Sunday, 19 June 2016

1992 - European Championships

This tournament was one of the most remarkable in living memory.  No one remembers the football, which was pitiful at best, but they all remember Denmark.  They hadn’t originally qualified for the finals, but thanks to a bit of bother in the Balkans, they were called up and they won the whole thing.

This was the ninth European Championships, and Sweden were the hosts.  After the qualification campaign, there were some big political changes which had a major effect on the participants. 

A civil war had broken out in Yugoslavia, which would eventually lead to the forming of several new countries.  The United Nations had imposed economic and cultural sanctions on the country and so UEFA was duty bound to ban them from taking part in the finals.  From a football point of view this was a disappointment as they had put together one of the best sides in their history.  But it opened to door for Denmark, who had finished just 1pt behind the Yugoslavs in their qualifying group.  What was amazing about this is that UEFA’s decision only came with just 10 days to go before the start of the tournament.  The draw for the groups had already been made and now England, France and Sweden had to prepare for different opponents.  The other major change involved the break-up of the Soviet Union.  Instead of representing USSR as they had in all the previous tournaments, eleven of the fifteen ex-republics formed a team under the banner of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).  This team selected players from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Tajikistan.

The eight qualifiers were split into two groups with the top two in each group going through to the Semi-Final stage.

GROUP A:  Sweden, England, Denmark, France
GROUP B: Netherlands, Scotland, CIS, Germany

Just four stadiums were used



10 June 1992, Rasunda Stadium, Solna, 29,860
SWEDEN   (1)   1   (Eriksson 24)
FRANCE   (0)   1   (Papin 58)

Sweden: Ravelli; Nilsson, Eriksson, P Andersson, Bjorklund; Ingesson, Thern, Schwarz, Limpar; Brolin, K Andersson (Dahlin)
France: Martini; Amoros, Blanc, Boli, Casoni; Angloma (Fernandez), Deschamps, Sauzee, Vahirua (Perez); Papin, Cantona

The tournament kicked off in Stockholm with the hosts up against 1984 winners, France.  The French, coached by Michel Platini who captained their 1984 triumph, were in a state of transition, and the Swedes believed they had nothing to lose.  France had the better of the opening exchanges without registering many shots on target. Then after twenty four minutes the Swedes had a corner on their left and defender Jan Eriksson rose to head, virtually unchallenged, to put the hosts in front.  Just before the break the French had a great shout for a penalty turned down when Eriksson wrestled Papin to the ground but the referee obviously decided that sort of contact was fair.  A tournament’s popularity often hinges on the hosts success, and Sweden held their lead until just before the hour.  Substitute Christian Perez played a lovely diagonal ball from just inside his own half over the Swedish defence for Papin the run onto.  The prolific Papin headed it forward and then fired an unstoppable shot past Ravelli to level things up.  Instead of pushing on from there, the French failed to really trouble the Swedes and both sides seemed happy to take a point.

11 June 1992, Malmo Stadium, Malmo, 26,385
DENMARK   (0)   0
ENGLAND   (0)   0

Denmark: Schmeichel; Sivebaek, Nielsen, L Olsen, Andersen; Christofte, Jensen, Vilfort; B Laurdup, Poulsen, Christensen
England: Woods; Curle (Daley), Keown, Walker, Pearce; Steven, Platt, Palmer, Merson (Webb); Lineker, Smith

The 1990 had been notable for the negativity of the football it contained.  This tournament would continue in this vein, starting with this match in Malmo.  England’s preparation was hampered by late injuries to John Barnes and Gary Stevens.  This left Graham Taylor’s plans in tatters as he didn’t have a recognised right-back for the match.  To everyone’s surprise he gave the job to Keith Curle.  Curle, a central defender at Man City, had only made his debut as a sub against CIS in April and here he was starting a game in a major international tournament, out of position.

Denmark failed to work on a potential weakness, in fact we never discovered if either side had any weaknesses as there were so few attacks.  The game ended goalless and the group was all-square after the opening round of matches.

