While you await the summer’s feast of football look back on some of these marvellous memories from past tournaments
The win, draw and loss they achieved would have felt like a victory for outsiders Greece. Grinding out a victory against favourites France, and extra-time triumph over the much-fancied Czech Republic dragged the 80/1 outsiders to a final where Angelos Charisteas scored the most famous goal in Greek history and consigned a young Cristiano Ronaldo and his pals to a crushing defeat.
There is a history of underdogs going all the way at the European Championships. Denmark should not even have been in Sweden to contest the finals. They were a late entry when Yugoslavia was denied entry due to war at home. But after scraping through the group stages and a penalty shoot-out triumph over holders the Netherlands it was too easy to defeat a misfiring German team for an unlikely victory.
Coin toss champions
Losing on penalties or to a golden goal can be gut-wrenching, but it would seem like a triumph compared to losing a semi-final on the toss of a coin. That is what happened to USSR after normal and extra time was goalless. Team captains followed the ref into the dressing rooms before Giacinto Facchetti correctly called heads.
Winning back-to-back championships (with a World Cup in between) is enough to give the Spain team a claim to being the greatest national side of all time. A team of Barcelona and Real Madrid stars, plus a handful of other stars gelled perfectly and the style now known in the game as tiki taka changed the game for many years since.
Two years after winning the World Cup a generation of French players took the European Championships in dramatic circumstances. Everything about their progress was thrilling. A Zinedine Zidane penalty in the 117th minute was a last gasp winner in the semi-finals and set the tone for a memorable final. A 93rd minute Sylvian Wiltord goal denied Italy victory right at the death before David Trezeguet grabbed a golden goal.
Netherlands teams have bags of individual talent but fail to gel on the big stage. That is the rule of international football, right? Then 1988 must be an exception as a squad including the Koeman brothers, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and more won their country’s only ever major honour by playing free-flowing attacking football as a bonded unit.
Football coming home. Almost
As much as their fans expect to be among the winners England rarely bother trophy engravers. On home turf in the summer of 96, however, there was a feeling they would go all the way and music, fashion, and a sense of swagger permeated the nation. Stuart Pearce’s psychotic goal celebration in a semi-final victory gave England belief. Then they lost on penalties to Germany and normal service was resumed
OK Germany we all get it – you’re really good at football. Although they have won it three times and been as far as the semi-final seven it was the all-conquering West Germany of 1972 that stands out as the greatest team. Franz Beckenbauer at the back and Gerd Muller up front could almost have won it by themselves so total was their mastery.
This year the tournament expands to 24 teams, a far cry from the inaugural event’s four. There have been more than 230 matches played in the name of the European Championships but rarely has the drama of the first ever game been matched. A 5-4 thriller saw Yugoslavia score three times in four minutes to triumph over France and introduce Euro-centric football to dominate our lives every four years ever since.
Amoros loses his head
More than 20 years before Zinedine Zidane followed in his footsteps with an outrageous head-butt of his own, Manuel Amoros had a sudden flash of anger that quickly resulted in him being sent to the stands. Following a foul from Denmark’s Jesper Olsen the French defender clambered to his feet and head-butted the sitting Dane directly in front of the referee. Not a fine sporting moment, but a memorable one all the same.