Thirty-four years after holding the FIFA World Cup, Sweden played host to Europe’s finest for the 1992 European Championship. The tournament was probably the last small-scale gathering of its kind, as by this time television and marketing had started to play a larger part in their organisation. When the tournament next came about in 1996, it was a completely different animal with sixteen teams competing in a schedule that lasted the best part of a month.
It is an incontestible fact that had the hosting package for the 1992 event been proposed today, it would have been rejected immediately: the largest of the four grounds used in the competition and the venue for the final – Göteborg’s Ullevi – could only hold a maximum of 44,000 people, and both Malmö and Norrköping – with capacities of 30,000 and 23,000 respectively – would have come nowhere near the standards required today. While the tournament that has retrospectively come to be known as Euro 92 was the last one to feature the elite eight teams, it was the first to implement the new requirement for players’ shirts to display their name on the back and a smaller number on the front.
The eight finalists included two countries that might not otherwise have been there were it not for the political changes that had been taking place across Europe at the time; when the qualification round ended in late 1991 both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had booked their places in Sweden, but when the tournament started the Soviet Union had ceased to exist, resulting in the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States – or CIS. The CIS featured players from all of the former Soviet republics with the exception of the Baltic states, Georgia and Azerbaijan; by 1996, all of the former Soviet republics would be competing as individual teams in an expanded qualifying competition. Yugoslavia meanwhile had found themselves disqualified from the finals on account of its ongoing civil war; its place was awarded to Denmark, who had finished second in their qualifying group.
In the fifteen games that were played a total of only thirty-two goals were scored at an average of 2.13, lower than it had been at the World Cup in Italy two years earlier; following the Netherlands’ victory in 1988 the tournament saw its second successive first-time Champion as Denmark shocked the entire continent by beating both the reigning European and World champions en route to taking the title. Hans-Christian Andersen himself could not have written a better script.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Germany secured its berth in Sweden with relative ease, overcoming a 1-0 defeat in Wales to top the group on account of winning all of their other games in its four-team group. The highlight was without doubt the return home fixture against the Welsh, which saw Berti Vogts’ men turn on the styled in administering a 4-1 thrashing.
Germany had never really paid much attention to pre-tournament friendly match form, and 1992 provided yet more evidence as to why. After losing their opening match of the year – sporting their new kit – to Italy by a single goal in Torino, they travelled to Prague to play a Czechoslovakian side where Thomas Häßler scored in a 1-1 draw.
Two home fixtures against Turkey and Northern Ireland in late May and early June completed the pre-tournament warm-up fixtures, with both games producing nothing special. After beating the Turks – a side that had lost all six of its group qualifiers – with a solitary Rudi Völler second-half goal, the Mannschaft found themselves being held by the Northern Irish in Bremen, with sweeper Manfred Binz levelling the scores after they had fallen behind.
One win, two draws and one defeat – hardly the sort of record that would have made their rivals quake in their boots. But then Germany had always been a tournament team.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
The twenty-man German squad that arrived in Sweden contained a number of those who had been part of the winning FIFA World Cup squad two years earlier, but with one notable exception. Skipper Lothar Matthäus had been central to the team’s success in Italy, where he had been the team’s driving force and talisman – a man voted as the player of the tournament. Although Nationaltrainer Berti Vogts still had plenty of experienced players at his disposal, the team’s performances throughout the tournament were far more workmanlike, and lacked the spark of inspiration provided by the influential Matthäus.
Vogts’ side made it through past the group stage – though not without a bit of fortune, both good and bad. In their opening fixture against the CIS stand-in skipper Rudi Völler suffered a broken arm that saw his tournament come to a premature end before Thomas Häßler’s last-minute free-kick earned the Nationalmannschaft a precious point; this was then followed by a hard-earned and arguably flattering 2-0 win against Scotland that had seen both Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald leave the field with nasty-looking head injuries.
In the absence of Buchwald and Reuter Vogts’ side lost their final group phase game 3-1 to the Netherlands with what had been a quickly patched-up defence, but found themselves able to creep into the semi-finals thanks in no small part to the Scots, who defeated the CIS in their final match. The already eliminated Scots had been playing for pride; the CIS had only needed a point to progress.
If the group game against the Dutch had produced the worst result of Euro 1992 – if not necessarily the worst performance – the semi-final against hosts Sweden provided the highlight. At 3-2 the final result looked a lot closer than it actually had been, as Karl-Heinz Riedle bagged a brace and Häßler stroked in his second curling free-kick of the tournament to take the Mannschaft to a fourth European Championship final.
In what had been a see-saw of a tournament, things fell away again in the final against an inspired Danish side. After John Jensen had given the Danes a shock lead, Danish ‘keeper Peter Schmeichel was on hand to gather everything that came in his direction. When Kim Vilfort controlled the ball with his hand before lashing home his side’s second, it was pretty clear that Germany were not going to play the wicked witch in ruining the final chapter of what had become a Danish footballing fairytale.
v CIS First Phase Group 2, Norrköping, 12.06.1992 View Report »
v Scotland First Phase Group 2, Norrköping, 15.06.1992 View Report »
v The Netherlands, First Phase Group 2, Göteborg, 18.06.1992 View Report »
v Sweden, Semi-Final, Stockholm, 21.06.1992 View Report »
v Denmark, European Championship Final, Göteborg, 26.06.1992 View Report »