Throughout Euro 2016 we will be serialising Rob Fielder’s marvellously comprehensive book, The Complete History of the European Championship. The series will look at the 10 greatest matches in the tournament’s history, recalling the events around the games and many of the wonderful players who have graced the competition over the years. We began with Yugoslavia’s fightback against France in the semi-final of the 1960 European Nations’ Cup and continued with England’s victory against the Netherlands at Euro ’96, the thrilling quarter-final between Germany and Turkey at Euro 2008, Denmark’s improbable victory against the Netherlands in the 1992 semi-final, and the helter-skelter encounter between Yugoslavia and Slovenia at Euro 2000. Now it’s time for Denmark v Belgium at Euro ’84…
DENMARK – BELGIUM 3:2 (1:2)
Scorers: 0:1 Ceulemans 26, 0:2 Vercauteren 38, 1:2 Arnesen 41, 2:2 Brylle 60, 3:2 Elkjær 84
19.06.1984 (20.30) Strasbourg, Stade Le Meinau, Att: 36,911
DEN: Qvist; Rasmussen (Brylle 56), Busk, Morten Olsen (c), Nielsen; Berggreen Lerby, Bertelsen, Arnesen (Sivebæk 79); Laudrup, Elkjær
BEL: Pfaff; Grün, Clijsters, De Greef, De Wolf; Scifo, Vercauteren (Voordeckers 62), Vandereycken, Ceulemans (c); Claesen (Coeck HT), Vandenbergh
Referee: Adolf Prokop (East Germany)
The final clash of Euro 84’s Group A was neatly poised ahead of kick-off. Both sides had lost to hosts France but beaten Yugoslavia so sat on two points in the standings. Denmark’s markedly superior goal difference (they battered the Yugoslavs 5-0 while Belgium had been thrashed by the same margin by Les Bleus) meant that they held a precious edge if things finished level. With the Danes needing just a draw and the Belgians requiring victory, one might have expected a sterile contest as one side sought to hold out and the other pressed forward. Instead it was a thrilling match which kept spectators guessing until the final minutes.
Based on their performances in qualification many felt that Denmark could go all the way to the final. Topping a group which included England was no mean feat and they looked to have a sublime batch of players to choose from, benefitting from the late acceptance of professionalism in the national team. The power of centre-forward Preben Elkjær, the calm of sweeper Morten Olsen and the youthful exuberance of Michael Laudrup made this a special squad. Moreover, West German coach Sepp Piontek, who had made great strides since taking over in 1979, was blessed with an excellently balanced team, familiar with the style of football he wanted to play and enjoying a team spirit which few of their rivals could match. The Danes might have been comparatively inexperienced but there were reasons to rank this as the best Scandinavian side since Sweden’s 1958 World Cup finalists.
It was in somewhat stark contrast to expectations surrounding Belgium. They had finished as runners-up four years earlier and impressed at the World Cup in Spain but their preparations for the tournament were rocked by the emergence of a match-fixing scandal involving Standard Liège and Waterschei from the final match of the 1981-2 season. Standard were leading the league, ahead of Anderlecht, and wanted to guarantee a victory along with no injuries as they prepared to take on Barcelona in the Cup Winners’ Cup final. Waterschei players were duly bribed and when the news came out (nearly two years later) it led to the suspension of right-back Eric Gerets and defender Walter Meeuws among others. The continuing development of Jan Ceulemans and the emergence of the sublimely talented youngster Enzo Scifo went some way to offsetting their loss but they now had to do without schemer Wilfried van Moer who had been the brains behind their success at the 1980 finals.
The early stages were somewhat cagey as both sides used their physicality to check opposition attacks, but once the Belgians went ahead on 26 minutes the game sprang into life. It wasn’t the prettiest goal; Morten Olsen inadvertently flicked on a free-kick and when Georges Grün managed to knock it down, Ceuelemans’ wild effort went in off the post. If that strike required an element of luck, the Belgians’ second, scored 12 minutes later, was pure class. A throw from Scifo picked out Frankie Vercauteren coming inside from the left, and his volley dipped over Ole Qvist.
At this point it looked like the Belgians were assured of a place in the semi-finals but before they knew it, the momentum changed. A clever pass from Laudrup sent Elkjær away, who was tripped in the box by De Greef. Frank Arnesen easily slotted the penalty and the score was 2-1 at the break. When the sides resumed the Belgians had a great chance to restore their lead. Ceulemans measured a pass for Erwin Vandenbergh, Qvist came out to narrow the angle and, instead of nudging the ball around the keeper to tap into an empty net, Vandenbergh offered only a timid shot. Soon that was punished as Brylle, only just on as a sub for Rasmussen, headed in Arnesen’s cross to draw the sides level.
Still the Red Devils might have won it, had Scifo converted a well-positioned free-kick after Voordeckers had been brought down, but he fired over and chances were increasingly rare. The only remaining opening fell to the powerful Elkjær – whose driving run through the Belgian defence benefitted hugely from two lucky rebounds – but he made the most of it to put the Danes 3-2 ahead. Given the fighting spirit they had displayed in rallying from 2-0, few could deny that they were worthy winners and they would have to be respected in the semi-finals.