While the European Championships had provided the very best in competition for three decades, it had always been missing something.
There may have been great teams, incredible goals and some huge leaps forward in tactical innovation, but the tournament just wasn’t quite complete without Scotland.
That all changed in 1992 when we qualified for the first time.
The tournament was held in Sweden and so the hosts were automatically entered into the final rounds. The Swedes would also be making their debut at the European Championships.
There would also be first appearances for a couple of "new" countries who had been rebranded following the political upheaval at the end of the 1980s. Germany would compete as a single entity, with east and west joined together for the first time, while the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) was the name adopted after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The CIS was effectively the same set of “nations” as it was under the Soviet Union, minus Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Following the 1992 games a further 11 countries split with the motherland, leaving the nation we now know as Russia.
France had been the best side in qualification, maintaining a perfect record under the ferocious attack of Jean-Pierre Papin and Eric Cantona. Scotland had qualified ahead of Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria and San Marino, losing only once in an away match in Bucharest.
The Soviet Union, pre-CIS, had beaten Italy to qualification, while the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Germany were again involved after winning their groups. East and West Germany had originally been drawn together in the same qualification group, but the unification meant they could compete as a single entity. England narrowly pipped Republic of Ireland to win Group 7.
However, qualification was thrown into turmoil just ten days before the start of the tournament. Croatia had declared independence in 1991, while there were increasing tensions between Bosnia and Serbia following the Bosnian’s vote on independence. The outbreak of civil war in Yugoslavia resulted in the UN Security Council implementing a series of measures aimed at forcing the hand of the warring parties in the Balkans. Under Resolution 757, the council demanded a series of embargoes and sporting sanctions on Yugoslavia and as a result, FIFA suspended the Yugoslav team from all competitions.
Their place was taken at short notice by a Denmark team that had finished narrow runners-up to the Yugoslavs. Denmark had enjoyed modest successes in the mid-1980s, but were – quite literally – here to make up the numbers.
The opening game pitted the hosts against France, with Sweden gaining a surprise point thanks to Jan Eriksson. Denmark were cautious and unadventurous in their opening match with England, but still took a valuable point. France and England played out a tepid 0-0 draw, while Sweden defeated Denmark 1-0, the goal scored by Tomas Brolin.
The final matches were simple enough, with the winners of each knowing that they would progress. England started well against Sweden, scoring through David Platt, but Eriksson equalised after half-time. Graham Taylor endured the ire of the English press when he substituted Gary Lineker, one goal short of England’s all-time goal-scorers' record, when he needed to find a late winner. Tomas Brolin then found the net for Sweden, with a classic piece of “Brolin, Dahlin, Brolin!” commentary.
Henrik Larsen put the Danes ahead against France, but Papin hauled France level on the hour. As things stood it would be France who joined Sweden in the semi-finals by virtue of goals scored. Lars Elstrup had other ideas, scoring with ten minutes to go to send Denmark through.
Scotland opened their Euro account with a brave, defensive defeat to the reigning champions, the Netherlands, Dennis Bergkamp scoring the only goal of the game. Germany started nervously, needing a last-minute Thomas Hassler free-kick to salvage a point against the CIS.
Scotland started positively against Germany in their second match, but went behind to Karl-Heinz Riedle’s goal on the half-hour. Andy Goram was then beaten for a second time when Stefan Effenberg’s deflected cross caught him out at the far post. The Dutch drew 0-0 with the CIS.
Scotland may have been eliminated, but it was all to play for between Germany, Netherlands and the CIS. The Dutch needed to win to progress to the semi-final, while if the CIS beat Scotland they too would reach the semis. Knowing they needed maximum points, the Netherlands won a bad-tempered match 3-1 thanks to Frank Rijkaard, Rob Witschge and Dennis Bergkamp. Germany would have been eliminated had it not been for Scotland’s remarkable 3-0 win against the CIS. Paul McStay and Brian McClair had Scotland two to the good after quarter of an hour, with Gary McAllister scoring a late penalty.
The first semi-final pitted a technically superior Germany against a tenacious Sweden side. Thomas Hassler scored a trademark free-kick to give Germany the lead, Karl-Heinz Riedle doubled it, only for Tomas Brolin to pull a goal back. Riedle restored the two-goal lead, but Kennet Andersson made Germany work to the final whistle.
The other semi-final was expected to be dominated by one team, with the other chasing the game. That was exactly how it turned out, but with the roles reversed from what had been presumed. Henrik Larsen gave Denmark the lead after five minutes, and even when Bergkamp equalised, Larsen scored a second to restore the Danish lead. It took a Rijkaard goal late in the game to take it into extra time, and then penalties.
Of all the people to miss, it was Marco van Basten who was the unfortunate man to see his penalty saved by Peter Schmeichel. The great striker would only play another three matches for the Dutch before his career was prematurely cut short through injury.
Germany were overwhelming favourites for the final, having won the World Cup two years previously. Surely all they need do was turn up?
Juergen Klinsmann later suggested that the Germans expected to win without too much effort and lost their concentration. That was part of the story, as Denmark played with pace and verve and gave Germany little opportunity to get into the game. Denmark scored through John Jensen after 18 minutes and doubled that lead with ten minutes to go through Kim Vilfort. Denmark were European Champions.
In this section
- Denmark left to rue penalty decision as they exit with dignity
- Nicklas Bendtner banned and fined for underwear stunt during Portugal clash
- Denmark 1-2 Germany: Stuffy Danes eventually defeated by Lars Bender strike
- Danes need a repeat of 1992 if they are to reach quarter-finals
- STV Sports Daily at the Euros: Germany joy, Dutch despair and Portu-goals
- Denmark 2-3 Portugal: Varela keeps Portuguese hopes alive with late winner
- STV Sports Daily at the Euros: Organised England, Sheva the hero
- Denmark’s victory over the Netherlands was a triumph for team-work
- Netherlands v Denmark: Dutch need to summon the spirit of ’88
- Netherlands 0-1 Denmark: Michael Krohn-Dehli upsets the odds for Danes