Argentina 1* Denmark 1
Artemio Franchi Trophy, 24 February 1993, Estadio José María Minella, Mar del Plata, Argentina
Jakob Kjeldbjerg felt like the luckiest guy in the world. A 23-year-old Silkeborg player who had crossed the Atlantic in First Class together with Brian Laudrup, Peter Schmeichel and several other European champions. How fortunate he was to have an experience like this. Now he was training with the stars in the Argentinian seaside resort of Mar del Plata, where he was standing in a group with some of the other new faces in the team. He felt like a tourist and was looking forward to watching the match from the substitutes bench the following day. It was, of course, out of the question that he would actually be on the pitch against Argentina’s superstars.
But then the national coach came walking towards the group of players where Kjeldbjerg was standing. And to his great surprise, Richard Møller Nielsen stopped right in front of him. It felt unreal. Did “Richardo” really intend to spend some of his valuable time with him at the very last training session before the Artemio Franchi Trophy, the meeting of the winners of the European Championship and Copa América?
“You know, Jakob,” said Møller Nielsen in his distinctive Funen accent. “That chubby No 10 of theirs, right? I was thinking that you should man-mark him tomorrow.”
Kjeldbjerg could not believe his ears. Had the national coach gone crazy? Man-mark Argentina's No 10? Diego Maradona himself?
Kjeldbjerg still remembers the words of the national coach clearly. He describes the episode in detail through a mobile phone with the sound of a babbling waterfall in the background. A quarter of a century later, he is back in South America, with a television crew in Ecuador, as the presenter of the Danish version of the TV show I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
Much has happened to Kjeldbjerg and the others involved in that match on 24 February 1993. At short notice, the Danish Football Association (DBU) had been invited to Argentina for the game. Eight months had passed since Denmark’s sensational victory at Euro 1992, and a poor start to the World Cup qualification had poured cold water on the Euro euphoria. But for one night, Denmark were back on the big stage and would deliver a performance that revived memories of their shock victory in Sweden and the qualities that had made it possible for Møller Nielsen's unfancied team to overcome the best on the continent. For several of the players, the experience is remembered as a highlight of their international career. And for Kjeldbjerg, it was completely unexpected that he should play a leading role.
“I was faced with a challenge that was crazy in itself and one of the greatest tasks a Denmark international has ever had,” Kjeldbjerg said. “It was also a challenge that I had not expected at all. There was nothing to suggest that I should play. There were no doubts regarding the starters at the back: Schmeichel in goal, Lars Olsen, Torben Piechnik and Marc Rieper in defense. I went from being the certain substitute to being one of the most important players in the team. When they have Maradona in their team, you really do become a leading player when you have to man-mark him.
“But it was also so typical of Richard to do it. All coaches would tell a squad that everyone is equal. But not all coaches are good enough to convince the players that they actually mean it. That's what Richard did. He really meant it and was not afraid to do anything unusual. It is by far the greatest vote of confidence a coach has ever given me.”
Before leaving, Kjeldbjerg had laughingly told the newspaper BT that he expected to start up front as a consequence of his record of having scored in half of his international matches to that point. He had made his debut in the World Cup qualifier in Northern Ireland a few months earlier and scored his first goal in his second international match. However, the squad for that friendly in the United States was made up only of players from the Danish league. Kjeldbjerg was successful in Silkeborg and had been at Nottingham Forest for a trial. But from there to having to man-mark possibly the greatest player in the history of the game was quite a step.
“Richard didn't ask me if I was up for the task,” he said, “nor did he come up with any long explanation. He made it seem completely natural and made me feel that I could easily do the job. I would like to believe that he knew he could trust me. But I was not a midfielder, and although I was used to marking my direct opponent, there is a hell of a difference from having to do it as a defender to doing it in the midfield, where the game takes place on all sides of you.”
But the national coach had confidence in his plan. “I know what I’m doing,” Møller Nielsen said at the pre-match press-conference. “I know that when I give new players a chance, they will take it.”
It was in the autumn of 1992 that the DBU first became aware of the Artemio Franchi Trophy, which was named after the Italian who was president of Uefa from 1973 until his death in a traffic accident 10 years later. It had been created as a counterpart to the annual Intercontinental Cup between the winner of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores. The first Artemio Franchi was played in 1985, when France's European champions defeated Uruguay's Copa América winners. But the impact of the match was not sufficient to make it an established event. Four years later, the Netherlands did indeed meet Brazil, but no trophy was at stake; the match was just a friendly.
