Denmark's thunder stolen by Sa Pinto

Denmark 1 Portugal 1
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The Independent Online
In the most absorbing match of the tournament so far, Denmark last night made an unconvincing if undefeated start to the defence of the title they won so unexpectedly four years ago. Portugal's flair made them appear merely functional for long periods, but an error by Vitor Baia, who compared less than favourably with Peter Schmeichel, forced them to come from behind.

The Kop, a sight to gladden a Sheffield United die-hard's heart, with a mass of Danish red and white occupying what is normally a soundtrap of blue and white fanaticism, rose to hail a superbly executed early goal by Brian Laudrup. Portugal, however, thrived on the virtuosity of Rui Costa and deservedly made their point through Ricardo Sa Pinto.

Rui Costa, one of three Italian-based players in their side, could easily have had a hat-trick inside the opening half-hour. In only the third minute he attempted the kind of audacious chip with which he scored against the Republic of Ireland in the qualifying section, lofting the ball over Schmeichel but also the Dane's crossbar.

After a free-kick from Fernando Couto was charged down, Rui Costa again beat Schmeichel with a follow-up from 20 yards only for the ball to veer narrowly wide of the far post. In the Portuguese goal, the comparatively unemployed Vitor Baia was to have no such good fortune as the Danes took the lead midway through the first half in practically their only moment of menace. Sending a languid clearance against Mikkel Beck, Vitor Baia was mortified to see the ball cannon off the striker's face to Brian Laudrup, who was lurking on the right of his penalty area. Although the Rangers player still had it all to do, he swerved round Fernando Couto and Paulinho Santos before switching the ball on to his right foot. A fierce, angled drive left Vitor Baia forlorn.

Still Portugal swept forward. Schmeichel, who must have been unsighted, saved brilliantly from Rui Costa's cunning low free-kick. He then acted almost as a sweeper to block with his legs as Joao Pinto took aim from 12 yards out.

The irrepressible Rui Costa tried his luck again from long range as the interval beckoned. Schmeichel's finger tips diverted the shot behind yet the referee, otherwise impressively firm and unfussy, awarded a goalkick.

Portugal's enterprise was duly rewarded eight minutes into the second half. Ironically, the equaliser came after one of Denmark's more flowing attacks was broken up. Antonio Folha whipped in a centre from the left, which curled away from Schmeichel.

The goalkeeper had decided, not unreasonably, that Jens Risager was better placed to effect the clearance. But the defender was caught ball-watching, allowing Sa Pinto to steal in front of him and score his first goal at international level.

Portugal had earned their parity, and Denmark were once more indebted to Schmeichel's anticipation and willingness to use his legs after Joao Pinto had wriggled clear. In contrast Vitor Baia remained a virtual spectator, but he partially redeemed himself by denying Brian Laudrup with his feet 15 minutes from time.

Denmark's mantle did not rest easily on their shoulders. Michael Laudrup, reportedly intent on making up for missing out on Euro 92, was disappointingly off the pace. Beck, too, often toiled alone, and hard though any team boasting Schmeichel will be to beat, it was Portugal's youthful precocity that won over neutrals in the crowd.

Goals: B Laudrup (22) 1-0; Sa Pinto (53) 1-1.

DENMARK (1-3-5-1): Schmeichel (Manchester United); Hogh (Fenerbahce); Helveg (Udinese), Rieper (West Ham), Risager (Brondby); B Laudrup (Rangers), Larsen (Lyngby), Thomsen (Ipswich Town), B S Nielsen (Odense), M Laudrup (Real Madrid); Beck (Fortuna Cologne). Substitutes: Piechnik (Aarhus) for Thomsen, 83; Vilfort (Brondby) for Larsen, 90.

PORTUGAL (4-4-1-1): Vitor Baia (Porto); Paulinho Santos (Porto), Fernando Couto (Parma), Helder (Benfica), Dimas (Benfica); Sa Pinto (Uniao Leiria), Paulo Sousa (Juventus), Oceano (Sporting Lisbon), Figo (Barcelona); Rui Costa (Fiorentina); Joao Pinto (Benfica). Substitutes: Folha (Porto) for Oceano, 3; Domingos (Porto) for Figo, 63; Tavares (Boavista) for Paulo Sousa, 79.

Referee: M van der Ende (Netherlands).

Bookings: Denmark: Risager, Helveg. Portugal: Oceano, Sa Pinto, Paulo Sousa, Joao Pinto, Paulinho Santos.

Man of the match: Rui Costa.

Attendance: 34,993.