In 1992 Denmark had become European champions after replacing a Yugoslavia torn apart by civil war. By 1996, some of the countries that Yugoslavia had been composed of had become independent countries. One of these countries was Croatia, who during the time of Yugoslavia had also been home to some of the country's best clubs and footballers. The qualification for Euro 1996 had been their first tournament after independence and they were awesome, winning their group ahead of Italy, Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovenia and Estonia. For a newly independent country to participate in the tournament meant much more than just football, but for many also meant the country entering the international stage.
And indeed, they entered the tournament with a team of star-players that should not be underestimated by anyone: a strong and robust defense with players such as Betis Seville's Robert Jarni, Igor Stimac from Derby County and Slaven Bilic from West Ham United. Zvonomir Boban, one of the best players in the world and a star at AC Milan was the midfield general of the Croat side, supplemented by Aljosa Asanovic from Hajduk Split, Mario Stanic from Club Brugge and the outstanding Robert Procineski from FC Barcelona. The striking duo was outstanding in the form of Davor Suker from Sevilla and Alen Boksic from Lazio.
Denmark had been under pressure since winning the Euro 1992. As champions that all of Europe wanted to defeat, they had struggled as favourites, not qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. Still, their side was strong, and with the return of the legendary Michael Laudrup from Real Madrid (who had not played in 1992), only seemed to have gotten even stronger. The Danes had other outstanding players, such as Manchester United's Peter Schmeichel in goal, Thomas Helveg from Udinese, together with Marc Rieper from West Ham and Brondby's veteran Lars Olsen in defense. Michael Laudrup's brother Brian, from Glasgow Rangers, continued to be a threat up front.
Denmark had opened the tournament with a hard-fought 1-1 tie against Portugal, while Croatia had defeated Turkey 1-0 on a late strike by Padova's Goran Vlaovic, so Denmark were forced to go for a result, while the Croats were undoubtedly eager to take such an important scalp as it would be to defeat the defending European champions.
First half ended 0-0 in a tactical match where neither team had come to open chances, although Asanovic and Boban had slowly gained control of the midfield, where in particular the Hajduk Split player was distributing great passes to the two strikers, Suker and Vlaovic, who had started in together for the first time in the tournament. But the second half was to have one super-star: Davor Suker.
The Danes were playing without taking risks, preferring rather to keep the result and score on a counter-attack, than to go for a result. Of course, this style had given them the title in 1992, but it was harder to follow-up on when you were the favourite. After eight minutes in the second half the defender Slaven Bilic made a perfect through pass to Club Brugge's Mario Stanic on the wrong side of the Danish off-side trap. Stanic rounded Peter Schmeichel who barely got a hand on the ball while taking down Stanic.
Penalty for Croatia.
Davor Suker had already had some good shots on the world's great goalkeeper, but he gave Schmeichel no chance in the penalty, with a low hard and well-placed shot.
1-0 for Croatia.
The Danes now ventured forward a bit more, with coach Moller-Nielsen making some more offensive changes. But the Croatians were also skillful at the counter-attacking game, and as they grew more and more confident, also got the chances. Only two minutes after Igor Stimac had hit the crossbar, Davor Suker skillfully broke through on the left side and crossed the ball to the far post where a storming Zvonimir Boban got to the ball ahead of Schmeichel and made it 2-0 for Croatia.
It was a resigned Danish side who decided to throw it all forward. In the last minute of the match Peter Schmeichel had ventured forward when the Croatians broke the Danish attack. Schmeichel managed to rush back, but stood halfway between Suker and the goal-line when the striker elegantly lobbed the ball over the tall Dane to complete the humiliation of the European champions.
Although the Danes won their last match 3-0 against Turkey, they were out of the tournament. On the other hand the Croatians had with this match announced that a new footballing power had emerged. They were out in the quarterfinals of the tournament after losing 2-1 to the later champions of Germany, but two years later they cemented their position by making it to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup.
Sheffield, 16th June 1996
Referee: Marc Batta (France)
Croatia: Dražen Ladić; Slaven Bilić, Nikola Jerkan, Igor Štimac, Mario Stanić, Aljoša Asanović, Zvonimir Boban (c) (Zvonimir Soldo, 82), Robert Prosinečki (Mladen Mladenović, 88), Robert Jarni, Davor Šuker, Goran Vlaović ( Nikola Jurčević, 82). Coach: Miroslav Blažević
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel; Thomas Helveg ( Jacob Laursen, 46), Marc Rieper, Jes Høgh, Michael Schjønberg, Brian Steen Nielsen, Claus Thomsen, Henrik Larsen (Stig Tøfting, 69), Michael Laudrup (c) , Kim Vilfort (Mikkel Beck, 59), Brian Laudrup. Coach: Richard Møller Nielsen
1-0 Davor Suker (53) (pen)
2-0 Boban (81)
3-0 Davor Suker (90)