14th June 1992, Malmo Stadion, Malmo, 26,535
FRANCE   (0)   0
ENGLAND   (0)   0

France: Martini; Amoros, Blanc, Boli, Casoni; Durand, Deschamps, Sauzee (Angloma), Fernandez (Perez); Papin, Cantona
England: Woods; Palmer, Keown, Walker, Pearce; Steven, Batty, Platt, Sinton; Lineker, Shearer

England were again in Malmo for their second game, against the group favourites France.  Neither side wanted to make a mistake and the game will probably be remembered for two incidents, both involving Stuart Pearce.  The first occurred in England’s penalty area as they cleared the ball, French defender Basil Boli elbowed Pearce in the face.  The referee failed to spot it, although the blood dripping from Pearce could hardly hide it.  Moments later, Pearce struck one of his famous thunderous free-kicks from about thirty yards out and it rattled the crossbar.  That was it, and now both teams would need to win their final matches to progress.

14 June 1992, Rasunda Stadium, Solna, 29,902
SWEDEN   (0)   1   (Brolin 58)
DENMARK   (0)   0

Sweden: Ravelli; Nilsson, Eriksson, Andersson, Bjorklund; Ingesson, Thern, Schwarz, Limpar (Erlingmark); Brolin, Dahlin (Ekstrom)
Denmark: Schmeichel; Sivebaek, Nielsen, L Olsen, Andersen; Christofte, Jensen (H Larsen), Vilfort; B Laudrup, Poulsen, Christensen (Frank)

In contrast to the dross served up so far, this game was really entertaining.  You wouldn’t have thought so by the scoreline, but both teams really went at each other.  Sweden had the better attacking options, in Brolin, Andersson and Dahlin and their attacks started to have a real energy about them.  The Danes gave as good as they got too, but on fifty eight minutes Brolin finished off another bright move for Sweden and they turned out to be the only goal of the game.  The Swedes were now hopeful of winning the group, whereas the Danes had been happy to make up the numbers but could they really beat France to go through?

17 June 1992, Rasunda Stadium, Solna, 30,126
SWEDEN   (0)   2   (Eriksson 51, Brolin 82)
ENGLAND   (1)   1   (Platt 4)

Sweden: Ravelli; Nilsson, Eriksson, Andersson, Bjorklund; Ingesson, Thern, Schwarz, Limpar (Ekstrom); Brolin, Dahlin
England: Woods; Batty, Keown, Walker, Pearce; Daley, Webb, Palmer, Sinton (Merson); Platt, Lineker (Smith)

In Stockholm, England needed to beat Sweden to be certain of progressing to the Semi-Finals.  They could still go through if they drew 2-2 as long as the France v Denmark ended goalless.  England had yet to score in the tournament, but just four minutes in David Platt converted a cross from the left and they were off and running.  England were still leading at half-time and relatively comfortable.  The second half, though, was a completely different experience.  Sweden came out all guns blazing and their free-flowing attacking football gradually made the England defence more and more jittery.  Jan Eriksson headed in the equaliser just six minutes after the break.  Ten minutes later came the moment few England fans will ever forget.  With England needing to score again, manager Graham Taylor decided he needed to take off Gary Lineker (80 caps, 48 goals) and replace him with Arsenal’s Alan Smith (13 caps, 2 goals).  It was a gamble that backfired, Sweden scored next and neither Lineker or Smith ever played for England again.  Graham Taylor never managed England to a major tournament again.  With eight minutes to go, Ingesson, Dahlin and Brolin just passed the ball past the English defence and Brolin finished the move to give Sweden another win.

17 June 1992, Malmo Stadion, Malmo, 25,673
FRANCE   (0)   1   (Papin 60)
DENMARK   (1)   2   (Larsen 8, Elstrup 78)

France: Martini; Amoros, Blanc, Boli, Casoni; Durand, Deschamps, Perez (Cocard), Vahirua (Fernandez); Papin, Cantona
Denmark: Schmeichel; Sivebaek, Nielsen (Piechnik), L Olsen, Andersen; Christofte, Jensen, Larsen; B Laudrup, Frank (Elstrup), Poulsen

The French needed to win this game, although a draw would be enough as long as they scored as many goals as England.  As with their opening match against Sweden, France created the most early on yet conceded first.  Denmark, possibly playing with the freedom of a side who thought this could be their last game, were first out of the traps when they took the lead in the opening ten minutes through Henrik Larsen.  Denmark still lead at the break and still looked on top even though Papin equalised on the hour.  Cantona crossed from the right to the far edge of the area, where Fernandez controlled the ball on his chest and instead of playing it back into the box, as he shaped to do, he backhealed it to Papin who curled a beautiful shot past Schmeichel to equalise.  At this stage, France were going through with Sweden.  With twelve minutes to go, Lars Elstrup banged Denmark back in front and now the French were worried.  Denmark didn’t let go of their grip of the game and with the Swedes beating England, the two Scandinavian teams went through.  From a side that thought they were getting the summer off, Denmark were now through to the Semis.


