The man who steered his country’s national team to one of the most stunning accomplishments in soccer history has died. Richard Moller Nielsen
, architect of Denmark’s incredible run to the 1992 European Championship, died Thursday morning at the age of 76.
Moller Nielsen had been in
ill health since undergoing surgery for a brain tumor in July. He spent much of the summer bedridden at his home in Kerteminde before returning to hospital care. Shortly before Christmas he was
transferred to the Fyn Hospice, where he died.
He coached many Danish clubs after finishing his seven-year playing career, during which
he earned two caps, in 1962 with his hometown team, Odense. He coached Denmark’s U-21 team and worked as first-team assistant before taking over the national team in 1990 and leading it to glory
two years later.
Denmark stunned the world by winning the 1992 Euro title as a last-minute replacement for the former Yugoslavia, which was removed from the competition by UEFA because of
United Nations sanctions imposed upon the Yugoslavian government. The Danes had finished second to Yugoslavia in the qualifying competition and once named by UEFA as Yugoslavia's replacement, players
cut short their vacations and offseason plans to assemble in time for the tournament hosted by Sweden.
In group play, it edged out England and France to finish second behind the home team
and set up an epic semifinal against the Netherlands. The Danes prevailed on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a thrilling 2-2 tie, and took the field confidently in the final June 26 in Gothenberg. World
champion Germany fell, 2-0, to set off delirious celebrations across Denmark and prompt memorable tributes from soccer officials and media members. In the land of fairy-tale author Hans Christian Andersen
-- who like Moller Nielsen was born in Odense -- fantasy came true.
A massive party greeted the players upon their return.
“I think, beyond anything, it really sank in when we were in Copenhagen in the town hall for the celebrations with the rest of Denmark,” star goalie Peter Schmeichel told
uefa.com two years ago. “That was unbelievable, truly unbelievable. At this
point you're thinking: ‘Christ, we actually did this, it's not a dream.’”
Denmark failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA, yet Moeller Nielsen was knighted
as Knight 1st Degree of the Order of the Dannebrog in 1995. He stepped down in 1996, and coached Finland and Israel before finishing up his coaching career with Kolding FC in 2003. Allan Hansen
, president of the Danish soccer association (DBU), said: “You would have to go a long way to find as good and nice a person as Richard. As
president of the DBU, I can only say that Richard’s significance to Danish soccer is enormous and that we have him to thank for the European Championship – the biggest achievement in the
history of Danish sport.”
Richard Moller Nielsen is survived by his wife Jonna
, children Birgitte
, and six grandchildren.