Saturday, February 4, 2012

Myths of European Championship.

The 1992 finals in Sweden gave birth to one of the great myths of the European Championship. Legend has it that, when UEFA decided to replace war-torn Yugoslavia with the team that had finished behind them in the qualifying group, the Danes strolled into the dressing room, kicked off their flip-floops, threw down their beach towels and emptied bagfuls of suntan oil on the floor. As legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel recalls:"We were between two training sessions having lunch when the message came through that we were officially in finals. So the idea that they had to phone us and get us back from our holidays on the beach is a myth." Popular perception, how ever, was determined not to let the truth get in the way of a good story - and it was a great story. The Danes tiptoed into the tournament and won it.
Politics certainly had a influence. Apart from the Yugoslav situation, the Soviet fragmentation process meant that the former USSR competed under an unfamiliar CIS banner. But the tournament produced some stunning games. After losing to the Swedish hosts and drawing with England, the Danes seemed set to head home until they defeated the pre-tournament favorites, Michel Platini's France, in their final group game to earn a semi-final against the Netherlands - the defending champions.
The Danes relished their underdog role against a star-studded Dutch side featuring Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten. Having gone ahead twice, they suffered a psychological blow when Rijkaard made 2-2 made with four minutes to go. But they battled extra time and took upper hand in the penalty shoot-out when Schmeichel saved from van Basten. Kim Christofte then placed the ball on the spot, took two steps back and calmly side-footed into the net. The cheekiest penalty since Panenka's classic in 1976 had put Denmark into the final for the first time.
Their opponents were Germany - favorites to beat a side who barely had enough fit players to form a team.But midfielder John "Faxe" Jensen struck a rare goal from over 20 meters and Kim Vilfort seated one of the competition's most unlikely victories by making 2-0 eleven minutes from the end. The eleven-hour "substitutes" had won the title for the first time and, instead of spending June redecorating his kitchen, coach Richard Moller was helping Nielsen was helping the Danes to paint the country red.
Four years later, another late substitution proved to be crucial. The first ever 16-team tournament generated passions as "football went home" to England. But the football was not always as festive as the atmosphere. After the four quarter-final had produced four goals and two penalty shoot-outs,both semi-finals were also decided by spot kicks-the Czech Republic making by reaching their first final at the expense of France, while Germany ousted the hosts 6-5 in a tense shootout. No goals had been scored in two hours of extra time-partly due to the introduction of the golden goal rule, whereby a match was immediately terminated as soon as the ball hit a net.
The referee for the final was Pierluidgi Pairetto, who had been working at his veterinary practice when he was summoned to Wembley. It was the first and last time in the tournament's history that referees were jetted in and out for specific games rather than teaming up at a training camp. The Italian awarded a penalty to the Czechs, which allowed Patric Berger to put the underdogs ahead but, with 21 minutes to go, Berti Vogts replaced Mehmet Scholl with striker Oliver Bierhoff - who promptly equalized four minutes later to send the final into extra time. Less than five minutes had gone when a Bierhoff shot deflected off a defender and trickled past a wrong - footed Petr Kouba into the net.Germany's super - substitute had won the first final to be decided by a golden goal.

No comments:

Post a Comment