12 June 1992, Ullevi, Gothenburg, 35,720
NETHERLANDS   (0)   1   (Bergkamp 75)
SCOTLAND   (0)   0

Netherlands: van Breukelen; van Aerle, R Koeman, Rijkaard, van Tiggelen; Wouters (Jonk), Roy, Witschge, Gullit; Bergkamp (Winter), van Basten
Scotland: Goram; Gough, Malpas, McPherson, McKimmie; Durie, McStay, McCall, McAllister; McClair (Ferguson), McCoist (Gallecher)

In Gothenburg, Netherlands set about defending their trophy against Scotland.  Expected to brush the Scots aside, Netherlands struggled to keep control of the match.  Both sides had chances but it was the holders who got the all important goal as Dennis Bergkamp prodded his shot past Andy Goram.  The goal came with fifteen minutes to go, and it may have seemed tough on the Scots, who had given a good account of themselves, but it was just what the Dutch wanted.

12 June 1992, Idrottsparken, Norrkoping, 17,410
CIS   (0)   1   (Dobrovolski 64 pen)
GERMANY   (0)   1   (Hassler 90)

CIS: Kharine; Chernyshov, O Kuznetsov, Tsveiba; Kanchelskis, Shalimov (Onopko), Dobrovolski, Mikhailychenko, Lyutyi (Ivanov); D Kuznetsov, Kolyvanov
Germany: Illgner; Reuter (Klinsmann), Kohler, Binz, Buchwald; Effenberg, Hassler, Doll, Brehme; Voller (Moller), Riedle

In Norrkoping World Champions, Germany, were up against a CIS side who probably weren’t that different from any side representing USSR.  In the first half, Rudi Voller broke his arm attempting to foul one of the CIS players, but the half-time score was 0-0.  CIS then broke the deadlock as Igor Dobrovolski converted a penalty after he was fouled.  CIS looked as if they might pull off a major shock, but a free-kick to Germany in the 90th minute, saw Thomas Hassler equalise to give the Germans a point.

15 June 1992, Idrottsparken, Norrkoping, 17,638
SCOTLAND   (0)   0
GERMANY   (1)   2   (Riedle 29, Effenberg 47)

Scotland: Goram; Gough, Malpas, McPherson, McKimmie; McStay, McCall, McAllister, McClair; Durie (Nevin), McCoist (Gallacher)
Germany: Illgner; Binz, Sammer, Kohler, Buchwald; Effenberg, Moller, Hassler, Brehme; Klinsmann, Riedle (Reuter) (Schulz)

After their decent performance against the European Champions, Scotland moved onto the World Champions.  Germany, managed by Bertie Vogts, took the lead after twenty nine minutes through Karl-Heinz Riedle, who would later play for Fulham and Liverpool.  Just into the second half and Stefan Effenberg’s cross hits Malpas and goes in and Germany were now 2-0 up.  Scotland couldn’t find a way back into the game and were now preparing to go home.

15 June 1986, Ullevi, Gothenburg, 34,400
CIS   (0)   0

Netherlands: van Breukelen; van Aerle, R Koeman, Rijkaard, van Tiggelen; Wouters, Roy, Witschge, Gullit (van’t Schip); Bergkamp (Viscaal), van Basten
CIS: Kharine; Cherbyshov, O Kuznetsov, Tsveiba; Kanchelskis, Aleinikov (D Kuznetsov), Mikhailychenko, Onopko; Kolyvanov, Dobrovolski, Yuran (Kiriakov)

In Gothenburg, CIS set their stall out for a draw and got exactly what they were after.  It was a dangerous gamble as even victory over the Scots in their final game would not guaranteed their progress.  Nethelands had the better of the chances but Dmitri Kharin was in great form in the CIS goal.  Netherlands now just needed a draw against Germany to go into the Semis.

