Spain 3-2 Denmark at Euro 88: Butragueño, Michel the heroes for Spain in an electric game

Spain 3-2 Denmark at Euro 88: Butragueño, Michel the heroes for Spain in an electric game

This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE

No game at Euro 1988 has had more goals than Denmark-Spain. It was only the second match of the tournament and the spectators inside the Niedersachsenstadion were treated to a glut of goals as it finished 3-2 to the Spaniards. After hosts West Germany got the ball rolling with a 1-1 draw against Italy on Friday, Denmark took on the runners-up from the previous tournament on the Saturday afternoon in Hannover.

With both West Germany and Italy also in this group, the match between the Danes and the Spanish was a crunch fixture and both would have fancied their chances. Denmark, who were backed by a travelling army of around 30,000 fans, had star talents such as Preben Elkjær, Flemming Povlsen, Morten Olsen, Søren Lerby and the Laudrup brothers in their ranks and had the building blocks of the team that would go on to win the competition just four years later.

Spain, meanwhile, had four members of Real Madrid’s famed Quinta del Buitre in their squad – Emilio Butragueño, Manolo Sanchís, Míchel and Rafael Martín Vázquez. For Butragueño, this was a rematch against the team he’d scored four against in Spain’s 5-1 win in the 1986 World Cup and against the team that Spain had defeated on penalties in the Euro 1984 semi-final. 

Butragueño, Sanchís and Míchel all started this game against Denmark, while Martín Vázquez came on as a late substitute, and Butragueño and Míchel combined to great effect for the opening jab in this five-goal thriller in rainy conditions, along with Rafael Gordillo. After Denmark had started promisingly, La Roja launched a devastating counter-attack that went this way, that way, this way and then into the bottom corner as Míchel struck to open the scoring just six minutes in.

That set the tone for the rest of the game. There was going to be action in this one. It was time to look the popcorn out. It was Denmark who next had something to shout about as Michael Laudrup pummelled in an equaliser in the 25th minute, firing from distance after excellent work from Lerby to win possession in Spain’s half and immediately slide the ball into Laudrup’s shooting path.  

Up to that point, Denmark had generally been keeping control and Spain had been counter-attacking, but the equaliser shook the tactics of both teams up. In addition to the German rain, there was now excitement in the air too. And there was even more of it when Spain were awarded a penalty in the 34th minute for a foul on Míchel, after he’d broken into the box following yet more lovely link-up play with his club teammate Butragueño. Yet Míchel somehow contrived to miss it. Troels Rasmussen hardly had to move to parry the Spaniard’s powerful-but-central attempt. 

That meant it remained 1-1 at the break, after four minutes of increasingly feisty stoppage time. After the restart, the fun continued as Butragueño this time got in on the action in the 53rd minute. As he had done in Mexico two summers previously, the Real Madrid striker netted against the De Rød-Hvide once again, this time receiving the ball from José Mari Bakero inside the area – in a very offside position – and slipping the ball under Rasmussen.

Just as Denmark threatened another equaliser with an excellent Larsen chance that flashed just alongside Spain’s post, La Roja extended their lead out of nothing. A free-kick was won, still some distance from goal, and Gordillo surprised Rasmussen and the entire Niedersachsenstadion, giving Spain a 3-1 lead with 25 minutes to go. “They do say that the goalkeeping position is one of the weak points of this Denmark team,” the commentary noted at that moment.

At this point, Spain started having fun. Butragueño came oh so close to finishing what would have been another neat team goal. Substitute Miquel Soler almost turned his energy into a goal of his own. And Míchel almost chipped Rasmussen to perfection. “Spain were once again Denmark’s bogey team and they could have once again thrashed them,” Mundo Deportivo would state. 

Yet Spain didn’t thrash Denmark in the end. This match finished 3-2 as Povlsen pulled once back with a header with six minutes to go. Ultimately, Spain held on for the win.

Sometimes a great match is a great match purely for being a great match. It doesn’t always have to mean something in terms of points or standings or brackets. That was the case with this game, the highest-scoring and most entertaining match at Euro 1988.

By Euan McTear @emctear

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