It was 25 years ago this week that one of the most improbable, impossible, heroic feats in international football occurred. Denmark winning Euro 92 was never supposed to happen – they didn’t qualify, there was friction with the coach, their best player wasn't there, and they had virtually no chance to prepare.
As the cliché goes you couldn’t write it, but they did and the script was then turned into the movie Sommeren '92 which was released in 2015 (and is worth a watch on Netflix).
To mark the week of one of football’s greatest fairy tales it’s time to take a look back at just why their achievement was one of the most amazing things to ever happen to football
They didn’t even qualify
Richard Moller Nielson was a long time respected backroom member of the national side, and he finally got his chance to shine when he was given the job as first team manager for the 1992 qualifying campaign.
That campaign turned ugly as friction with players resulted in the departures of stars Brian and Michael Laudrup, AKA Denmark's most famous and best players, as well as PSV Eindhoven left-back Jan Heintze.
Things started OK for Nielson in the groups winning 2-0 against the Faroe Islands, but a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland in Windsor Park and a 2-0 home loss to Yugoslavia left the media calling for the manager's head.
Despite winning the rest of their games which included a 2-1 win in the reverse fixture against Yugoslavia, the draw in Windsor Park turned out to be the difference and Denmark were not going to the Championships in Sweden.
The only thing was, in the time between the end of their qualifying campaign and the start of the tournament, the political situation in Yugoslavia was escalating. The brutal civil war that would lead to the break up of the country had got to the point where it the international community was forced to take action against them, and one of the consequences was their football team being disqualified from the Euros. Given the short time frame before the start of the tournament, the decision to promote Denmark, on just two weeks notice!
Unfortunately for Ireland in particular, there wasn't more time to arrange things, as surely a playoff for the 2nd place group teams would have been a fairer option. (Ireland had finished behind England on goal difference in what was probably our best ever qualifying campaign).
But Denmark were in. A supposed easy draw for the teams in their group in the 8 team tournament.
They had no time to prepare and their best player declined to play
By the time it was clear that Denmark would be competing, there was less than two weeks to go before they would be kicking off against England in their opening game.
The Laudrups were both given a call, but only Brian agreed to play under Nieslon with Michael making the regrettable (hindsight eh?) decision of staying put.
In an interview with BBC, Brian described just how pessimistic the squad were about going to Sweden to compete.
I got the call, report tomorrow in Copenhagen, we’ve got a week to prepare.
I was like ‘we haven’t got a chance.’
We all got to the pitch and Richard Moller Nielsen was there and he says ‘ok lads lets make it clear, we are going to Sweden to win the competition’ and we were all laughing.
But I think at that very moment he laid down the dreams and thoughts that we could actually go on and do the impossible
They outplayed England
People were expecting the worst for their opener against the English, but after 90 minutes they were raging they hadn't won the game (Surely something we can appreciate.).
The battle didn’t have many chances but future Arsenal midfielder John Jenson came agonisingly close to giving Denmark all 3 points when he hit the inside of the post - it was the closest either team came to breaking the deadlock.
After the game, goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel said that their worries of not being able to mix it with the big boys went away and the result ultimately helped the "hopeless team" team go forward.
They were patronised by opposition
After losing to hosts Sweden, they took on France in the final group game, and France had drawn both their games and just needed a draw to go to the next round.
Despite the game being vital for them, it was claimed the French got ahead of themselves and approached Danish right-back John Sivebaek in the tunnel to barter with the Danes.
Sivebaek was playing for Monaco at the time, and as Schmeichel recalled, they were more worried about Denmark injuring them for the next game than actually making sure they got through.
They stood in the tunnel and were a bit arrogant towards us, we had Sivabaek who played in France at the time and they went up to him and said ‘don’t be too tough on us today, don’t be too hard because we’ve got to play the semi-final,’
He sort of relayed that to us and we we’re like ‘no, no way are we going to let them away with that.’
Laudrup also spoke about the incident saying
It was more a case (for France) of ‘how easily are we going to beat Denmark, they’re not even fit, they’re not the best team in the world’ and at the time France was a very good side.
Denmark took a shock lead before France equalised and began to bombard the Danish goal with shots. Then Nielson made the kind of decision the media were constantly criticising him for. He took Brian Laudrup of Bayern Munich off and put Lars Elstrup of Luton Town on.
Of course, Elstrup scored with his first touch. Denmark went through to the next round, France went home embarrassed.
The final marked John Jenson’s cult status.
After a shock penalty shoot out win against a star-studded Dutch team, Denmark somehow found themselves up against Germany in the final, and like every other game they played, the football world was wondering how much they were going to lose by – but again that wasn’t the case.
Midfielder John Jenson was constantly taking shots, but could never find the net, and up to this point had never scored for Denmark. His wallop of a strike in the final was about as unlikely as Ireland winning it via a Darron Gibson piledriver.
Jenson later moved to Arsenal where fans eventually realised his cracking goal was a complete fluke, it took him 98 games before he eventually opened his Gunners account with a curler against QPR.
— Football Whispers (@FB_WHISPERS) June 26, 2017
In true GAA spirit, the Danes went for a local manufacturer in Hummel, and they were far nicer than any other team's garments. The top has since become a football hipster favourite and the famous Hummel shirts became even more rare when they moved to Adidas years later. Last season Denmark resigned with the local kit makers to bring back the classic shirt’s legacy to the delight of every fan worldwide.
They went on to win the Confederations Cup
After their amazing feat they proved it was no fluke by winning the Confederations Cup in 1995 (then called the King Fahd Cup). This time Brian Laudrup was involved and although not quite as sweet, they cruised the groups, beat Nigeria on penalties in the semi-final and again shocked the world by downing Argentina 2-0 in the closing game to take home the cup.
And so, Denmark’s Euro 92 win was essentially the equivalent of Ireland being allowed to be the 33rd team in 2010 and going on to win the tournament with a Glenn Whelan 30 yard top corner volley in the final, while donning O’Neill's jerseys. And throw a little bit of Saipan in there too for good measure. Exactly like that.