It was therefore far from certain that Denmark should compete with Argentina for a global title – particularly as a Saudi Arabian prince had decided to create a completely new tournament between all the continental champions (and Saudi Arabia). The first edition of what was named the King Fahd Cup was played in October 1992 without European participation; Argentina won.
But the birth of the King Fahd Cup was not the death of the Artemio Franchi Trophy. Uefa and Conmebol agreed during autumn 1992 that the match should be played in early 1993 with Argentina as host. It was then up to the two national football associations to agree on a date.
“Through several faxes, we've been calling for answers, but haven’t heard anything,” the DBU secretary-general Jim Stjerne Hansen told BT at the end of 1992.
“We saw it as a bonus on top of the Euros,” recalled Lars Berendt, the DBU's head of communications. “It was an honour to represent Europe, but it was also a challenge to have to plan the match at such short notice.”
Only in early January did the pieces fall into place and a date was set. This was before any coordinated Fifa calendar, but the DBU had the law on its side. The final received official sanction, allowing Møller Nielsen to call on all his players. Immediately DBU started sending faxes to all foreign clubs with Danish internationals.
But for the national coach, there were diplomatic considerations. The following month, there was a crucial World Cup qualifier against Spain. Møller Nielsen might shoot himself in the foot if he forced players to miss important club matches. For that reason, Møller Nielsen decided not to call on John Jensen. Arsenal had a Premier League match against Leeds on the same night as the game in Mar del Plata, and Jensen, having just returned from suspension, was fighting to get back into the team. The Arsenal manager George Graham was enthusiastic about Møller Nielsen’s decision. Such a mentality was appreciated, the Scot stated.
A lot had changed in the Danish team since the Euros eight months earlier. Back then, the team had shocked the world by winning the trophy in a tournament in which they only competed because war had made Yugoslavia’s participation impossible. Eleven days after being invited to the tournament, Denmark had drawn their first game, 0-0 against England. That meant they had already done better than the Danish team at Euro 1988 which lost all three matches, bringing the curtain down on Denmark’s golden generation. After more than 10 years in the job, the German coach Sepp Piontek had quit after failure to qualify for the 1990 World Cup. Another German, the largely unknown Horst Wohlers, was presented as Piontek’s successor by the DBU – but he was still under contract at Bayer Uerdingen and no compensation fee had been agreed with the German club. The farce ended with DBU giving up on Wohlers and instead offering the job to Møller Nielsen, Piontek’s assistant.
Møller Nielsen was less adventurous than his predecessor, and Denmark struggled. After a damaging 2-0 loss at home to Yugoslavia in a Euro qualifier in 1990, the Laudrup brothers and Jan Mølby declared that they would no longer represent the national team due to differences with the coach over the style of play.
This was the background to the Euros. Denmark arrived in Sweden with no expectations at all. Brian Laudrup had returned to the team, but the country still yearned for the eighties. But after a highly surprising 2-1 defeat of France in the final group match, Denmark suddenly found themselves in the semi-final. The Netherlands were defeated after a penalty shoot-out, and in the final against Germany the tired and injury-plagued team fought to the end and won the title.
It all happened so fast that the Danes could hardly believe what they had done. And immediately after the Euros, the team returned to playing mediocre and unimaginative football. The first qualifier for the 1994 World Cup was a 0-0 draw in Latvia. The next was a 0-0 draw in Lithuania. And in October, the Republic of Ireland came to Copenhagen and left with a point after a third 0-0 draw in a row. It had quickly become a realistic scenario that the 1994 World Cup would take place without the European champions.
“Suddenly we were cast as favourites,” said Kim Vilfort, one of the scorers in the final of the Euros, “and we had to learn being in that role. Compared to the Euros, we now met teams that played in a completely different way. They made themselves compact, and we were not good enough at the offensive part of the game. And we lacked a striker who could provide the goals.”
Only nine European champions were among the 16 players selected for the trip to Argentina. Møller Nielsen’s squad was made up of substitutes from foreign clubs and out-of-form players from the Danish Superliga, which was in the middle of the winter break. One of the players selected was Silkeborg's Michael Larsen, who knew nothing of a trip to Argentina until he showed up for training at his club and heard that he had been picked for the squad from a teammate who had read it on teletext.
