Greatest Games: The day the Danes rocked the world

Michael Luadrup Denmark
Danish winger Michael Laudrup was one of the stars of '86
Join today

Alan Dudman takes you back to 1986 to remember the great Danish side, who produced one of the performances of the World Cup when beating Uruguay...

"It was clear following the opening exchanges that Denmark were lightning fast, and they tore Uruguay to pieces with their breaks courtesy of their team full of dribblers."

Denmark 6 Uruguay 1
Group E, 1986 World Cup

Total Football in the 80s

The 1986 World Cup holds many great memories for me, and personally, it is still my favourite of all tournaments. I was too young to appreciate the competition four years earlier, although I do have a hazy recollection of the infamous Harald Schumacher challenge on Patrick Battiston. It's a hard watch, but readily available on You Tube.

No, Mexico was more beautiful than that. It was the first time I had caught a glimpse of the global game and how bright and vivid the colours were. It was a baking hot summer too, and my dad had built what can only be described as a "rectangular box Euro-style" goal in the back garden. He'd fashioned it out of metal and green garden netting, and I'd roll the lawn to achieve the two-tone green look to create a mini "Azteca".

I had the Umbro England kit, but I wanted the Brazil one. Those almost Titian blue shorts against the gilded shirt was magical.

At the time I was playing district and county schools football as a tiny left-winger, and whilst tricky and quick, always struggled against bigger, more intimidating opponents. Back then, it was my chance to see for the first time the skilful players; Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and Enzo Scifo. There was another Enzo that was some sort of mythical-like talent too - and that was the great Francescoli of Uruguay - otherwise known as "The Prince" or "El Principe".

They were my artists. And I had great hopes for Francescoli (pictured below), who I had only ever seen in the Panini sticker book.

Enzo Francescoli 1280 .jpg

Uruguay, who were the South American Champions prior to Mexico '86 were in the Group Of Death alongside Scotland, West Germany and Denmark. And Scotland were pretty good back then (no laughing at the back).

The Danes had flashed some of their brilliance in qualifying for the 1984 European Championships. They effectively knocked out England from that summer's tournament with a 0-1 victory at Wembley thanks to a 37th-minute goal from former European Footballer Of The Year (and one-time Charlton player) Allan Simonsen.

Managed by hard-nosed Sepp Piontek, Denmark had frightened the hosts to death in the build-up to that game. Their play had actually prompted then-England boss Bobby Robson to go with John Gregory in midfield instead of the far more gifted Glenn Hoddle. Perhaps one of the worst ever team choices in the history of the English game. Robson "wanted a bit of spike" apparently.

The seeds were sown why I appreciated skill over anything else. Denmark incidentally went on to play in the semi-finals of the Euros that year.

Laudrup and Elkjaer's brilliance shone in first half

The Danes (dubbed Danish Dynamite) had beaten a very strong Scottish side 1-0 in their opening game, whilst Uruguay held West Germany 1-1 to take a point prior to the two meeting in cool conditions at the Estadio Neza.

Uruguay were without Jorge Barrios with manager Omar Barras forced into making one change. Francescoli would take up the No10 playmaker role, whilst the Danes sported a fine collection of moustaches and mullets in their attacking 3-5-2 formation. Piontek had said before the tournament: "In Mexico, we shall attack like we have always done". And he wasn't wrong.

I swiftly realised that "The Prince" was going to be overshadowed, and Uruguay were to be dismantled with a fearsome attacking display of speed.

The opening goal on 11 minutes was the first of Preben Elkjaer's hat-trick. The muscly centre-forward had won the Serie A title with Verona the year before and was twice placed as second and third for the Ballon d'Or, and he complemented the then-21-year-old Michael Laudrup brilliantly.

Elkjaer remains a puzzling player to me even now. Apparently a chain-smoker, he was all power and sometimes appeared as though he never totally had control of the ball. However, his scoring record internationally was phenomenal.

For the opener, Laudrup picked up the ball from captain/libero Morten Olsen, and he quickly evaded one challenge before moving deftly away from another. Although the second attempt to rob the winger was a shin-high two-footed lunge. Nonetheless, the ball found its way out to Elkjaer who finished from a tough angle on the left to make it 1-0. ITV commentator John Helm praised the delightful build-up from Laudrup - which was to be a common theme for the afternoon.

Soon after the Danes' opener, Uruguay were down to 10-men following the red-card of Miguel Bossio. His brutal hack on Frank Arnesen was summed up rather well by Helm who simply stated: "It's been an unhappy day for him." That was his second yellow, the first was equally shuddering.

