The UEFA European Championship is a competition reserved for Europe’s elite teams to determine the continent’s strongest national team. Although, its current format consisting of 24 participating teams (out of 55 UEFA members) perhaps somehow limits the exclusivity of the tournament. Nevertheless, in 1964, merely four nations took part. Luxembourg were remarkably close to being one of those nations. The tiny nation stood on the threshold of the European Championship. But before we get into that, a brief history of Luxembourg’s national team is warranted. Such a near-achievement deserves context.
When Luxembourg Stood on the Brink of the European Championship
Being founded in 1908, Luxembourg would have to wait until 1914 before they won their first match. But what a victory it was – 5-4 against France. The Red Lions also participated in six editions of the Olympic Games between 1920-1952. In two of which, they advanced past the preliminary round – 1948 and 1952. They defeated Afghanistan in 1948 and Great Britain in 1952, but do keep in mind football at the summer Olympics was essentially an amateur competition. Quite impressive nonetheless, though. Also, Luxembourg are yet to qualify for a FIFA World Cup or UEFA European Championship, with 20 failed qualification attempts for the World Cup and 16 failed attempts for the Euros.
1964 UEFA European Championship Qualification
Luxembourg stood on the threshold of the 1964 European Championship. They came painfully close to qualifying. In the first qualification match, they played against their arch-rivals; their big brother, the Netherlands. Believe it or not, Luxembourg were considered to be so good that they were given a bye from the preliminary round. So, their first match was in round one. Nonetheless, the Netherlands had defeated Switzerland in the preliminary round and they were considered the favourites.
Two Away Matches Against the Netherlands
It was a two-legged fixture and an odd one at that because both of the fixtures were played in the Netherlands, likely because Luxembourg lacked a stadium sufficient enough to host a match of such magnitude. Their first match was in Amsterdam and they sensationally held the Dutch to a 1-1 draw. An acceptable slip-up by Oranje, but they were certain to win the ‘return’ fixture in Rotterdam, right?
Camille Dimmer gave Luxembourg the lead in the 20th minute, but this was mitigated only 15 minutes later when Piet Kruiver equalized. However, it would be Dimmer who got the final say in the matter as he scored the winning goal 22 minutes into the second half. Luxembourg had advanced to the second round where a win over Denmark would secure them a place at UEFA Euro 1964.
Home Match Against Denmark
For whatever reason, Luxembourg were able to host a match this time, played at the Stade Municipal with an attendance of around 7,000 people. The Red Lions could not have gotten a better start, as Louis Pilot of Standard Liege opened the scoring before a minute had passed. This lead was shortlived, though, as Ole Madsen made it 1-1 in the ninth minute.
It was the embodiment of an end-to-end game. Henri Klein made it 2-1 to Luxembourg before Madsen equalized a few minutes later. In the second half, Madsen scored yet again to make it 3-2 Denmark and secure his hat-trick. Klein got the final laugh, though, making it 3-3 in the 51st minute.
Ole Madsen’s Continued Rampage
The Copenhagen fixture was also a thriller. Luxembourg obtained the lead only for Madsen to equalize and eventually make it 2-1 Denmark. They failed to protect this lead yet again, though, as Adolphe Schmit made it 2-2. The team that qualified for Euro 1964 was going to be decided by a replay on neutral soil.
Unlike the two previous fixtures, this was a rather boring affair with few goals, but in late December back in ’63, Madsen hypnotized and mesmerized Luxembourg with the winning goal, handing Denmark a 6-5 aggregate victory.
Getting as far as Luxembourg did was the equivalent of reaching the quarter-finals of the Euros today. It is a major achievement, even though they did not qualify.