The national coach also found a place for the Euro 1992 joint top-scorer, Henrik Larsen, even though he had not played a single match since the goal in Belfast in November which had finally given Denmark a much-needed win in the World Cup qualifiers. Since then, Larsen had been loaned from Pisa to Aston Villa, where he was working to improve his fitness. When the football magazine Tipbladet paid him a visit in Birmingham, Larsen said that his efforts had had an impact: he had lost five kilos in 20 days. He was just hoping that the manager Ron Atkinson would give him some playing time.
“I worked so hard with the physical coaches and was running around with weighted belts. Richard came to visit me in England, and we talked about the situation,” Larsen remembered. “Richard felt with me that he always knew what he would get. That was what characterised my career with the national team. I worked hard and was good at getting into the box. He liked when you came forward. But he was even happier when you tracked back.”
Pessimism was back in Denmark. The national coach was again up against scepticism and criticism. No one expected that this Denmark would be able to compete against Argentina, who had not lost in the two-and-a-half years since the 1990 World Cup final. “A Danish defeat seems inevitable,” said the headline on the great football writer Per Høyer Hansen's preview in Tipsbladet, in which he described a squad that “looked pretty fragile in all parts of the pitch.”
“I remember a time when it looked even worse,” said Møller Nielsen when challenged on Denmark’s form. “That was just before we travelled to Sweden for the Euros. We left with a squad full of Brøndby players, who were close to the relegation zone with their club. Others also struggled with problems. It was probably only Peter Schmeichel and Flemming Povlsen who were having any success at their clubs going into the Euros.”
Møller Nielsen took the game in Argentina seriously and to be as well prepared as possible he travelled to South America a week beforehand to watch the Argentinian Football Association celebrate its centenary with a friendly against Brazil. He had been seated in the VIP area at River Plate’s Estadio Monumental together with Fifa's president João Havelange. And if the Dane had any doubts about the importance of football in Argentina, he certainly did not after the 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires. “You would have to search the entire world to find an atmosphere like this,” Møller Nielsen said. “The air was thick with confetti – exactly as you remember from TV at the World Cup in 1978.”
The show had started with a 10-minute delay, because Maradona had to greet everything and everyone on his way onto the pitch. Maradona was the all-encompassing story in Argentina in those days. He hadn’t played for the national team since the World Cup final and had served a 15-month ban after testing positive for cocaine. But he had restarted his career with Sevilla, making himself available for his national team again, immediately resuming the captaincy.
But Maradona was past his prime – or at least that was the conclusion of the daily Ekstra Bladet when it sent a reporter to Seville to witness Maradona in action against Michael Laudrup's Barcelona a few weeks earlier. “He still has his qualities, but he has become ordinary,” the article read. “So don’t worry, folks! Diego is no longer the terrifying artist. The sins of the past have finally caught him. Eighteen months without football and a merry life with women, song and cocaine have left their mark.”
For a long time there were doubts as to whether Maradona would play against the Danes. Sevilla were not enthusiastic about Maradona and the midfielder Diego Simeone spending a week in their home country in the middle of the season. The Andalusians demanded their players travel back across the Atlantic to play in a league match against Logroñés between the two international fixtures. An annoyed Maradona announced that he would, but only by showing up in Spain on the day of match. And that’s what he and Simeone did, playing a miserable match in La Rioja before returning to Argentina.
Meanwhile, the Danish delegation was on its long journey via London and São Paulo. On the plane Brian Laudrup was surprised with cake and champagne for his 24th birthday. He and his teammate Gabriel Batistuta had spoken in advance about the match as a welcome break from the hardships at Fiorentina who were in serious trouble near the bottom of Serie A. At training sessions, they had eggs, tomatoes and coins thrown at them by their own supporters.
Laudrup had never played against Maradona in Italy. By the time he arrived at Fiorentina from Bayern Munich after the Euros, Maradona had left the country. But as an 18-year-old Brøndby player he had met him back in 1987 under unusual circumstances. Brøndby had traveled to Saudi Arabia to play Al-Ahli who were celebrating their 50th anniversary. For the occasion, the Saudi Arabians had reinforced themselves with the world champion, who received around US$300,000. “He was completely impossible to handle and played the best football I had ever seen,” Laudrup said. “Lars Olsen tried to take him down by all kinds of means, but he was impossible to stop.” Maradona scored twice in the Saudis’ 5-2 victory.
