How Denmark Euro 92 squad lived the dream

Here’s how the Denmark Euro 92 squad made history, in a surprise twist that saw them go all the way and beat world champions Germany to lift the trophy. We will also consider which of the less-fancied teams could spring a Denmark shock win 1992 style.

Lars Olsen
Photo by Icon sport

How did Denmark win Euro 92?

Just days before the start of Euro ’92, Denmark, who had failed to qualify for the tournament, were told to get a squad together following the disqualification of Yugoslavia due to war in the Balkans. Back then, only eight teams took part – meaning that Denmark’s second-place finish behind Yugoslavia in qualifying was originally worthless. But with the Red and Whites being less match-fit than their fellow finalists, the odds were still stacked against them.

The turn of the 199i0s had been unkind to Denmark too, as they had fallen short of World Cup qualification by a single point. As if that wasn’t enough on top of their lack of preparation, the host nation was Sweden, meaning that Denmark would experience unusual levels of hostility on the turf of a long-standing Scandinavian rival.

Midfielder Kim Vilfort’s recollection of the event is notably vivid, as he stated: “There were those who didn't believe we would be included, but we were aware of small talk that this could be the situation,

“Then we got the news. There was no discussion. Denmark had to participate in the tournament. It wasn't possible to say ‘no'…”

Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel was integral to Denmark's Euro 92 shock win – Photo by Icon sport

Lack of pressure benefits Denmark Euro 92 squad

Despite the comparative lack of preparation time, there was still an abundance of talent in the side. Only Brian Laudrup offered any kind of attacking flair, but they had Manchester United’s new signing Peter Schmeichel in goal – not to mention the likes of John Jensen, who would sign for Arsenal on the back of his performances in this tournament.

Even so, expectation levels were low and according to Vilfort: “We couldn't fail because there were no expectations. If we lost 5-0 three times then that would not have mattered.”

It was that mentality which served Denmark well into a difficult group which contained 1990 World Cup semi finalists England, Euro 1984 victors France and hosts Sweden. And as the tournament got underway, there were to be few signs that the latecomers would even cause a ripple, let alone a stir.

After drawing with England in the first game, Denmark then lost against Sweden before beating France in the final group game 2-1. Jean-Marie Papin cancelled out an early opener from Henrik Larsen, but with 12 minutes to go, Lars Elstrup netted to save the Danes’ bacon and change the course of history.

Euro 1992 Gorup 1 table

Into the knockouts

That result also saw France join England in the ‘early plane home’ club. But Denmark had no time to bask, with holders Netherlands awaiting them in the semi-finals. The Oranje were expected to win comfortably, setting up a media-dream of a rematch with the Germany side they had beaten in the semis four years earlier.

Once again, Denmark gave everyone the proverbial middle finger, fighting to a 2-2 draw that saw Larsen bag a brace en-route to the tournament’s Golden Boot. A scoreless extra-time followed, so the tie would have to be settled on penalties. In the shoot-out that followed, the fickle nature of footballing fortune was laid bare, as Euro ’88 hero Marco van Basten had the dubious ‘honour’ of being the only player not to convert.

It was Danish defender Kim Christofte who eventually sealed Denmark's progression, to a final showdown with a German side considered near-invincible by media and fans alike. West Germany, as they had been when claiming the world champions crown at Italy 1990, were a fearsome side. And a number of the side that beat Argentina in Rome two years earlier were still instrumental in the now-unified German side.

Denmark vs Netherlands
Denmark celebrate victory over the Dutch in 1992 – Photo by Icon sport

26th June 1992 – David beats Goliath

All the talk was simply about how many Germany would score. But the match itself proved to be far from the showpiece that so many had been looking forward to. Germany’s preference for using a sweeper-system meant they were happy to play defensively, while Denmark did little to threaten.

With both teams having extra numbers in defence, Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann was the only player looking to worry the Danish defenders and make something happen, whilst the German five-man back-line easily outnumbered and neutralised the Danish attack.

Jubilant Jensen drops the mic

Germany continued to dominate the opening stages of the final, and Schmeichel was kept busy in the Danish goal, saving from Karl-Heinz Riedle, Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald; but the next opportunity of the game fell to Denmark and proved to be key.

A poorly-directed header caused some calamitous defending by the Germans as two players went for the same ball, which led to Poulsen sending a pass to John Jensen, who confidently struck the ball past Bodo Illgner from the edge of the box. Illgner himself could only duck out of the way as it flew past his head, giving the future Arsenal man only his second goal in 49 internationals.

Denmark Euro 92 squad
Photo by Icon sport

Vilfort delivers coup de grace

Now needing to get out of their comfort zone, Germany immediately looked to get back into the game, but their penetration through the Danish midfield only went as far as their rigid backline, whose narrowness caused an impenetrable barrier. For all the Germans’ efforts, the Danish were just happy to sit and keep things tight in the middle of the park.

Denmark were more than content to protect what they had while biding their time to hit their opponents on the counter-attack, and with 11 minutes remaining, Vilfort found himself on the edge of the area. A man possessed, he eluded two defenders and drilled home Denmark's second goal via the foot of the post, sinking Germany once and for all.

Vilfort’s strike completed a fairy story, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen until a dozen years later, when Greece became kings of Europe in 2004. As for Denmark, that victory over Germany in the Gothenburg final marked the Danes’ meteoric rise from plucky underdogs to continental champions, and nobody could deny they had deserved it.

As Kim Vilfort put it: “We didn't have the best players, but we had the best team.”

Today, Rasmus Hojlund aims to bring back the glory days after an excellent qualification campaign with Denmark – Photo by Icon sport

Could there be another Denmark shock win 1992 style in 2024?

Even after the shock triumphs of Denmark and Greece, every edition of the Euros over the past two decades seems to have thrown up some sort of surprise. And so, here are three teams with real potential who have odds similar to those slated next to the Danes back in 1992.

Croatia

Although they had a disappointing run in the last Euros, only just scraping through the group before their Round of 16 elimination, Croatia gained partial redemption by claiming a second successive World Cup podium place, following up on their Russian silver with Qatari bronze.

Luka Modric still defies age and logic as the ever-reliable midfield captain, and is expected to form part of a skewer that is topped and tailed by Man City’s defensive colossus Josip Gvardiol and seasoned hitman Andrej Kramaric. If they can progress from a group containing Spain and Italy, they could easily be the ‘Denmark 92’ of this edition.

Turkey

Third place at Euro 2008 represents Turkey’s best-ever performance, and while the last two each saw them fall at the group stage, there are several players who have shown enough at club level to suggest they can remedy this. Since the last Euros, captain Hakan Çalhanoğlu has won Serie A with Inter Milan, alongside a run to the UCL final only last year.

There’s also emerging talent such as Arda Güler and Kenan Yıldız giving the final third a potentially vital injection of youth. Manager Vincenzo Montella also has a personal agenda – he was part of the Italy squad that fell to France via David Trezeguet’s ET golden goal in the Euro 2000 final.

Denmark!

This part wasn’t meant to be too much of a Danish love-in, but they are the last remaining team with odds currently in a ‘Denmark 92’ style range (around 40/1-66/1). For one thing, the Danes themselves came close to reaching the Euro 2020 final, going out after taking the lead against England and forcing extra time upon the eventual runners up.

They also did so after suffering the horror of Christian Eriksen’s on-field collapse in an opening loss to rank underdogs Finland on home turf. Key striker Ramus Hojlund has also drawn comparisons to Laudrup after a freescoring qualification campaign, and they will be favourites in the group matches sandwiching their battle against England.


Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.