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Euro 2020: Unity after adversity

Denmark players celebrate winning Euro 1992
Denmark beat Germany 2-0 in the Euro 1992 final in Gothenburg, Sweden

Almost 30 years ago, Denmark pulled off the seemingly impossible – they won the European Championship for the first time.

To this day, the players in that team are afforded almost celebrity status – a group of legends who realised a nation’s dream.

Now Denmark have new heroes to cheer – the current group having overcome huge adversity following the distressing scenes of Christian Eriksen’s on-pitch collapse in their Euro 2020 group opener to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament.

After hammering Wales 4-0 in their last-16 tie in Amsterdam, can the Danes replicate the feat of that famous 1992 team and go all the way?

From the beach to champions of Europe

Denmark players celebrate winning Euro 1992
Denmark beat Germany in the Euro 1992 final

Before focussing on the present, it is worth revisiting the past to remember just how incredible Denmark’s unlikely victory 29 years ago was – given they won Euro 1992 in Sweden despite failing to qualify for it.

The Danes had missed out on qualification having finished as runners-up to Yugoslavia. They were preparing to jet off on their summer holidays when Yugoslavia were expelled from the eight-team tournament because they were in a state of civil war, and so Denmark got an 11th-hour invitation.

Despite a lack of preparation and being placed in a tricky group containing hosts Sweden, England and France, Denmark managed to progress to the semi-finals thanks to beating the French in their final group game.

Denmark’s squad back then featured a strong spine. They had Peter Schmeichel in goal, John Jensen in midfield and the creativity of Brian Laudrup to unlock defences.

Schmeichel was the hero for his country in their semi-final against a star-studded Netherlands side, keeping out Marco van Basten’s penalty in the shootout after a 2-2 draw to send the Danes into the final.

Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel was one of the stars of Denmark’s 1992 triumph

Facing world champions Germany, Schmeichel once again proved the difference, saving from Karl-Heinz Riedle, Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald while Denmark made the most of their few chances with goals from Jensen and Kim Vilfort to clinch a famous 2-0 win.

A Schmeichel is, of course, in goal once again for Denmark at this year’s tournament.

Kasper Schmeichel has done a pretty good job of matching his father’s achievements so far, following in the footsteps of the former Manchester United shot stopper by winning the Premier League and, more recently, the FA Cup with Leicester.

Now he has the European Championship trophy in his sights.

“I want to achieve success with Denmark. I want to win the European Championship,” Kasper Schmeichel said before the start of the tournament.

“I want to try something wild with Denmark.”

Youthful flair, experience and Eriksen inspiration

In some ways there are similarities with that 1992 team and the current Denmark squad.

They also possess a strong core with Leicester’s Schmeichel in goal, Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen in defence, and Barcelona striker Martin Braithwaite up front.

Eriksen would have been an integral part of that spine, although while they do not have his influence on the pitch it is clearly still felt from afar.

Denmark also have one of the tournament’s most exciting young talents in Mikkel Damsgaard.

The 20-year-old winger, who plays his club football with Italian side Sampdoria, scored one of the goals of the tournament when he put the Danes ahead in their decisive Group B finale against Russia. They went on to win that game and secure the runners-up spot.

Damsgaard is nicknamed ‘Damsinho’ because he plays with a Brazilian-style flair, and in scoring that goal he made history in the process, becoming Denmark’s youngest goalscorer (20 years, 335 days) at a major tournament.

Roared on by the Roligans

Danish fans at Euro 1996
Denmark’s fans have long been a colourful and boisterous presence at tournaments

England have the Barmy Army, Scotland have the Tartan Army and Denmark have the Roligans.

Back in the 1980s, Denmark’s national team were known as the Danish Dynamite thanks to their swashbuckling, ultra-attacking style of football. It earned them support all over the world, but so too did their colourful supporters.

Named the Roligans – a play on the word hooligans with rolig in Danish meaning calm – they were renowned for being among the friendliest fans in football, well mannered and cheerful before, during and after games.

Denmark’s fans have once again played a memorable part in their country’s story so far at Euro 2020.

They were involved in those memorable scenes when they joined with Finland supporters to chant Eriksen’s name while play was suspended in that game as the midfielder was taken to hospital.

And there can also be little doubt that their support has helped lift the Danish players from their toughest moment to progress to the quarter-finals.

“You cannot say what exactly the fans have done but for sure they have done a big thing. This is a fantastic team for all of us,” Claus Amondsen, Danish superfan and former chairman of the original Danish Roligans, told BBC Sport.

“It has been a very important thing for the players to feel all the love. The whole nation has found each other.”

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