“After the match we were having dinner. I was suddenly called by someone from the club who told me that Diego Maradona wanted to see me. He was staying at the same hotel where he was occupying the top two or three floors. He knew of course that I was Michael's little brother. I took the lift up to the top floor. The door was opened by his bodyguards. It was like being in a Godfather movie. We entered his suite, and he said a lot of things that I didn't understand. He grabbed me warmly by the cheeks, and we exchanged shirts. So I got a Saudi Arabian Maradona jersey.”
Now Laudrup was to meet Maradona again, and he arrived in a country obsessed by the controversial icon's comeback to the national team. In the newspaper BT, the Danish ambassador in Argentina, Hans Grunnet, explained how the South Americans quickly forget about scandals. They just shrug their shoulders and therefore Maradona was received as a saviour.
Brian Laudrup had returned to the national team a few months before the Euros and was one of Denmark’s best players at the tournament. But his older brother Michael was still absent while playing the best club football of his career at Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. The Argentinians could not understand why such a player was not part of the Denmark team but Møller Nielsen was able to explain the situation to local media in Spanish. “Michael Laudrup has been playing for almost 10 years in the Danish national team,” he said. “He now believes that he would rather focus on his club. But his younger brother, Brian, is here with us, and in a little while he will be better than Michael.”
With Kjeldbjerg the surprise pick, Møller Nielsen had his starting eleven. It was not a line-up that would terrify Argentina. Only four players appeared regularly for foreign teams: Peter Schmeichel, Lars Olsen, Brian Laudrup and Bjarne Goldbæk. Three were on the bench at their clubs. And the other four were Superliga players with several weeks left of their winter break. This was the team that was to take up the fight with Maradona and his gang.
“It was Diego’s great night, and I was there to destroy it for him,” said Kjeldbjerg. “We all stood in the players’ tunnel and looked over at him. It was a magical experience to stand there and that magic came from him.”
“I’d met him in Italy, where everyone was waiting in the players’ tunnel until he was there,” said Larsen. “Only when he arrived could we go up onto the pitch. It was just the same here.”
The Hungarian referee Sándor Puhl got the game underway, and soon it became clear to the Argentinians that Møller Nielsen had given Maradona special attention for the night. The unknown Kjeldbjerg followed him everywhere. “I was very unpopular among the spectators,” said Kjeldbjerg. “I knew it could be my breakthrough. But if I were humiliated, would I ever be picked again?”
“It was just the same before the semi-final at the Euros,” Brian Laudrup recalled. “Back then Torben Piechnik was asked to mark Marco van Basten. I told Torben in the bus that I was sure that he could do the job. But when I sat down by myself afterwards, I actually feared that he would be in serious trouble.
“Many years later I now realise that this was actually one of Richard's greatest strengths. He had the courage to go against the tide and do something completely unexpected. We must praise him for that. He could do the little things that could turn matters to our advantage. There is some homespun philosophy in it. He gave that task to a completely inexperienced player instead of a more experienced one. What did that do to the rest of us? It made us stick together as a team to help Jakob through it and created a mood of defiance among us.”
“I was extremely focused on having success in the first tackle on him,” said Kjeldbjerg. “And I did. It was fair, but tough. I tried to talk a little to him during the game, but he never looked at me. He was used to being kicked down. I was just another one who was there to ruin his show. I was nothing to him.”
Nevertheless, the Danes had a hard time. At the beginning of the match, the home team dominated. “The Argentinians attacked as a whirlwind over the South Atlantic with a passing game in which the visitors seemed like extras,” Per Høyer Hansen wrote in Tipsbladet. It was the Danes, though, who took the lead, as the central defender Néstor Craviotto, under no pressure, headed a free-kick from Henrik Larsen into his own goal. The lead, however, only lasted 20 minutes before Claudio Caniggia finished an attack created by Maradona, Simeone and Batistuta.
Maradona conducted the festive crowd in his 84th international match and joked with the referee Puhl. But Kjeldbjerg did his job diligently, followed him like a shadow and limited his influence on the match. “Jakob Kjeldbjerg played like a superb veteran. He played against the Argentinians' adored captain, Diego Maradona, as if he had been doing it for his entire life,” wrote Ekstra Bladet, while Berlingske Tidende described it as “an erasure”.