18 June 1992, Ullevi, Gothenburg, 37,725
NETHERLANDS   (2)   3   (Rijkaard 4, Witschge 15, Bergkamp 72)
GERMANY   (0)   1   (Klinsmann 53)

Netherlands: van Breukelen; van Tiggelen, R Koeman, Rijkaard, F de Boer; Wouters, Roy, Witschge, Gullit; Bergkamp, van Basten
Germany: Illgner; Binz (Sammer), Frontczek, Kohler, Helmer; Effenberg, Moller, Hassler, Brehme; Riedle (Doll), Klinsmann

Since meeting in the World Cup Final in 1974, these two had met four times in major tournaments.  They met each other in the 1980 and 1988 Euros, winning one each.  This time the Dutch were in good form.  Frank Rijkaard put them in front after just two minutes.  After fifteen minutes, Robert Witschge scored direct from a free-kick and the Dutch were 2-0 up.  Klinsmann got a goal back for Germany just into the second half, but the Dutch were rarely troubled and Bergkamp scored their third in the 72nd minute.  The Germans now had to rely on CIS not beating Scotland

18 June1992, Idrottsparken, Norrkoping, 14,660
SCOTLAND   (2)   3   (McStay 7, McClair 16, McAllister 84 pen)  
CIS   (0)   0

Scotland: Goram; Gough, Boyd, McPherson, McKimmie; McStay, McCall, McAllister, McClair (McInally); McCoist, Gallacher (Nevin)
CIS: Kharine; Chernyshov, Tskhadadze, O Kuznetsov; Kanchelskis, Aleinikov (Korneev), Mikhailychenko, Onopko; Kiriakov (D Kuznetsov), Dobrovolski, Yuran

The CIS had gambled on being defensive and gaining draws against the Dutch and Germans, relying on their confidence in being able to beat Scotland.  The Scots were already out but in this game they provided their finest football.  Paul McStay put them in front after seven minutes and then ten minutes later Brian McClair doubled the lead.  They rounded the victory off when Gary McAllister scored from the penalty spot and Scotland could, once again, go home from a tournament early but with their heads held high.  For CIS this was the last time they played as a unified country.


21 June 1992, Rasunda Stadium, Solna, 28,827
SWEDEN   (0)   2   (Brolin 64 pen, Andersson 89)
GERMANY   (1)   3   (Hassler 11, Riedle 59, 88)

Sweden: Ravelli; R Nilsson, Eriksson, Bjorklund, Ljung; Ingesson, Andersson, Thern, J Nilsson (Limpar); Brolin, Dahlin (Ekstrom)
Germany: Illgner; Helmer, Reuter, Kohler, Buchwald, Brehme; Effenberg, Sammer, Hassler; Riedle, Klinsmann (Doll)

Sweden were buoyed by the Germans defeat against Netherlands, but soon realised how injuries had weakened them that day.  Back to full strength, the Germans put on the style.  Thomas Hassler scored another trade-mark free-kick.  Riedle then made it 2-0 after 59 minutes and the game seemed to have been won.  Brolin converted a penalty for Sweden just five minutes later, but they were still being overrun in midfield.  Two minutes from time, Riedle grabbed his second goal of the game and Germany now dreamed of a World Cup/European Championship double as they had achieved in the ‘70’s.  Kennet Andersson headed another goal back for the home side, but unfortunately for the Stockholm crowd they couldn’t force extra time.  Germany were now in their third major final in the last four competitions and were looking like favourites.  For Sweden, they had produced one of their finest tournament performances ever.

22 June 1988, Ullevi, Gothenburg, 37,450
NETHERLANDS   (1)   2   (Bergkamp 23, Rijkaard 86)
DENMARK   (2)   2   (Larsen 5, 33)  
Denmark won 5-4 on penalties

Netherlands: van Breukelen; van Tiggelen, R Koeman, Rijkaard, F de Boer (Kieft); Wouters, Roy (van’t Schip), Witschge, Gullit; van Basten, Bergkamp
Denmark: Schmeichel; Sivebaek, Piechnik, L Olsen,, Andersen (Christiansen); Christofte, Jensen, Vilfort, Larsen; B Laudrup (Elstrup), Poulsen

Netherlands: Koeman, van Basten, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Witschge
Denmark: Larsen, Poulsen, Elstrup, Vilfort, Christofte

The Dutch were now very confident of retaining their trophy, especially as they were up against Denmark who had, had their bags packed since they lost to Sweden.  The Danes shouldn’t have even been there, so they could hardly want to get to the final more than the Dutch, could they?

