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World Cup Memories – 1986: Jan Molby and Denmark blow huge opportunity

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In today’s edition of ‘World Cup Moments’, Henry Jackson looks back at Jan Molby’s Denmark side at Mexico ’86, and how they spurned a great chance to win football’s greatest tournament.

The Tournament

Argentina won a terrific 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and they had one man predominantly to thank for their success.

Diego Maradona was sensational from start to finish, and firmly cemented his place as the best player in the world at the time. His performance against England in the quarter-finals was majestic, regardless of the ‘Hand of God’ goal, and he produced a similarly breathtaking display against Belgium in the semi-finals too.

The Albiceleste beat West Germany 3-2 in a thrilling final at Estadio Azteka, in front of 114,600 fans. Jose Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano put Argentina 2-0 up, only for Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voller to bring the two sides level with nine minutes left. It was left to Jorge Burruchaga to score the winner for the South American’s after 84 minutes, after typically brilliant work by Maradona.

As mentioned, Bobby Robson’s England side were knocked out by a Maradona-inspired Argentina in the last-eight, having beaten Paraguay 3-0 in the second round and progressing past a group containing Morocco, Poland and Portugal.

Although there were no Liverpool players in the Three Lions squad, future legends John Barnes and Peter Beardsley, who both moved to Anfield a year later in 1987, were key to their country’s chances.

A despicable piece of cheating by Maradona, followed by a moment of individual genius, was enough to see off Robson and his men.


Molby and Denmark 

Going into Mexico ’86, many people felt Denmark had the potential to go all the way. Like Belgium in Brazil this summer, they had an extremely talented generation of stars capable of being the tournament’s dark horse.

With the likes of Michael Laudrup, Preben Elkjaer, Frank Arnesen and Morten Olsen in their ranks, they were a match for anyone on their day.

Also in their squad was Jan Molby, Liverpool’s brilliant young playmaker. He was just 22 when the tournament got underway, and although he struggled to nail down a place as a regular at that point, he still managed one start and three substitute appearances in Mexico.

The Danes sailed through a potentially tough group containing West Germany, Uruguay and Scotland, winning all three games and scoring nine goals in the process. They also only conceded one.

The 1-0 win over the Scots saw Molby get one over on his Liverpool teammate Steve Nicol, with the full-back starting for Alex Ferguson’s side. Scotland were dismal in general, and exited the tournament without winning a game.

Molby and Denmark faced Spain in the second round, and although many felt Sepp Piontek’s side would prevail, what followed was one of the most disappointing results in the country’s history.

Jesper Olsen’s penalty gave them the lead after 33 minutes, but from that point on it was truly disastrous.

Olsen’s terrible back-pass gifted Emilio Butragueno an equaliser, and the Real Madrid striker put La Roja 2-1 up 11 minutes into the second-half. Andoni Goicoechea made it 3-1 from the penalty spot, and although Molby was introduced two minutes later, the game was already slipping away.

Butragueno added two more to his collection, one of which was a penalty of his own, to complete a remarkable 5-1 win.

Denmark were sent packing, and much like the Netherlands side of 1974 and Brazil in 1982, they are widely regarded as one of the finest sides never to win a World Cup.

Molby’s Denmark career never really took off like his Liverpool one, and he played his last international in 1990, at the age of just 27.

He made 292 appearances for the Reds, scoring 61 goals, winning three league titles (1985/86, 1987/88, 1988/89) three FA Cups (1985/86, 1988/89, 1991/92) and one League Cup (1994/95) with the club.

Other LFC Players Present at the 1986 World Cup

Steve Nicol (Scotland)- Eliminated in the group stages

Previous World Cup Moments:

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