It’s now 56 years since the staging of the first UEFA European Championship, and the fourteen tournaments to date have conjured up a reliable supply of footballing drama. In expectation of this summer’s championship in France, we take a look at the Euros’ most memorable moments over the decades.
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1960: The First Match Produces Nine Goals
The format of the first finals tournament involved just four countries, three of which – the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia – technically no longer exist. But the inaugural match was nothing if not worthy of the occasion, with Yugoslavia throwing France a sucker-punch by coming back from a 4-2 deficit to score three times in the last 15 minutes, eventually winning 5-4.
1976: Penenka’s Penalty
The 1976 final between Czechoslovakia and West Germany was the first major tournament to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. It’s remembered chiefly for the cool head of Czech midfielder Antonin Panenka who, with the score at 4-3 in his country’s favour, produced an ice-cool dink to send the ball ballooning softly into keeper Sepp Maier’s net, clinching victory.
1984: Platini Sees Off Portugal
“I’ve not seen a match like this in years,” gasped commentator John Motson at the end of this fizzing extravaganza of a semi-final, which saw Michel Platini’s France winning 3-2 in extra time. Platini’s star has waned in recent times, of course, but the match still serves as a reminder of the flair and élan he showed on the pitch.
1988: Ronnie Whelan’s Scissor Kick
The best goals are sometimes the simplest ones. In the case of Ronnie Whelan’s masterful finish against the USSR in 1988, all that was needed was one hefty throw-in (courtesy of Mick McCarthy) and one alert midfielder on the edge of the box with the wherewithal to twist his body off the ground and rifle the ball into the top corner. Poetry.
1988: The Van Basten Volley
Is there a more exquisite moment in Euros history than Marco Van Basten’s odds-defying 1988 volley against the Soviet Union? The Dutchman appeared almost nonchalant as Arnold Muhren’s looped cross fell to him close to the byline, but caught the ball so sweetly and improbably as to leave defenders dumbstruck. The fact that it was scored in the final renders the goal all the more timeless.
1992: Brolin Brings Misery To England
Despite having reached the last four of the World Cup just two years earlier, the 1992 England side was by no means a vintage one. The fact was highlighted emphatically by a Swedish side spearheaded by a young Tomas Brolin, who belted home a glorious 82nd minute winner to condemn Graham Taylor’s men to an early exit.
1992: Denmark Upset The Odds
They weren’t even supposed to be there. Drafted in only after Yugoslavia became embroiled in break-up and warfare, the unfancied Danish national team produced one of the greatest upsets in sporting history when they saw off heavyweights such as France and the Netherlands to reach the 1992 final, where they beat Germany 2-0.
1996: Gazza’s Scotland goal
The mercurial footballing talent of Paul Gascoigne reached something approaching its apex just after 4.30pm on the afternoon of 15 June 1996, when the midfielder danced onto a Darren Anderton through-ball, left defender Colin Hendry befuddled on the turf and volleyed the ball into the Scotland net. The goal, along with the infamous “dentist’s chair” celebration that followed, became arguably the defining moment of the tournament.
1996: The Poborsky Scoop
In 1996 the Czech Republic put together a string of fine performances that took them all the way to the final, but the stand-out moment was Karel Poborsky’s audacious goal against Portugal in the quarter-finals. Bearing down on the area, the wild-haired midfielder executed a 20-yard scoop of such geometric perfection that the four defenders around him were left as stranded as the keeper.
1996: Suker Strands Schmeichel
Euro 96 threw up a surplus of memorable goals, not least of which was Davor Suker’s brilliantly cheeky chip against Denmark. When the ball fell to the Croatian striker in space midway into the opposition half, he controlled the ball deftly with his first touch, teed himself up with his second and, with his sublime third, sent the ball spiralling high over the not-inconsiderable barrier of Peter Schmeichel.
1996: Germany’s Golden Goal
The now-defunct “golden goal” rule decided the outcome of the 1996 tournament, with German substitute Oliver Bierhoff forcing an extra-time winner past the flapping arms of Czech goalkeeper Petr Kouba. It was no wonder strike, but the end result was a fair reflection on Germany, who had been doggedly consistent throughout the competition.
2004: Manich Lets One Fly
Portugal, playing on home turf, served up a wonder goal in their 2004 semi-final against the Netherlands. Twelve minutes into the second half, Cristiano Ronaldo played a safe, innocuous-looking short corner to teammate Maniche on the far left of the box. Unambitious football? Hardly. Pausing only to adjust his angle, the one-time Chelsea midfielder then proceeded to let rip a deliciously curling right-footed drive that swung inside Edwin van der Sar’s back post.
2004: Greece Is The Word
It’s safe to say that when the sixteen qualifying nations arrived in Portugal for Euro 2004, Greece weren’t among the favourites. The country had only appeared at the tournament once before, and boasted a FIFA ranking lower than all but three of the other competing nations. By early July, however – thanks to a 1-0 final win against the hosts, who rather had their party spoiled – they were heading back to Athens with the trophy.
2012: Spain Make It Two In A Row
Until Spain followed their 2008 victory by dispatching Italy 4-0 in the 2012 final, no country had successfully managed to defend the European Championship title. The achievement was aided by the retention of a core of superb players – the likes of Iniesta, Xavi, Casillas, Silva and Ramos – and made it a hat-trick of tournament wins for the country, who had also brought home the FIFA World Cup in 2010.