After initially struggling to live up to their star billing at EURO '96 Croatia took centre stage at Hillsborough, Davor Šuker taking the lead role as they booked a quarter-final spot, all but ending Denmark's defence in the process.
The holders simply had no answer to Šuker, who turned the second half into a one-man show. He scored from the penalty spot after Peter Schmeichel brought down Mario Stanić, then he dummied over the ball for Igor Stimać to hit the bar. He beat Claus Thomsen on the left to set up Zvonimir Boban's 81st-minute goal with a low cross to the far post and, after almost catching Schmeichel out from halfway, chipped in a third at the death with the goalkeeper caught upfield.
It was all a glittering contrast to the stodgy 1-0 victory against Turkey that Miroslav Blažević's men had kicked off Group D but for a while the game promised more of the same. The physical exchanges and rugged challenges were befitting of the surroundings in a city famous for steel production, but hardly did justice to Croatia's gilded generation. That came, though, with Aljoša Asanović spraying passes from midfield with laser precision and Goran Vlaović, given a start after his match-winning cameo against Turkey, linked up well with Šuker.
Šuker, having sent one drive on to the roof of the net, then selflessly fed his partner, who turned Thomas Helveg only to see his low shot held by Schmeichel. Asanović almost released Vlaović and it is testament to Croatia's ascendancy that when Stanić earned the spot kick nine minutes after half-time, it was a through ball from defender Slaven Bilić that did the damage. Šuker stepped up and, after breaking his run for a shuffle, calmly slotted to the keeper's right.
It was all Croatia, and with 12 minutes remaining Igor Štimac almost doubled the lead, his clever shot striking the underside of the crossbar following a Robert Prosinečki corner. The only danger for Blažević's side was over confidence, and within a minute Brian Laudrup scrambled the ball against their upright.
As if reminded of the slenderness of their lead, they swept upfield and made the game safe. This time Šuker was the provider, breaking on the left before crossing for Boban to seal a deserved victory. Denmark's humiliation was complete when Šuker collected a sumptuous crossfield pass from Asanović 25 metres out and advanced before chipping Schmeichel, who was struggling to recover his ground after an ill-advised foray forward.