Portugal and Denmark opened their respective Euro 96 campaigns with an entertaining 1-1 draw played out at Hillsborough.
Portugal topped their qualifying group by six clear points, and had seen similar climate and surroundings to what they would experience in England, when they won 2-1 against Northern Ireland in Belfast.
Despite leading Portugal with 6 goals in qualifying, striker Domingos was benched in favor of a front pair of Joao Pinto and Ricardo Sa Pinto, as coach Antonio Oliveira lined his team up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The midfield included Luis Figo and Rui Costa, a pair coming of age after featuring in Portugal’s World Youth Cup win five years prior, Parma center back Fernando Couto anchored the back line.
Reigning European champions Denmark qualified in second place behind Spain, but did finish 6 points clear of nearest contender Belgium, a team they defeated by a 3-1 scoreline both home and away.
The Danes lined up in a 4-3-3 with Brian Laudrup and Brian Steen Nielsen on the wings, Michael Laudrup, scorer of 4 goals in the qualifying rounds played in a midfield three. Kim Vilfort led the Danes in qualification scoring with 5 goals, but was replaced up front by hard working Mikkel Beck for this game. Star goalkeeper Peter Schmiechel was in goal, while Marc Rieper anchored the back four.
From the outset, the dynamic movement of Portugal caused problems for the Danes. Costa and Figo roamed freely in the midfield area, showing great ability to recycle possession in tight spaces. Striker Joao Pinto floated both deep and wide to pick up possession in a range of different areas, while the width was provided by the Portuguese fullbacks. In particular, right back Paulinho Santos got forward to cause problems and provide crosses in the opening 15 minutes.
In the 22nd minute, Denmark took the lead with a goal that came somewhat against the run of play. A Portugal press forced a long ball behind, center back Helder Cristovao gathered and played a ball back to his goalkeeper, Vitor Baia was pressed by Beck and hit a clearance that deflected off the forward to a waiting Brian Laudrup. Danish captain Laudrup took a touch inside Santos and lashed a shot past Baia before cover defender Couto could close up. The goal featured the hard work of Beck and some magic sprinkled in by Laudrup, a good encapsulation of Denmark’s performance throughout most of the game.
As the half progressed, Denmark saw plenty of possession, but Portugal kept their shape well, occasionally having the wide midfielder in the diamond press the Denmark fullbacks to up the ball pressure. Many phases of play though resulted in the Danes possessing and the Portuguese numbers causing turnovers or seeing attacks fizzle out.
On the attacking end, Portugal showed excellent attacking movement that disoriented the Danes time and again, even if the final product was not always there. Strike pair Pinto and Sa Pinto roamed freely, and when both moved into wide channels, Figo or another midfielder would push on, giving the shape more of a 4-3-3 appearance. The constant movement was both entertaining and a danger to Denmark throughout the game.
Portugal had a chance to equalize in the 30th minute, when a goalbound free kick was given a slight deflection by Figo before being saved by Schmeichel. Three minutes later, Figo found Pinto with a great long range pass, and the forward chested the ball past Rieper with a lovely piece of skill, before cutting inside Jes Hogh and seeing Schmeichel rush off his line to block his shot.
Coach Oliveira made an early substitute for Portugal, when midfielder Antonio Folha replaced Oceano in the 37th minute. Folha won Portugal a late shooting range free kick when he was fouled by Claus Thomsen, but the effort was blasted over the bar by Helder, allowing the Danes to go into the interval with a 1-0 lead.
To start the second half Denmark coach Moller Nielsen altered his 4-3-3 shape, moving Beck to a wide left role and deploying Michael Laudrup as a center forward. Left winger Steen Nielsen dropped into a central midfield role.
The Portuguese started the second half on the front foot, and received the equalizer they deserved in the 53rd minute. Holding central midfield player Sousa dispossessed Brian Laudrup and quickly released Pinto down the left flank. A Rieper tackle fell to the feet of the onrushing Folha, and the midfielders cross was headed home by Sa Pinto.
In the 75th minute, Thomas Helveg chipped a ball through to Brian Laudrup in behind, but Baia stayed big and made the save. Two minutes later a Helveg back post cross was headed over the bar by Thomsen.
Deep in injury time, Portugal had a chance to win as Baia caught a corner before releasing a quick counter attack. Pinto crossed and Schmeichel spilled the ball after a collision with his own defender Rieper. Fortunately for the Danes, substitute Tavares turned and shot wide, seeing both teams collect a point from their opening fixture.
Portugal impressed in their opener and will likely have been pleased with their performance despite not taking all three points. The midfield department played very strongly, and Oliveira would have to make a decision whether to start Oceano again in the second game against Turkey, or replace him with Folha who played well in his substitute appearance.
Denmark will have been happy to get a point on the board ahead of a tough game with Croatia. Goalkeeper Schmeichel and winger Brian Laudrup were both named to the Team of the Tournament in Denmark’s triumphant EURO 92 campaign, and it was clear that Denmark would again be leaning on the pair to make any impact at this tournament.
Denmark struggled to get a grasp on the Portuguese midfield throughout this game, and would face another tough challenge next in Croatian trio Zvonimir Boban, Aljosa Asanovic and Robert Prosinecki.
22’ DEN Brian Laudrup (Mikkel Beck) 0-1
53’ POR Ricardo Sa Pinto (Antonio Folha) 1-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
CM Rui Costa (Portugal) – Costa oozed class throughout the game, showing fluid movement and constantly recycling possession, moving the ball around the field to stretch and probe the Danish defense.
3: CM Rui Costa – Man of the Match.
2: CM Luis Figo – Figo passed the ball well and moved forward dangerously throughout the game, whether out wide or central in support of the front pair.
1: CF Ricardo Sa Pinto – The forward was a bundle of energy all game, floating into dangerous areas and grabbing the important goal to give his team a point.
3: RM Brian Laudrup – The winger scored a quality goal, and was the key figure in Denmark’s attack throughout the game, cutting inside to great effect from his flank position.
2: GK Peter Schmeichel – The imposing shot stopper came up big on several occasions, and was a commanding presence in the air, playing a key role in holding Portugal to only one goal.
1: CF Mikkel Beck – An industrial, hard working performance form Beck was rewarded when his pressing of Portuguese keeper Baia saw the ball deflect to Laudrup for his team’s lone goal.