“He didn't have the same speed as before. He was more a strategist than the one who could do a lot on his own,” Laudrup said of Maradona, who by then was 32. “But his charisma was still special. It was he who owned the pitch. It was a fascinating experience and a pleasure to observe him.”
At Kjeldbjerg's side, Johnny Mølby worked untiringly in the midfield. “It was my best international match if you take into account the quality of the opponent and the difficult conditions,” said Mølby, the cousin of Jan. “We had a team that was tactically gifted. Although we met opponents with much greater technical ability than us, we were able to find a way to match them anyway. That was the special thing about that group of players.”
At the back, though, Liverpool’s Torben Piechnik was having a difficult time and he was taken off for Brian Steen Nielsen before half-time. “It was probably the first time in my career as a coach that I made a change so early,” Møller Nielsen said. “I did not feel that Torben Piechnik was able to keep up with the Argentina players.”
As the match progressed, the Danes found their feet. Laudrup was superb, clearly relishing playing without the tactical constraints imposed on him in Italy, where he was being played as a right-sided midfielder with defensive commitments. “It was one of those matches where I could feel right from the start that I was successful in what I did,” he said. “I was told in advance by Richard that we would probably not see the ball a lot, so I would have to try to keep the ball and do things on my own.”
Kim Vilfort hit the crossbar before, in the dying minutes of the game, Laudrup received the ball in his own half. “I set off dribbling,” he said. “A couple of their players tried to tear me down. The Argentinians could play captivatingly, but they could also be quite dirty.”
Laudrup got into the Argentinian penalty area where he was finally stopped – possibly illegally. The ball came to Lars Elstrup, whose shot was blocked. The battle for the Artemio Franchi Trophy would go into extra-time. Back in Denmark, the clock had passed midnight, but more than a quarter of the country’s population was sitting in front of their TV screens. They saw Laudrup hit the crossbar in extra-time but it finished 1-1, meaning a penalty shoot-out, for which Denmark were without Henrik Larsen, who had left the pitch with cramp.
The Danes had positive memories from the shoot-out in the semi-final at the Euros, but the Argentinians were also confident. They had won two at the 1990 World Cup and the goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea, who had only come into the side when Nery Pumpido was injured in the group stage, had developed a reputation as a penalty specialist.
He had a superstition. “It all started in the quarter-final against Yugoslavia back in 1990,” Goycochea said. “It was hot and I had drunk a lot of water. Being a goalkeeper I did not run very much. Therefore, I did not sweat out the liquid and really had to pee before the penalties. But I was not allowed to leave the pitch, I was told, and had to do it on the pitch. So it began as a necessity, and because we won over the Yugoslavians, it became a ritual for me. It was something that I had to do before penalty shootouts. It brought me luck.”
None of the Danish players knew about the superstition – and no Danes realised that Goycochea had urinated on the grass in Mar del Plata before the penalty kicks. “I did it discreetly,” he said. “Five or six of my teammates surrounded me in a circle, and then I could kneel and pee without anyone seeing it. There were not that many cameras at the time. Today it would be harder to hide.
“I had always been good at penalties, but after the World Cup in Italy I became famous for it. I had a lot of confidence going into the penalties. The pressure is on the penalty taker. I always told my teammates: ‘I will save at least one penalty.’ But that night I was particularly nervous because we were playing at home in Argentina.
“Peter Schmeichel also had a reputation as a goalkeeper who was strong at penalties after the Euros and he had an impressive physique. I met him in Moscow recently for the World Cup draw, and we talked about that penalty shootout.”
The first penalty taker was Lars Elstrup, who gave Denmark the lead. Maradona equalised, and then it was Johnny Mølby's turn. “I knew in advance that Goycochea was very strong at penalties,” he said. “So I had decided where to kick it so I didn't have to concentrate on what he was doing.” He made it 2-1.
Each of the first six penalties were scored, but then Vilfort was denied by Goycochea. “I always waited for the goalkeeper,” Vilfort said. “I tried to sense where he would go and then just had to send the ball over to the other side.”
