European Championships Archives

European Championships Archives—Part IV: Its Coming Home to Impossible is Nothing (England 1966 to Portugal 2004)

As the countdown to Euro 2016 draws near, Melosport continues its European Championships archive, focusing England hosting its first major tournament for 30 years through to Greece achieving  the impossible in Portugal


1996 England European Championships

Euro 96

The amended format of the finals accommodated 16 qualified nations who were split into four groups. The top two from each group would then progress into the quarter-finals. Four teams made their finals debut—Croatia, Turkey, Bulgaria and Switzerland.

Terry Venables’ Three Lions were hosts, 30 years after Wembley witnessed England’s epic World Cup final win over West Germany. After two years of playing friendlies, preceded by their miserable failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, widespread criticism dismissed the hosts’ chances of silverware. Drunken shenanigans during warm-up matches in Hong Kong hardly helped matters but the country was galvanised with the release of Its Coming Home.

The team hadn’t gelled despite a talented roster. Venables could call lavish riches in the striking department with the likes of Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Robbie Fowler. Established stars elsewhere on the pitch such as Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince, Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce and David Seaman ensured there was a quiet buzz of anticipation.

Despite Shearer dominating the Premier League landscape, he had gone 12 consecutive matches without an England goal during the run up to the finals, yet Venables’ loyalty towards the Blackburn Rovers’ frontman never waivered. This much scrutinised decision was fully vindicated 23 minutes into the opening match of Euro ’96 as Shearer scored and promptly kicked off his Golden Boot tally.

Despite England leading their opponents Switzerland, managed by current England boss Roy Hodgson, were a very organised outfit and managed a credible 1-1 draw courtesy of a penalty. Shearer netted again against the Scots. David Seaman saved a crucial penalty at 1-0 and Paul Gascoigne immediately sealed the win with a vintage strike to sink England’s old foes.

The Dutch were next and they were obliterated 4-1. In-form Shearer scored twice and at 4-0 Holland were heading home but Patrick Kluivert scored a vital consolation goal as Le Oranje finished above Scotland on goal difference.

Elsewhere a new-look France, containing the rising star Zinedine Zidane, won Group B ahead of Spain and 1994 World Cup semi-finalists Bulgaria. World Cup runners-up Italy were eliminated in Group C on goal difference as the surprise package of the tournament — Czech Republic — grabbed second place behind the formidable Germans.

Group D witnessed the rise of Croatia, particularly during their one-sided triumph against the defending champions Denmark. Even with both Laudrup brothers on board, the Danes were swept aside 3-0 by Davor Suker’s clinical left foot. The Vatreni were brilliantly orchestrated by Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki.

Suker announced himself onto the world stage against Denmark

Suker announced himself onto the world stage against Denmark

In the quarter-finals Les Bleus played out a stalemate against the Dutch but won on penalties. They then faced the Czechs in the semi-finals, who had knocked out Portugal in the quarters, thanks to a sublime Karel Poborsky chip. Penalties, again, determined the winner as Pedros was the unlucky culprit for France as his miss sent the Czechs into the final.

Elsewhere, Seaman continued his penalty heroics as England edged out Spain at a packed Wembley stadium. Klinsmann and co knocked out Croatia 2-1 to set up a mouth-watering semi-final against the hosts.

The Daily Mirror's coverage of the semi-final

The Daily Mirror’s coverage of the semi-final

As per usual the media went overboard in promoting this match as an extension to the Second World War. The game ended 1-1 with both sides coming very close to winners in extra-time. For the second time in six years England then lost to the Germans on penalties and chaos following around pockets of England as hooligans attacked mostly German cars.

The final was the first to be decided by the golden goal rule. The Czechs shocked the Germans by opening the scoring but Oliver Bierhoff equalised and just five minutes into extra-time added another and as a unified nation Die Mannschaft won its first major tournament.

