from finished there. Facing Berti Vogts's Germany in Gothenburg after Karlheinz Riedle's brace had eliminated Sweden 3-2, they stunned the watching world when John Jensen drove in after 18 minutes. Goals were a rarity for the midfielder but this was no ordinary tournament and Kim Vilfort completed the fairytale by adding a second. Try as the Germans might to hit back, an inspired Schmeichel kept out everything that was thrown at him – including the kitchen sink.