Richard Møller Nielsen, the coach who led Denmark to glory at the 1992 UEFA European Championship in Sweden, has died at the age of 76 after a lengthy illness.
Still considered one of the nation's greatest sporting achievements, Denmark's success in 1992 was all the more remarkable given Møller Nielsen only had ten days to prepare his team for the tournament, with Denmark drafted in following the exclusion of Yugoslavia. After making it through their group as runners-up, the Danes beat the Netherlands on penalties in the semi-finals, then overcame Germany 2-0 in the decider in Gothenburg.
"You can say that a coach is always measured by his results, and he achieved the greatest result ever at EURO '92," said one of Denmark's leading football experts, Flemming Toft. "He was a coach with great attributes. He had a fantastic fighting spirit as a player as well as a coach. He refused to give in, even if things looked hopeless. They got to the EURO at the last moment, and still he believed completely in his side's chances. His entire being and his mind was like that."
John Jensen, who scored the opening goal in the final, said of his late mentor: "He was perhaps the greatest coach we ever had in Danish football. It was a great honour to play under him. He made the right decisions at the right times. He was just the coach we needed in the situation we were in – where we had not prepared at all." The Danes' goalkeeper at EURO '92, Peter Schmeichel, tweeted his own tribute: "An inspiration, my teacher and my friend. RIP Richard Møller Nielsen, a true legend of Danish football and a very nice man."
"He was a fantastic person who had an enormous importance to Danish football," said his predecessor at the Denmark helm Sepp Piontek. "He was extremely dedicated in his way of working and he had a decisive influence on the development of new talent. I travelled with him a lot, and no matter whether you were in Mexico, Qatar or France, you could always come to him and talk if you had a problem. He was extremely good at listening."
A defender during his playing days, Møller Nielsen made his coaching breakthrough at Odense BK, the club based on the island of Funen, where he was born and lived his whole life. He led OB to Danish titles in 1977 and 1982 before joining the Denmark set-up – initially as Under-21 coach. He was in sole command of the senior team from 1992–96 and later took charge of Finland and Israel, retiring in 2003 after a brief spell with Kolding FC.
Danish Football Association (DBU) president Allan Hansen 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 football is enormous and that we have him to thank for the European Championship – the biggest achievement in the history of Danish sport."
"This is a day of mourning for football – a great man has gone," said Football Association of Finland (SPL-FBF) president Pertti Alaja. "He gave people a huge amount of confidence, on and off the field. He had a charming personality and was a true ambassador for football." Israel Football Association (IFA) president Avraham Luzon added: "He was a true friend of Israel and loved the country and its people."
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