Key Facts

  • Teams: 16
  • Winner: Germany
  • Runner-Up: Czech Republic
  • Goals: 64 goals in 31 games (2.06 goals per game)
  • Golden Boot: Alan Shearer — 5 goals (5 games)


2000 Belgium/Holland European Championships

Euro '00

For the first time in European Championships history, the tournament was co-hosted with games held across Belgium and Holland.

Rui Costa and Luis Figo inspired Portugal early on as they played out one of the games of the tournament in Eindhoven. England led 2-0 within the opening 20 minutes but the Portuguese hit back with Figo, Joao Pinto and Nuno Gomes hitting the target. They also won their remaining matches to finish top of Group A while both England and Germany were sent home early.

Italy also started with a 100 percent record but Azzurri coach, Dino Zoff, was challenged in accommodating both Alessandro Del Piero and Francesco Totti in his system. Despite winning their first match co-hosts Belgium, lost against the Italians and the Turks and therefore failed to progress to the knock-out rounds.

Tournament debutants Norway and Slovenia found themselves in Group C. The Norweigans wasted no time in making their presence felt with a 1-0 win over contenders’ Spain early doors but that was as good as it would get for the Scandinavians as they failed to score anymore goals. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, were the entertainers of the group winning 1-0, drawing 3-3 and losing 3-4 in their three matches to finish ahead of Norway on goal difference.

Yugoslavia's Savo Milosevic was joint top scorer at Euro '00

Yugoslavia’s Savo Milosevic was joint top scorer at Euro ’00

Group D, seemingly, was the toughest group as World Champions France were grouped with co-hosts Holland, Denmark and 1996 finalists Czech Republic. The former pair won their first two games to both qualify from the group.

In the quarter-finals Les Bleus triumphed 2-1 over Spain in Bruge thanks to Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff. Portugal and Italy were growing stronger by the game as they both won their respective knock-out ties 2-0 against Turkey and Romania. In Rotterdam, Patrick Kluivert scored a hat-trick as the Dutch hammered Yugoslavia 6-1.

Going into the semi-finals, France faced Portugal while Italy would play Holland for a place in the final. At this stage in his career Zidane had become the world’s best players and Dutchman Edgar Davids summarised him as follows:

He thinks in one second and does it the next. He is a special player, one who is original and exceptional. He creates space where there is none. Only the very players can do that. No matter where he gets the ball or how it comes to him Zidane can get out of trouble. His imagination and technique are amazing.

While Zidane put on a show against Portugal in the semi-final, goalkeepers Fabian Barthez and Victor Baia ensured extra-time was required to determine a winner as they kept the score 1-1.

Both teams continued to push in extra-time and five minutes from time Portuguese defender Abel Xavier handled Sylvain Wiltord’s cross. The furious Portuguese complained that only the intervention of the linesman resulted in the penalty being awarded.  Zidane confidently despatched the resultant penalty and World Champions marched on to the final.

Les Bleus would meet Zoff’s fortunate Azzurri in the final as co-hosts Holland suffered their fourth penalty shoot-out elimination in their last five major tournaments. The Dutch squandered chances galore during the match which ironically included two penalties. After 120 minutes of stalemate, plus having one additional player for the majority of the match, the Dutch then missed three from four penalties in the shoot-out which compounded their woe at Euro 2000.

The final was a classic. A lively first half may not have produced goals but there was plenty of action. After the interval Italy’s unlikely starter, Marco Delvecchio, steered Italy ahead. Del Piero squandered chances afterwards and they proved costly as Wiltord equalised in the 93rd minute to force extra-time.

French substitute and ironically Juventus forward, David Trezeguet, smashed in a golden goal winner following a superb run and cross from Robert Pires enabling France to become the first World Champions to be crowned European Champions.

Silvio Berlusconi, Milan president and lover of bunga-bunga parties, could not resist criticising Zoff. He said after the final that he was ‘indignant’ that Zoff had not assigned a man to mark Zidane, with the result being different if he had. In a protracted tirade from Italy’s centre-right leader he also described Zoff’s strategy as ‘undignified’ and ‘the actions of one of the last amateur coaches’. Zoff soon resigned.