Denmark's last penalty taker was Laudrup. He had to score to avoid defeat. “I always preferred to be the last penalty taker in a shootout,” he said. “It’s hair-raising, but at the same time fascinating to be in that situation. But I really was nervous that night. I remember the feeling of standing in a stadium very far from home, filled with Argentinian colours, where all the spectators were on their side.”
Laudrup scored and Schmeichel extended the penalty shootout by saving from Caniggia. Sudden death: the Danes sent forward Bjarne Goldbæk. “It was not decided in advance that I would be the sixth penalty taker,” Goldbæk said. “But the older players told me: 'You hit the ball well. You should take it.’ But actually, I'd rather have hidden away.
“I had in mind that Goycochea had a reputation as a penalty expert. I tried to concentrate on choosing a corner, but at the last moment I changed my mind and he saved it. I felt guilty. I think it hurt me more, because I hadn't been part of the team that had won the Euros. I didn't have the same ballast with me.”
Goldbæk's miss was decisive. Julio Saldaña converted the 12th penalty and secured the trophy for Argentina. “Diego Maradona kissed and hugged the Artemio Franchi Trophy while Bjarne Goldbæk in frustration and annoyance kicked an empty plastic water bottle,” the daily Politiken reported. “A moment later, Maradona and his teammates were doing a lap of honour, as if they had won the World Cup.”
“For us it was an important final,” said Goycochea. “It was a new era after the World Cup in 1990, and the team was renewed in many positions. We considered it a really big match, and that was the atmosphere around it in Argentina. It’s not that often we play a final at home. So it was celebrated in the grand manner afterwards.”
The Danes had lost, but nevertheless the final had offered a lot of positives. After the dismal start to World Cup qualification, the effort against the South American champions had reminded the team of what had made them able to win the European Championship eight months earlier. “Brian Laudrup and co sprinkled gold dust over the grass as they moved,” the reporter Kurt Thyboe wrote in Ekstra Bladet. “It was just so worthy of praise! So tactically disciplined. A cool, dogged collective, who, without fear or exaggerated respect for Argentina's world stars, went onto the pitch to win the fight and was actually not more than a millimetre from victory! With sublime inner peace, this iron mental strength that stresses and frustrates the enemy, the Danes had for long, long phases control of this duel.”
“We generated respect for Danish football in that match,” said Laudrup. “We could easily have gone down there and been beaten 3-0 or so, but on a very difficult away ground, with heavy legs from a long journey, we played against Argentina as their equals. It was a match in which we played at our highest level.”
Before returning home everyone wanted to talk to the unexpected hero from Silkeborg and know more about the man who had successfully fulfilled the enormous task of man-marking Maradona. Kjeldbjerg told journalists that he was interested in music and cooking back home in his apartment in the town of Viborg. And he acknowledged that success on the football pitch would probably mean that he would soon have to take a break from his Law studies at university. “That match was both my breakthrough and the culmination of my career,” Kjeldbjerg reflected. “The most important thing for me was the recognition from my teammates. Eight months earlier I had been standing in the City Hall Square in Copenhagen and cheering them when they returned from the Euros. Now I felt like part of the team.”
After the match, Maradona made his way to Møller Nielsen and talked to him about the match and Denmark’s triumph at the Euros. When the conversation was over, he took off his shirt and gave it to the Danish national coach. After returning home, Møller Nielsen gave it to his son Tommy. “I have received huge offers for it, but I would never consider accepting one,” said Tommy Møller Nielsen, who now works as a scout for Manchester United. “I got it from my father as a gift and you don't sell a gift. It's hidden in a secret place – so Kjeldbjerg can't find it.”
His father’s knowledge of Spanish and ability to converse with Maradona says a lot about his meticulous attention to detail. “Richardo” had learned Spanish before going to the Mexico World Cup in 1986 as an assistant to Sepp Piontek. “He thought it was important to know the local language to be prepared for what might happen if the people responsible for logistics didn’t speak English,” Tommy said of his father, who died in 2014 at the age of 76. “So while sitting on his exercise bike in the basement at home, he listened to cassettes with Spanish lessons on a walkman. He learned it in half a year. He really had a linguistic gift.”
