Denmark will play a win-or-die game against Wales and hope to find inspiration in Richard Moller Nielsen, the creator of their 1992 title.
If Denmark has a European Championship, the one they won in Sweden 1992, it is thanks to Richard Moller Nielsen, a coach who was not the first choice when he took office and who managed to go from villain to hero in just a few months in which he won the title despite not being able to qualify on the pitch.
The case of that champion Denmark on June 26, 1992 after defeating Germany in the final, is unique in the history of the European Championship. Everything was against for a team that went from being a cricket cage to becoming the best in Europe in just a few months.
Moller Nielsen came to the Danish bench as second plate. After a decade of great football, but few results with the German Sepp Piontek in office, the one chosen to replace him in 1989 was his compatriot Horst Wohlers. Moller Nielsen was Piontek’s second, but did not enter the pools to lead Denmark.
Wohlers was even officially unveiled, but eventually the Danish federation failed to reach an agreement with his club, Bayer 05 Uerdingen, and their plans fell apart. Then, they offered the position to Moller Nielsen, who accepted despite not being the first option.
The first objective of Moller Nielsen and Denmark was to qualify for the European Championship in Sweden 1992. Framing in group 4 with the Faroe Islands, Austria, Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia, it had the Balkan team as its main rival. And, to give a twist to the few results of his selection, Moller Nielsen opted to change the style and make it rockier with greater involvement of his figures, especially the brothers Michael and Brian Laudrup.
That caused both of them to resign from the national team and Brian even went so far as to say that he did not respect his coach. Those absences, along with those of Morten Olsen and Han Heintze, undermined Danish power, which ended up out of the European Championship after finishing second in their group behind Yugoslavia after losing just one match in the entire qualifying round.
However, luck would ally itself with Denmark. The Yugoslavian war gave Moller Nielsen’s team a chance. On May 30, 1992, UEFA gave in to pressure from the UN and Yugoslavia was excluded from the tournament when it was already training in Sweden. Automatically Denmark was invited to play in the Euro Cup replacing Yugoslavia and Moller Nielsen had to put together a team on the horn.
Half of the eligible players were on vacation. The other half, still played the last days of the Danish League, that it was not even stopped to favor an “express” preparation of Denmark. Furthermore, Moller Nielsen tried to convince the Laudrup brothers. He did it with one. Brian answered the call and Michael stayed home. Perhaps, it was one of the biggest mistakes of his career.
In a group together with England, Sweden and France, the entire Danish expedition hoped to return home soon to continue the holidays. Especially midfielder Kim Vilfort, whose daughter was ill with leukemia. In fact, he came back halfway through the championship to be with her. Then he would come back for the final.
The first match, against Lineker’s England, ended 0-0 and gave hope to a team that collapsed after losing 1-0 to Sweden. It was a blow, but he could still qualify for the semi-finals. In the last game, France just had to draw to qualify. Denmark had to win and hope Sweden would do them a favor against England.
The French side, with Papin, Ginola and Cantona in front, fell by surprise 2-1 with goals from Henrik Larsen and Lars Elstrup, who at the end of the game replaced Brian Laudrup in a controversial decision by Moller Nielsen that worked. On the first ball he touched, he scored. Sweden, in turn, did their job and beat England 2-1, and Denmark made it to the semi-finals.
In them, the figure of Schmeichel appeared. Before the current champion, with names like Van Basten, Bergkamp, Gullit or Rijkaard, all gave Denmark for dead. However, they struggled and won despite drawing 2-2 with a goal from Rijkaard almost in the 90th minute. After a spectacular extension by Schmeichel, Van Basten’s shot was stopped in the penalty shoot-out and qualified the Scandinavian team for the final.
No one doubted that the favorite to win the European Championship was Germany. But there was still time for one more surprise. The final, played in Gothenburg, was won by Denmark with a goal from Jensen and another, the most emotional, from Vilfort, who celebrated his success by thinking of his sick daughter who would die ten days later.
Meanwhile, Schmeichel, again, was in charge of stopping the attempts of a desperate rival who was the last to fall into the clutches of surprising Denmark. The final victory (2-0) forever silenced the critics of Moller Nielsen: “We did not have the best superstars, but together we were a great team,” he said.
He continued in office and failed to qualify Denmark for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. He led his team at the 1996 Euro Cup and later took over the teams for Finland and Israel.
He retired in Kolding in 2003. He passed away in 2014, but he did not do so into oblivion. A whole country mourned the death of the creator of the only important title in the history of Denmark. Moller Nielsen believed in his ugly but effective system to the extreme, and he succeeded.