Brian Laudrup’s cross from the right wing was headed in by Henrik Larsen at the back post and Denmark were in front in the opening five minutes.  Bergkamp then equalised almost twenty minutes later.  Witschge chipped the ball into the area where Gullit headed it back to Bergkamp on the edge of the area and he fired his shot past Schmeichel.  But the Danes came back just ten minutes later when Vilfort crossed from the left to Laudrup who headed back where Ronald Koeman’s poor headed clearance fell straight to Larsen to beat van Breukelen again.  Denmark lead at half-time and were largely untroubled during the second half too.  With just four minutes to go, Frank Rijkaard finally equalised for Netherlands when the Danes failed to clear a corner to take the game into extra-time.  The Dutch were so close to going out, but now they had thirty minutes to try and win the game.  They couldn’t make any further inroads, the Danes hung on and we now had the lottery of a shootout.

Ronald Koeman was first up for the Dutch and he scored.  Larsen also made no mistake.  Up stepped Marco van Basten, top scorer four years earlier but without a goal this time round.  His shot was saved by Peter Schmeichel.  Poulsen scored for Denmark and they now held the advantage.  Bergkamp, Rijkaard and Witschge all scored the Netherlands, as did Elstrup and Vilfort.  It then fell to Kim Christofte to put the Danes into the final and he didn’t miss.  Against all odds possible, Denmark had reached the European Championship Final.  They had deserved their place too, as they certainly weren’t outplayed by the holders and could now continue their amazing fairytale.


26 June 1992, Ullevi, Gothenburg, 37,800
DENMARK   (1)   2   (Jensen 18, Vilfort 78)
GERMANY   (0)   0

Denmark: Schmeichel; Sivebaek (Christiansen), L Olsen, Piechnik, Nielsen; Christofte, Jensen, Vilfort, Larsen; B Laudrup, Poulsen
Germany: Illgner; Reuter, Kohler, Helmer, Buchwald, Brehme; Sammer (Doll), Effenberg (Thom), Hassler; Riedle, Klinsmann

Apocryphal stories had the Danes on the beach at the beginning of June.  Whether that’s true or not is not certain, but they cannot have been preparing for what they were now involved in, when their seasons ended in May.  Germany were overwhelming favourites.  They fully expected to add the European Championship to their World Cup trophy from Italia ’90.  Germany created several chances in the opening twenty minutes, but it was Denmark who opened the scoring.  John Jensen scored it, only his second ever goal for the national side.  1-0 to Denmark at the break, and people around Europe were starting to contemplate whether it really could happen.  The second half just became more and more frustrating for the Germans as you could visibly see them getting desperate and the Danes growing in confidence.  The Germans always an aura around them as if they were lucky, and while the gap was only one goal, there was always the prospect of them getting back into it.  That hope well and truly faded in the 78th minute when Kim Vilfort shot Denmark into a 2-0 lead and the miracle had happened.


One of the most remarkable stories of international football and the sort of thing only thought possible in books or movies, Denmark had turned up for a party they weren’t originally invited to, and walked off with the ‘best dressed’ prize.  They probably had their bags packed after their second match but the fairytale just went on and on.  To add to the image of fantasy, Kim Vilfort, who scored the winning goal, had just come back from visiting his daughter who was ill with leukaemia.  They also did it without one of the best players in Europe at the time, Michael Laudrup.

Denmark had probably had better, more talented teams during the ‘80’s than this one, but somehow this was just meant to be.  It was their time.  They were average against a poor England side in their opening game, played well and lost to the Swedes and then it just turned for them.  The Germans were stunned, they later admitted to being too complacent about their chances.  The Dutch played their best football against Germany, but seemed to freeze against the Danes.  The Swedish players did their country proud too, in a group they were not expecting to get out of.

Scotland also can be proud of their efforts, ultimately in vain, and CIS lacked a decent goalscorer as they could’ve at least tried to have a go in their early matches. But it was England and France who had most to regret about their tournament performances which contained almost no high points at all. 

