In 1992 it seemed that Germany would be the new great power of international football. World champions in 1990 as West Germany, the reunification of East and West Germany had only made the German side stronger and with a wider base of players. Thus, for the European Championship in Sweden, Germany entered the tournament as favourites, perhaps only to be threatened by their eternal rivals, the Netherlands. In fact, the two sides faced one another in the first round of the tournament, where the Dutch went away with a 3-1 victory, but everyone expected the tournament to be a contest between the two great sides.
Germany had no problems qualifying ahead of Wales, Belgium and Luxembourg. They opened the tournament with 1-1 against the ex-USSR team of the Community of Independent States, and then defeated Scotland 2-0. The 1-3 defeat to the Netherlands mattered little as they went to the semifinals to meet the hosts of Sweden. Germany dominated the match and won 2-3 on two goals by the Lazio striker Karl-Heinz Riedle. In fact, many of the German players plied their trade in Italy after their 1990 victory. The midfielder Thomas Doll also played for Lazio, while the defenders Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter player for Juventus. Thomas Hassler and Rudi Voller both played for Roma, while the captain Andreas Brehme and the great striker Jurgen Klinsmann played in Inter Milan. Of course, the team also contained great players from the German league: goalkeeper Bodo Ilgner from FC Cologne, the veteran Guido Buchwald from Stuttgart, as well as Mattias Sammer from Stuttgart and the young Stefan Effenberg from Bayern Munich.
When the Germans learned that Denmark had upset the Netherlands to make it to the final, they were expecting that their third European title would only be a matter of a match. Arrogantly, Germans had started the preparations for welcoming the champions home before the match. The Danes had shown that they should not be underestimated.
It did seem it would be going Germany's way at the start of the match, where Denmark barely got to the German side of the pitch. Instead, Guido Buchwald and Stefan Reuter had good chances that were saved by Schmeichel, who as the match went on, only became a more and more impenetrable wall.
In the 18th minute Denmark finally approached the German area. Kim Vilfort won a tussle with Andreas Brehme, and passed the ball to Flemming Povlsen, who passed it on to a rushing John Jensen at the edge of the penalty area. John Jensen did not hesitate and his perfect first-time shot went straight to the back of the net. John Jensen was known for making one feeble shot after another, but there he got it right. As Schmeichel said in an interview years later: “Talking about luck! John Jensen scoring!”.
Denmark had taken its first step to the sensation, but the world champions were determined not to be denied, and continued to press on. Schmeichel had more good saves from Jurgen Klinsmann and Stefan Effenberg before halftime. In second half the Germans continued their pressure, but the Danish defense grew more and more confident ahead of an unbeatable Peter Schmeichel, who even had the arrogance to take the ball down with one hand during a cross.
In the 78th minute the Danes struck back amid the German pressure. Kim Vilfort received a random ball at the edge of the German area, and after one move took a shot. It was not particularly hard, but it took the far edge of the post, outside Bodo Ilgner's range, and Denmark were 2-0 up.
Nothing went wrong from then on. It had not been pretty from an overly defensive and counter-attacking side, but the sensation that a small country could beat the giants to become European champions ran across Europe, and is by many indeed remember as a fairy tale ending of Euro 1992.
Gothenburg, 26th June 1992
Nye Ullevi Stadium
Referee: Bruno Galler (Switzerland)
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel; Lars Olsen (c), Torben Piechnik, Kent Nielsen, John Sivebæk (Claus Christiansen, 66), Kim Christofte, John Jensen, Kim Vilfort, Henrik Larsen, Brian Laudrup, Flemming Povlsen. Coach: Richard Moller Nielsen
Germany: Bodo Illgner; Guido Buchwald, Jürgen Kohler, Thomas Helmer, Stefan Reuter, Andreas Brehme (c), Matthias Sammer (Thomas Doll, 46), Stefan Effenberg (Andreas Thorn, 80), Thomas Hässler, Karlheinz Riedle, Jürgen Klinsmann. Coach: Berti Vogts
1-0 John Jensen (18)
2-0 Kim Vilfort (78)