It was clear following the opening exchanges that Denmark were lightning fast, and they tore Uruguay to pieces with their breaks courtesy of their team full of dribblers. None were better than Laudrup.

His scissors-kick foot-to-foot move on 25 minutes was a personal favourite, and soon after that he set-up another quicksilver sortie down the wing with a blistering run. The South American champions were under severe pressure, and they clearly couldn't handle the all-out total football of the 'Red & White'.

Bayern Munich midfielder Soren Lerby (pronounced Lerb-u) was to make it 2-0 soon after following yet another all-out breakaway. Lerby had learned his trade at Ajax before moving to Germany, and it was the Ajax style that was very much a fabric of the Danish play. Helm at this point was very enthusiastic with what he was seeing, almost surprised when he said how skilful the Europeans were.

His co-commentator Billy McNeill had noticed Piontek's side had switched off with some slack defending just before the break, and Francescoli earned a soft penalty on 45 minutes to make it 2-1.

Danish Dynamite second half blitz

At that point in the game I had probably forgotten all about Uruguayan star man and had no doubt gone "all in" on following Laudrup.

He played in the 11 shirt and that was my shirt. There was something about those oversized numbers on the backdrop of the red halved pinstripes. I hadn't seen a kit like it, and I hadn't seen a winger that had glided so effortlessly around a defender as to make them look as though they were standing still. The 21-year-old looked cool, and I doubt he produced a bead of sweat either under that fine mop of hair. So balletic, he could have made it to an Edgar Degas canvas.

Laudrup duly made it 3-1 on 52 minutes with a trademark slalom run and finish. Uruguay defender Victor Diogo looked like a Sunday league player in pursuit, as in a flash, Laudrup had rounded the keeper. Helm had moved into ecstasy at this point by exclaiming: "The boy's a genius, this is going to be one of the goals of the tournaments."

He was right about the genius part, although Maradona was to have something to say about the second bit.

3-1 was to be 4-1 on 67 minutes thanks again to another mazy run from Laudrup - a move that was actually started by Jan Molby with a switch pass from left to right. Laudrup danced into the box and tried to poke the ball over Fernando Alvez in the Uruguay goal. The effort was deflected, but Elkjaer was rapid enough to respond and bundle the ball home for his second.

Helm was in full flow at this point with how the Europeans were tearing forward. Meanwhile on the BBC highlights, none other than David Icke said: "How the Uruguayan hearts must sink when he (Laudrup) gets the ball."

The goals continued, as Elkjaer capped a remarkable solo performance with his hat-trick for 5-1. Left one-on-one with Alvez, he calmly rounded the stopper and rolled the ball into the back of the net. Although the cynical nature of the South Americans at this point was spotted down the field as Laudrup was needlessly hacked down miles behind play.

And if ever a goal typified the Danish play, it was the 88th minute strike of Jesper Olsen.

Olsen was a wonderful little player who was another schooled in the Ajax way. In 1986 he was with Manchester United, and whilst he had a good career at Old Trafford, there was a feeling the Reds didn't really see the best of him.

Olsen was alone in the box as Uruguay's defending had fallen apart. So ragged they were, Olsen was one of three Danish players unmarked. The winger was so laid-back when he received the ball, he was almost asleep. A laconic shot found its way past Alvez to complete a stunning rout.

Denmark's and Piontek's legacy

Denmark beat West Germany 2-0 in their final Group game to progress to the last-16 afterwards, but a thumping 5-1 defeat at the hands of Spain ended not only that journey, but also a spellbinding two to three years of the rebirth of "Total Football".

The Dutch were to take on that mantle again in 1988, but for a short time, Denmark were one of the great European teams in the 80s. Indeed, their cult following is discussed in a truly superb Guardian article by Rob Smyth and Lars Eriksen. They really were entertaining and that piece is a brilliant read.

That team stands the test of time, even if their '86 World Cup song doesn't. "Re-sepp-ten" was a cross between Stock, Aitken and Waterman with Giorgo Moroder. Although it's probably a crime to put those two musical houses in the same sentence. As we all know, SA&W were fantastic.

I never got my Denmark kit, but one of the teams I played for on Sundays soon adopted the Hummel strip. Whilst my 11 wasn't quite large as Laudrup's, I always wanted the ball and always wanted to run at defenders. And that's the way it should be.

Alan Dudman,

Discover the latest articles

Read past articles