Monday, 13 June 2016

1992 - European Championships - Qualifying


For the qualification stage, there were thirty-three teams were put into seven groups, five of five teams, and two of four teams.

Group 1 saw the 1984 Finalists, France and Spain in the same group.  They were joined by 1976 winners, Czechoslovakia, Iceland and Albania.  After winning the 1984 tournament, France had failed to even qualify for 1988, neither had they made the 1990 World Cup in Italy.  Iceland and Albania were expected to be the whipping boys, so the group winner was going to come from France, Spain or the Czechs.   Each country had Iceland as their first opponents.  They all won and each by just one goal.  Then France met the Czechs in Paris.  Two goals from Papin gave the home side a 2-1 win.  But the Czechs bounced back when Spain visited Prague.  Danek put the Czechs in front but Roberto and Munoz turned things in Spain’s favour.  But Czechoslovakia came back and a 2nd Danek goal as well as one from Moravcik gave the Czechs an important 3-2 win.  France then beat Albania by just one goal, but Spain were more clinical.  They hit Albania, 9-0 with Butragueno scoring four.  Two months later, France beat Spain, 3-1 in Paris and now Spain were really up against it to try and win the group.  It seemed apparent that the game between Czechoslovakia and France would decide the outcome of the group, and they met in Bratislava in September 1991  Nemecek put the home side in front in the first half, but then two more goals from Papin, including one in the last minute, won the game for France.  France had virtually qualified for the finals.  Iceland then pulled off a surprise beating Spain, 2-0 in Reykjavik, but Spain were already out of contention.  This was emphasised when they were then beaten at home, 1-2 by France as Papin scored again, his 9th so far.  Then in November 1991, Spain then beat the Czechs, 2-1 in Seville.  When France then beat Iceland, 3-1 in Paris, they won the group and the matches ended as the final game between Albania and Spain was cancelled due to social unrest.   France had won the group by 6pts, winning all their eight matches.

Scotland were drawn in Group 2, in a group where none of the countries had qualified for the ’88 tournament.  They were up against Bulgaria, Romania, San Marino and Switzerland.  They got off to a great start when goals from Robertson and McCoist saw them come from behind to beat Romania, 2-1 at Hampden Park.  Romania then compounded their problems by losing at home to Bulgaria as well.  Scotland then continued their impressive form with another 2-1 win at Hampden when Switzerland were the visitors.  They then travelled to Sofia and another Ally McCoist goal earned them a 1-1 draw.  Both Switzerland and Romania thumped San Marino, and then Bulgaria visited Hampden Park in March 1991.  John Collins thought he won it with a goal in the 83rd minute but Emil Kostadinov grabbed a late equaliser and the points were shared.  A month later Switzerland missed the opportunity to go top when they were held at home by Romania.  Goals from Strachan and Durie gave Scotland a win in San Marino, but they hadn’t done much to help their goal difference.  Switzerland came from 0-2 down to win 3-2 in Bulgaria, and they and Scotland had moved clear at the top.  In June, Switzerland beat San Marino, 7-0, and moved ahead of Scotland, although they’d played a game more.  Scotland travelled to Berne to meet Switzerland in September 1991, and 2 goals in 8 minutes at the end of the first half gave Switzerland a 2-0 half-time lead.  Gordon Durie got a goal back soon after the break and then Ally McCoist rescued a point for Scotland 7 minutes from time.  Scotland were 1pt behind the Swiss with a game in hand, plus they still had to play San Marino at home.

In October, a Gheorghe Hagi penalty looked to have ruined Scotland’s chances as Romania beat them 1-0 in Bucharest.  November was going to decide Scotland’s fate.  They were at home to San Marino, whilst Switzerland were in Romania.  Scotland won 4-0, but they were more interested in goings on in Bucharest.  Dorin Mateut scored the only goal of the game and Romania had beaten Switzerland, 1-0 and bang went Switzerland’s chances.  Scotland were almost there, but still had the matter of the final game in the group, Bulgaria v Romania.  Adrian Popescu gave the Romanians a first half lead, and if they could win by 2 goals, they would win the group.  Sirakov equalised in the second half and the game ended, 1-1.  Scotland had won the group and qualified for the finals.

