This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
The Euro 1984 semi-final between Denmark and Spain had it all, a nerve-wracking affair from the start. One the one side was Denmark, in an era that history remembers as the “Danish Dynamite”; a legendary footballing side with a cultish allure whose claim to fame was recalled by Rob Smyth and Lars Eriksen with the epic one-liner, “They won nothing, but the ultra-attacking team of Elkjaer, Laudrup and the Olsens were one of the most interesting in football history.”
On the other was a Spain team experiencing its first real run at European glory 20 years removed from success on the continental stage after defeating the Soviet Union in 1964. This Spain side, managed by the legendary Miguel Muñoz, would contrast the Danes in style, approach and game plan.
And so, the stage was set for an epic encounter to add to already stellar tournament remembered fondly for the quality of football played throughout the stages and knockout games. Just as Portugal and France had shown, Denmark and Spain were capable of playing an entertaining and swashbuckling brand of football.
Tactically, the highly-contested match saw Denmark field a 3-5-2 designed to play with pace, creativity and multiple options on the counter-attack, with Frank Arnesen in central midfield and a young yet polished Michael Laudrup playing up top.
Spain deployed a 4-4-2 with a sweeper to limit service to Laudrup and the talented Preben Elkjær. Muñoz’s side could have nearly been in front after just three minutes as Lobo Carrasco’s diving header from a corner service forced Ole Qvist into action with a decisive save.
Denmark, lucky not to be behind, soon found themselves in front. Spanish goalkeeper Luis Arconada pulled off a tremendous save to deny an Elkjær header from Arnesen’s cross, but left-winger Søren Lerby continued his run and pounced on the loose ball.
The Danes continued to enjoy their football and dictate the play for the remainder of the opening half and could have added to their lead when Arnesen hit the post. Spain, on the other hand, dictated the physicality of the match, and three players were cautioned by referee George Courtney in a span of ten minutes.
As the first half came to a close, Denmark rued the fact they could not add to their lead. Spain, however, found new life and, by the start of the second half, began to test the Danish defence, forcing Qvist to bail them out again, this time denying Juan Antonio Señor who was clean through on goal.
Spain’s perseverance paid off as they equalised in the 67th minute when the clinical Antonio Maceda, the player who scored against the defending champions, West Germany, in the group stages, rose to the occasion. The movement saw Barcelona’s Lobo Carrasco hit the post before the ball ultimately found its way to Maceda inside a crowded penalty area. He would not miss as he fired a low shot into the Danish net.
As the clock ticked away in regular time, it became clear that this affair would require extra-time. Both Qvist and Arconada were soon forced into action again. By the 107th minute, Klaus Berggreen was issued a second yellow card, leaving Denmark a man short.
It is somewhat odd that a match with eight players finding the referee’s book only resulted in one dismissal, but the bookings would eventually play a role in Euro 84 for Spain as Rafael Gordillo and Maceda picked up yellow cards, meaning both players would miss the final.
Denmark held on for a dramatic penalty shootout full of tension, retakes and emotion. Laudrup was forced to retake his missed penalty after he rightly claimed that Arconada had moved from his line. At 4-4, it was the usually-clinical Elkjaer, one of the stars of the tournament, who missed his penalty high and wide.
The emotion of that tore at the Danish talisman – literally, as he ripped off his shirt. Eventually and inevitably, Manuel Sarabia scored the winning penalty and punched La Roja’s ticket to the final.
The post-game reactions tell a story within the larger narrative. Spain, having hung on by the skin of their teeth so often, came out the victors – albeit at a cost of having to play France with a depleted line-up. And Denmark, the explosive and fluid side that was perhaps the only one France feared, were out in the cruellest of footballing ways.
In the end, the second semi-final of Euro 84 may not have matched the France-Portugal game in terms of skill and flair, but it was every bit of a dramatic affair in what is fondly remembered as one of the best European Championship of all time.
By Jon Townsend @!jon_townsend3