On this day in 1992, Denmark were crowned European champions. Brian Laudrup sat down to reminisce about a remarkable achievement.
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Late additions to the EURO 1992 line-up having failed to qualify, Denmark replaced Yugoslavia in the tournament. Making the short trip to the eight-team finals in Sweden, Brian Laudrup looks back on how the Danes defied the odds to become the unlikely champions of Europe.
Denmark's route to the final
With no more than a week to prepare for the finals, it was perhaps unsurprising that Denmark's campaign got off to a slow start. A goalless draw with England in their opener and a 1-0 defeat by Sweden meant they went into their last group game against France with "one final shot".
We knew that we had to do something special. [France] had some huge stars in their team back then: [Éric] Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin, just to name a couple. We thought, if we could surprise [them] within the first five or ten minutes, then it would be fantastic.
Henrik Larsen scored. Unbelievable! That definitely shocked the French team. It changed our belief in ourselves, it changed the rhythm of that game, and it put us on the way to a semi-final. [Richard Møller Nielsen] took me off. My legs were gone, I was coming back from a serious knee injury. On came Lars Elstrup, and I think his first touch was the winning goal. I mean, that's magic.
With that 2-1 victory against France, the Danes finished group runners-up and set up a semi-final against holders the Netherlands.
Reigning European champions, they were a phenomenal side. Again, we got that underdog feeling [but] we went for it. We pressured them a lot higher than against the French. I think they thought that we would just sit back and hit on the counter, but on the contrary, we tried to control the game as much as we could.
After five minutes, I took the ball on the right-hand side and tried to get to the byline, put in a cross, and Henrik Larsen scored the opening goal. We knew that it was going to be very tough for 85 minutes to just defend, so we tried to play, but you know that the Dutch will always create chances.
Dennis Bergkamp equalised in the 23rd minute, but Denmark were undaunted.
Before half-time Henrik Larsen scored again, and that gave us a lot of energy. We went into the second half really believing we could do it. They scored four minutes before the end; at that point, I thought, "Now, that's it" because we were knackered. We knew that if we could manage to get to penalties, our own players had to score, obviously, but Peter Schmeichel would make the difference, and he certainly did.
Having held on for a 2-2 draw after extra time, Denmark came out on top in a penalty shoot-out, Schmeichel saving from Marco van Basten, to reach their first EURO final against Germany in Gothenburg.
The final: Denmark 2-0 Germany
I felt if we could beat the French and the Dutch, then we could beat the Germans as well. [But] we were very uncertain about how we could field 11 fit players. We had a lot of injured players, I was completely knackered as well after all these games because I hadn't been playing as much as I would have liked in the months prior to the EURO.
We shook hands before the game and said, "If we lose this game, and everybody expects us to lose against the Germans, then we can look in the mirror and say we made ourselves proud and our country proud."
[We had] no energy but, obviously, a lot of adrenaline going into the final. [Before the game] John Jensen had a few shots at goal and he didn't hit anything at all. I thought, "OK, if he gets the chance, then forget about it". Then he scored the goal of his dreams. You could just sense an energy boost. It just made us feel that, even though we're not playing the best game of our lives, if we can defend properly, we can do it. [Then, in the 78th minute against the run of play] Kim Vilfort scored a sweet, sweet goal, which came out of nothing really.
You could just sense that the Germans gave up. It was too much for them. They didn't have any luck. We had all the luck in the world. They played a lot better than we did but Peter Schmeichel was out of this world. There was the one-handed save. I just remember Peter going up and we were just like, "Oh my god! What is he doing?"
[In another] defining moment, [Jürgen] Klinsmann shoots, and it goes straight towards the post. Peter Schmeichel somehow manages to just get his fingers on it, and it just went past [the post]. Those two saves were absolutely amazing; out of this world.
The impossible was possible
It was a major team performance; no doubt about it. The group had been together for many years, with a number of players representing Brøndby. They were the foundation of the team. Some of us were already playing abroad, gathering valuable experience, but each player knew their role to the minor detail. That played a huge role in our victory. Richard Møller Nielsen did a phenomenal job. He managed to trick each of us mentally and ignite a spark in us. He made us believe that we could actually win. He made us believe that the impossible was possible.
A unique achievement
When we came back [to Denmark] with the trophy, it was crazy. I still get goose bumps because you couldn't prepare yourself for that. It was a unique achievement, and the way we did it, without actually qualifying for the tournament, was even more unique. Not having qualified, not being 100% fit and then going into a European Championship with so many great teams – you had to be ready from the start.
There was no space for errors; you had to perform right from the off. We had an easy-going mentality with smiles on our faces, and yet we still managed to capture the trophy and achieve one of the greatest results in Danish sports history. It was almost too good to be true. It will stay with us for the rest of our lives.