Group 3 contained two of the Semi-Finalists from 1988, Italy and USSR, as well as Norway, Hungary and Cyprus.  Italy had also reached the Semi-Finals in their home World Cup in 1990, a tournament USSR didn’t make it to.  USSR, beaten finalists in 1988, started with a 2-0 win over Norway, who themselves then drew 0-0 with Hungary.  Hungary then held Italy to a 1-1 draw in Budapest.  Italy, who failed to qualify for the 1984 finals, were then held at home by USSR and the Soviets held an important advantage.  Norway, Italy and Hungary all then won in Cyprus, and then USSR continued their unbeaten form as an Alexei Mikhailichenko goal gave them the points in Hungary.  Italy then won at home against Hungary before they travelled to Oslo in June 1991.  They were 0-2 down inside 25 minutes and could only muster a consolation goal from Schillaci in a 1-2 defeat.  That defeat was made even worse by USSR turning up in Olso a few months later and winning 1-0.  The Soviets were then held at home by Hungary and Italy had hope but then they travelled to Moscow in October and could only draw 0-0. 

Italy then needed to win their final two matches and hope USSR would lose in Cyprus, but it all fell apart at the first hurdle.  They were held 1-1 in Genoa by Norway and had qualified.  Both countries won their final group games and USSR had won the group by 3pts.  Italy had again missed out on a European Championships.

Group 4 became notorious for what happened later.  Yugoslavia were expected to qualify after they’d reached the Quarter-Finals of Italia ’90.  Austria also made that tournament but didn’t get past the group stage.  Denmark had qualified for the Euro ’88, but lost all their matches.  Northern Ireland were also in the group along with the Faroe Islands who were competing in the qualifying stages for the first time.  The opening match saw one of the big shocks in European football.  Faroe Islands beat Austria, 1-0.  Yugoslavia then won 2-0 in Belfast, before Denmark beat the Faroes.  Denmark then arrived in Belfast and were a goal up before Colin Clarke grabbed a point for the Irish.  Yugoslavia then beat Austria before the big two in the group, Yugoslavia and Denmark, met in Copenhagen.   Bazdarevic and Jarni won it for Yugoslavia with goals in the last 15 minutes.  Yugoslavia now held the upper hand.  The Irish then gained a creditable draw in Austria before being soundly thrashed in Belgrade after a hat-trick by Darko Pancev.  The Irish then were humbled when the Faroes gained a draw in Belfast.  The next big game was when Denmark were in Belgrade, and they won 2-1.  Things were now even between the big two.  Both beat the Faroes, as did Northern Ireland, 5-0 as Colin Clarke scored a hat-trick.  Denmark then won away in Faroes and Austria, without conceding a goal, and had one match left at home to the Irish.  Yugoslavia had two games left, both away and it was the game in Austria that gave Denmark any chance of overhauling them.  Yugoslavia swept aside Faroes before Denmark won at home to the Irish.  It was down to the final game of the group, Austria v Yugoslavia.  If Austria won, Denmark would win the group, but the Yugoslavs just needed a point.  Lukic put Yugoslavia in front and then Dejan Savicevic doubled the lead and Yugoslavia had won the game and the group.  As they and Denmark beat each other, it was Denmark’s failure to beat Northern Ireland in Belfast which cost them their place.

However, things were to take a turn for the unexpected.  You’ll have to wait for Part Two on the final stages, to find out what