For the national coach, the match in Argentina ended as a positive. After a difficult autumn, Møller Nielsen could again confront his critics after an admirable performance. “I know that Johan Cruyff has said that Denmark has not given anything to football,” he said at the hotel in Mar del Plata. “But at the same time, the Italy national coach [Arrigo] Sacchi has said that Denmark have recreated some of the old virtues – team spirit and the fact that the players help each other have become important qualities. Football is a team sport, but that does not mean that a strong individual performance cannot be offered. Brian Laudrup does a lot of things on his own, but he is also constantly fighting for the team.” In those words is encapsulated his entire work as Denmark’s national coach.
The joyful Danish game which delighted the world in the eighties was something from the past. Møller Nielsen’s group of players did include the likes of Laudrup and Schmeichel. But the rest of the team was comprised of players struggling to get on the pitch for their clubs around Europe or hopeful youngsters like Kjeldbjerg. It is the great paradox of Danish football that this team won the Euros – and not the brilliant team of the eighties which was made up by top players from the leading clubs in European football.
But the night in Mar del Plata showed how it could happen. It was an echo of the Euros. As he had in Sweden, Møller Nielsen did what he did best, using his tactical ingenuity against a superior opponent and the players stuck together to create a sum that was far greater than the individual parts. “I have had other great experiences with the national team like the victories at the Euros and the King Fahd Cup in 1995,” Laudrup said. “But as a single match, this one is definitely a highlight due to the crazy surroundings, the long journey and the exceptional opponent. But also because it ended up as an attractive match worth watching. For many of us, it may not be the match which you mention as the first among the highlights of a career with the national team. But when I think about it today, it really was something special.”
The day after the match, Laudrup and the rest of the Danish delegation embarked on the long journey back to Europe. When he finally got home to Florence, he was placed on a double bed next to Batistuta, where the two tired men received vitamins in an attempt to prepare them for the important Serie A match the following weekend.
But the problems only got worse. Fiorentina were relegated from Serie A, and for many of the Danish players who had played in Mar del Plata there was stagnation. Henrik Larsen never made his debut for Aston Villa and in the summer he moved on to Mannheim in the German second flight. For Johnny Mølby, the match in Argentina would be his last for the national team. He struggled with injuries and disappeared from the spotlight when he switched from Borussia Mönchengladbach to the Belgian side Mechelen. And the unfortunate Torben Piechnik would have to wait two-and-a-half years for his next international match.
For Kjeldbjerg, however, it went differently. After returning home he was deluged with telephone calls from agents, and the following summer he moved from Silkeborg to Chelsea in the English Premier League. Kjeldbjerg became an established member of the national team after the breakthrough in Mar del Plata.
Six months later, Michael Laudrup finally decided to end his absence from the national side and made himself available for selection. But Møller Nielsen struggled to get the best out of the gifted Barcelona playmaker and Denmark missed out on the 1994 World Cup after a defeat in the final qualifier in Seville against Spain.
Argentina retained the Copa América later in 1993, winning the title in Ecuador. On the way to the final, Goycochea urinated twice on the pitch before penalty shootouts and once again became Argentina’s hero. He ended his career with the national team with five wins out of five in penalty shootouts. Since retiring from football, he has opened a restaurant in Buenos Aires named Italia 90, worked as a TV host and model, posing on the cover of the Argentinian version of Playboy in the edition before the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 – only the third man ever to be featured thus.
The 1993 Copa América is still the last trophy won at senior level by Argentina, and it was secured without Diego Maradona. He once again disappeared from the national team after the comeback against Brazil and Denmark. But after the humiliating 5-0 World Cup qualifying defeat to Colombia in Buenos Aires in September 1993, he was recalled for the play-offs against Australia.
The following year, Maradona’s international career ended with the positive drugs test at the World Cup in the United States. In Argentina, the Artemio Franchi Trophy is therefore remembered as Maradona's last title with the national team. It was also the last edition of that particular version of an international intercontinental tournament. The Saudis repeated the King Fahd Cup in 1995, when Denmark and Argentina met in another final. This time, the Danes surprisingly got their revenge. Afterwards, Fifa took over the tournament and renamed it the Confederations Cup, and the Artemio Franchi Trophy was rendered irrelevant.
There were, however, serious plans for an extended third edition of the Artemio Franchi Trophy a quarter of a century later. A four-team knockout tournament between the winners and runners-ups of the Euros and the Copa América was scheduled to take place in Italy in March 2018 but was finally cancelled.
And since that long and fascinating journey to Mar del Plata in 1993, Denmark’s national team has hasn’t played a match on South American soil.