Euro 92 was one of the more extraordinary championships, not least for the eventual winners Denmark only joining a matter of days before the first match when Yugoslavia were expelled. It was also the last finals with just eight teams before the tournament doubled in time for Euro 96, but one match will stand out long in the memory for England fans – and not for particularly positive reasons. We look back at England vs Sweden, and how just one noteworthy decision so vociferously changed public perception of an England manager.
Back at Euro 92, England had been drawn in a group with France, Denmark and hosts Sweden. In their opener, The Three Lions faced Denmark, who had only known they would participate weeks earlier after Yugoslavia were banned due to the war that had broken out in the country in 1991. England disappointed, drawing 0-0. Their second match came against France, once again Graham Taylor’s troops fired blanks in another poor 0-0 draw.
Sweden went into the England contest in Solna in a much better state. They had drawn their opener against France 1-1, Jan Eriksson’s opener being cancelled out by Jean-Pierre Papin’s equaliser for the French. The Swedes then prevailed in their second group match against fierce rivals Denmark, a 58th minute goal from Thomas Brolin ensuring a 1-0 triumph.
Before the game Sweden topped the group and needed only a draw against England to qualify for the semi-finals. England, on the other hand, needed a win, a draw unlikely to be enough as any result in the parallel final group game between Denmark and France would likely send The Three Lions out.
A sad end to Gary Lineker’s international career and England’s Euro 92 campaign
The first half was an evenly matched affair which England edged, having had six shots to Sweden’s five. Taylor’s side made a great start and took the lead in just the fourth minute. A cross from Gary Lineker on the right flank found David Platt whose mis-hit shot beat Thomas Ravelli in the Swedish goal. It was a lead England held going into half-time.
The match turned immediately after the interval. Having already delivered a salvo of warnings through set plays early in the second half, Sweden deservedly equalised on 51 minutes. A corner from Stefan Schwartz was headed in by Jan Eriksson, who repeated his goal-scoring exploits from earlier in the tournament against France.
Faced with mounting Swedish domination, the 62nd minute saw the infamous moment which stunned fans, pundits and media. Lineker, in his final international tournament for England and on 48 international goals, just one behind the then-record holder Sir Bobby Charlton, was substituted by Taylor. His replacement was Arsenal’s Alan Smith, Lineker’s former team-mate and strike partner at Leicester City.
However, Taylor’s substitution gamble could not prevent the hosts overwhelming England. Eventually, Sweden’s dominance told on 82 minutes. After a fine dribbling run from Thomas Brolin just beyond halfway, striker Martin Dahlin combined with Brolin who unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top-left hand corner of goalkeeper Chris Woods’ goal. Sweden never looked back, recording a 2-1 win which sent them through and England crashing out.
The final result was no more than the Swedes deserved, having had 13 shots throughout the whole match compared with England’s eight. The substitution of Sweden’s Arsenal star Anders Limpar for Johnny Ekstrom at half-time by Swedish coach Tommy Svensson raised eyebrows. However, Sweden took full control of central midfield, where Brolin and Schwarz ran rings around The Three Lions’ midfield and defence.
England’s lack of creativity from midfield and the wide areas showed throughout the tournament. The absence of both John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne due to injury undoubtedly hampered Lineker, Taylor and England.
On the one hand, defenders of Taylor will point out how the balance of the game was shifting anyway, so it is likely that Lineker’s presence would have made no difference. On the other hand, substituting a country’s most senior striker and reliable source of goals when needing to score will always represent a major gamble for any international manager.
Prior to Euro 92, Taylor had only lost one game out of 21 as England manager. However, criticism had slowly grown after the two results against Denmark and France. England simply had to progress to the semi-finals to validate Taylor’s decision and keep press criticism to a constructive minimum.
The failure to progress after the Lineker substitution represented arguably the sharpest turning point in the fortunes and opinion of any national manager. Taylor instantly became public enemy number one in the tabloids who viewed the decision to withdraw Lineker as the humiliation of a national hero.
Any chance of Taylor repairing his tarnished image was shattered by England’s unsuccessful qualification for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Unable to put consistent run of results together, Davide Gualtieri’s early goal for San Marino against England in late 1993 helped bring down the curtain on one of the most difficult periods for any Three Lions Manager.
Sweden’s victory began a golden period for Svensson’s outfit. In addition to reaching the semi-finals of the Euros, where they eventually fell to Germany, Sweden topped their qualification group for the 1994 World Cup. At the tournament in the United States, Sweden finished third, only losing to eventual winners Brazil in the semi-finals – their best tournament since finishing as runners-up to Pele’s Brazil in the 1958 tournament.