Group 5 had 1988 hosts, Germany in with Wales, Belgium and Luxembourg.  Since the 1988 tournament, Germany had been re-unified and were one country for the first time ever in the Euros.  Belgium, runners-up to West Germany in 1980, missed the 1988 tournament but reached the knock-out stage of the 1990 World Cup, losing to England.  They travelled to Cardiff at the old Cardiff Arms Park and took the lead midway through the first half.  But Ian Rush then equalised soon after.  Four minutes to go and the game seemed to heading for a draw, then Dean Saunders and Mark Hughes scored within two minutes of each other and Wales won an important first game.  Germany were then in Luxembourg and were 3-0 up early in the second half.  But then the home side scored twice and the Germans had a rather nervous last 25 minutes to avoid an embarrassment.  They ended up winning 3-2, but had, had a shock.  Wales then arrived in Luxembourg and also only won by 1 goal as Ian Rush scored the only goal of the game.  Belgium then beat Luxembourg, 3-0 and if goal difference was going to come into effect that could be important.  Wales then travelled to Belgium and again took points off them in a 1-1 draw.  When a Lothar Matthaus goal beat Belgium, it soon became apparent that the qualification spot would be between Germany and Wales.  In June 1991 the two countries met in Cardiff.  Ian Rush scored in the 66th minute and Wales hung on for one of their most famous victories in their history.  The following October, the two met again and the Germans were up for revenge.  Andreas Moller, Rudi Voller and Karl-Heinz Riedle put them 3-0 up by half-time, then Thomas Doll made it 4-0 before Paul Bodin converted a late penalty.  Germany now had the advantage and if they could beat Belgium away, they would be through.  Paul Bodin again was on hand from the spot for the Welsh at home to Luxembourg before the crunch meeting between Belgium and Germany in Anderlecht.  Rudi Voller scored after 16 minutes and that was enough for the Germans to confirm victory.  They then had to negotiate Luxembourg in Leverkusen and a 4-0 win emphasised their class.  Germany won the group by 1pt and had been pushed hard by the Welsh but in the end their experience of qualifying for major tournaments proved the key.

Group 6 contained the holders of the trophy, Netherlands and they were pitted against Portugal, Greece, Malta and Finland.  Finland caused a bit of a shock by holding the Portuguese to a 0-0 draw in the opening game.  The Dutch then travelled to Porto and their first qualification game as holders ended in a 0-1 defeat.  A month later they registered a win as Dennis Bergkamp and Marco van Basten scored the goals which beat Greece.  Then the Dutch moved on to Malta and van Basten hit five as they won 8-0.  Portugal then lost in Athens and had lost the advantage they had earned over the Dutch.  Portugal then won home and away against Malta, before Netherlands had two home wins over Malta and Finland.  In June 1991, Erik Holmgren scored only the 2nd goal Netherlands had conceded in this group as he equalised Frank de Boer’s opener.  Finland held the Dutch to a 1-1 draw and Portugal were now back in it.  The Portuguese themselves beat Finland before they met the Dutch in Rotterdam.  Robert Witschge scored, what turned out to be, the only goal of the game and the Dutch looked to have won the group.  They had to win their final game in Greece and goals from Bergkamp and Danny Blind meant they did just that.  Netherlands had qualified for the finals, as Portugal finished 2pts behind them.  The Dutch had Marco van Basten’s eight goals to thank for this.

Group 7 contained England who were under new management.  Graham Taylor had taken over from Bobby Robson, after the FA failed to offer him a new contract despite taking England to a penalty kick away from a World Cup Final.  They were up against Republic of Ireland, Turkey and Poland.  The Irish had beaten England in the finals in Germany 1988, and had also met them in the group stages of Italia ’90.  Poland were also familiar opponents, after England beat them in Mexico ’86.

The Irish started with a thumping 5-0 win at home to Turkey, as John Aldridge scored a hat-trick.  On the same night England beat Poland, 2-0 with goals from Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley.  The following month Ireland and England met in Dublin.  David Platt put England in front, only to see Tony Cascarino equalised 10 minutes from time.  The game ended 1-1, and so the crucial match could well be the return at Wembley.  Poland then won in Turkey, before England and Ireland met again at Wembley in March 1991.  Lee Dixon scored his one and only goal for England inside the first 10 minutes but Niall Quinn equalised mid-way through the half.  Another 1-1 draw and so goal difference could prove crucial.  Poland then won again against Turkey, before grabbing a 0-0 draw in Dublin.  The Irish had dropped a point and would that let England in?  England then travelled to Turkey and Dennis Wise scored the only goal of the game.  In October 1991 England beat Turkey, 1-0 with Arsenal’s Alan Smith scoring the only goal.  On the same night, Ireland were 3-1 up in Poznan, before Poland came back to secure a 3-3 draw.  Now all England needed was a draw in Poznan in November 1991.  That night Ireland beat Turkey, 3-1 and England were trailing 0-1 with less than 15 minutes to go, but up popped Gary Lineker to score the all-important equaliser and England had won the group by 1pt.

So the qualifiers to join hosts Sweden were, France, Scotland, USSR, Yugoslavia, Germany, Netherlands, England.

But much was to change before the Finals took place.  Details of which will appear in the Part Two of this.