Mike Gibbons


 
Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Denmark's white knuckle ride



    Early in the summer of 1986 my parents purchased our first ever video recorder, free with which came seven three-hour long videotapes. Myself and my sister were allocated one tape each for our own use, and one of the very first things I taped on the grandly titled ‘Mikes tape’ was a first round game at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. To my now great annoyance this is buried under 16 years of rubbish films, soap operas and sitcoms, and it irks me so because I still consider it to be one of the greatest displays of football I have witnessed, even at that early age. The game was Denmark versus Uruguay.

    I knew precisely nothing about either team. I was only recording the game because of my early bedtime and the late kick off in Greenwich Mean Time. However there were many such scenario’s, especially in the first round, so why I chose to record that game I will never know. I’d like to think it was some kind of sixth sense alerting me to the spectacle that was about to unfold, but in truth it was just one of those glorious flukes you get every now and then.

    And so to the background. Denmark were significant in Britain as they were in the same group as Scotland, and beat them 1-0 in their opening match. Great things were expected of the Uruguayan Francescoli, a superb player with ten thugs for team-mates. The Danes on the other hand had technically superb players all over the pitch. Rasmussen was an excellent goalkeeper, and in front of him was Morten Olsen, the finest sweeper Europe had seen since Beckenbauer. In midfield they had Soren Lerby and Jesper Olsen, who had been schooled in the ways of total football with early spells at Ajax, along with Frank Arnesen and the tigerish Bertelssen, and the terminally overweight yet somehow brilliant Jan Molby who played for then English champions Liverpool. Their two forwards were the real gems, Preben Elkjaer and Michael Laudrup, a classic combination of the wily old master and the rising young star, one of the most devastating forward partnerships ever witnessed.

    After a first half punctuated by cynical fouls, Denmark held a 2-1 lead with goals from Elkjaer and Lerby. True to form, Bossio was sent off for Uruguay, who had found their way back into the match through a Francescoli penalty. As if insulted by their cynicism, the Danes tore into Uruguay in the second half. Uruguay quickly formed a nine man "get through this if you can" barrier in front of Alves, but frankly they could have had their entire substitutes bench and backroom staff defending with them and it would have made no difference; Denmark ripped them open left, right and centre. It should serve as an object lesson to modern day coaches who moan about the difficulties of breaking down teams who put all their players behind the ball.

    When they tired of arrogantly keeping possession, they pushed forward and scored. The peach of their four second half goals was from Michael Laudrup, gracefully gliding past three defenders and the goalkeeper, and although a defender got the last touch before it crossed the line, only the most miserable pedant would deny him the goal. At that moment he was in the same class as Maradona. He meandered his way through a packed defence to set up Elkjaer’s second, and Elkjaer later broke away to complete his hat-trick, majestically rounding the keeper en route. Jesper Olsen added the final goal in the dying minutes to complete a stunning 6-1 victory that sent shock waves through the tournament. In the next game they made eventual runners up Germany look ordinary as they sealed a 2-0 win and first place in the group. Having won all three games, they confidently advanced to the knockout stages.

    Many of the more flamboyant teams, like Brazil in ’82, France in the mid-eighties and Barcelona seemingly every season, seem to constantly tip-toe around the self destruct button. In the second round against Spain in 1986, Denmark took a ten-yard run up, jumped six feet in the air and stamped on it with both feet. For 43 minutes their passing and movement was scintillating, yet they only had a one goal advantage to show for it. Then, for reasons best known to himself, Jesper Olsen played a suicidal pass across the face of his own penalty area, leaving the lethal Butragueno the easiest tap-in he has ever had, and at half-time it was one all. That goal seemed to puncture the Danes confidence, and the second half saw a collapse so spectacular it would have shamed an England cricket team. Butragueno added three more and Goixotchea a penalty, Spain won 5-1 and as abruptly as that Denmark were out.

    That was pretty much that for the Dynamite Danes of ’86. I went to see my first international match in Cardiff in 1987, Wales versus Denmark, hoping to witness some of the magic that dazzled me and many others in Mexico. Denmark lost 0-1 to a goal by a Port Vale striker. After a hammering at the 1988 European Championships, that great team disbanded.

    I must have watched the 6-1 epic at least 15 times during and after the World Cup, until it was tragically erased (although not from my memory) by some awful film that sounded good and turned out not to be. I now at least own highlights of the game, and my memory is not romanticizing the past as it is still as brilliant as I remember. Their victory seemed all the more righteous as it was inflicted on perhaps the most cynical and brutal team in World Cup history (although there is some considerable competition for this). It also makes you realise that no team has played that level of football against that calibre of opposition since. Teams just don’t seem to play like that any more, yet such performances are part of the legend on which the world cup thrives. After countless drab, must-not-lose-at-all-costs stalemates during the World Cups of the nineties, Korea/Japan this summer really does need something of that ilk.


 

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