Key Facts

  • Teams: 16
  • Winner: France
  • Runner-Up: Italy
  • Goals: 85 goals in 31 games (2.74 goals per game)
  • Golden Boot: Patrick Kluivert / Savo Milosevic — both 5 goals


2004 Portugal European Championships

Euro '04

Gone was the golden goal winner which had won the previous 1996 and 2000 finals for the Germans and the French respectively. It was replaced by the silver goal rule meaning that if a team led at the extra-time interval they were the match winners.

In Group A hosts Portugal started off with a shock 2-1 loss to Greece — which in due course would become the norm. A Selecção bounced back by beating Russia and Spain to reach the quarter-finals.

Greece’s heroics against the Iberian nations meant they scraped through to the knock-out rounds. Led by the charismatic German Otto Rehhagel, they surpassed all expectations in reaching the knock-out rounds since before Euro ’04 they had never won a point at a major tournament before. Their progress to the knock-out rounds was the start of a great adventure…

David Beckham missed a penalty as England led 1-0 against France

David Beckham missed a penalty as England led 1-0 against France

In Group B, France and England played out an enthralling first round game. Frank Lampard scored a first-half header from a trademark David Beckham free-kick and then a young Wayne Rooney was brought down to earn England a penalty. Barthez guessed correctly and kept out Beckham’s spot-kick which The Three Lions were left to rue as Zidane scored a free-kick and then converted a penalty in injury-time to win three opening points for the defending champions.

The defeat merely galvanised England, and particularly Rooney, who ran amok against Switzerland (3-0) and Croatia (4-2) scoring four goals across both games. Both France and England qualified comfortably for the knock-out stages.

In Group C, Sweden and Denmark played out a 2-2 draw in the final match which saw both countries proceed to the quarter-finals and in turn eliminate Italy — all three teams finished on five points but the Scandinavian pair possessed a healthier goal difference.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich scored an outrageous backheel goal vs Italy

Zlatan Ibrahimovich scored an outrageous backheel goal vs Italy

For the second European tournament in succession the Germans suffered an early exit. Despite finishing as 2002 World Cup runners-up, two draws and a defeat against the tournament favourites—Czech Republic—meant Die Mannschaft would start their preparations for the 2006 World Cup earlier than anticipated. The Czechs were the only team at Euro 2004 to win their group with a 100 percent record. Also in Group D, Holland secured their qualification with a 3-0 win over debutants Latvia.

In the quarter-finals Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo faced off at the Estadio da Luz. Goals, drama and two hours of football couldn’t separate the two sides but Portugal progress on penalties while Rooney’s tournament ended prematurely after breaking his foot midway through the first half. Portugal’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.

Ricardo scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out vs England

Keeper Ricardo scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out vs England

In Faro, the Dutch broke the mould to become penalty shoot-out winners against the Swedes following a 0-0 draw. The Czechs continued their impressive form with a 3-0 win over Denmark to set up a semi-final showdown with Greece.

The Greeks had dumped out the holders France 1-0 in the quarter-finals thanks to an Angelos Charisteas’ header. Despite no household stars Rehhagel ensured his charges were superbly organised and they proved a match for anyone. They adopted an ultra defensive approach but this played to their strengths to kept opponents at bay with an ardent ability of snatching set-piece goals.

Against the Czechs the silver goal came into play. Traianos Dellas headed Greece ahead on the stroke of extra-time half-time which ensured the Euro 2004 fairytale continued. The final was a repeat of the tournament’s opening game — Portugal versus Greece.

Ethniki had performed brilliantly by knocking out the holders and the favourites to date yet despite already beating the Portuguese, the widespread feeling was that the Greeks’ unforeseen virtuous journey would come to an end in Lisbon.

Portugal had 16 attempts on goal and forced 10 corners. Greece on the other hand secured one corner in the entire 90 minutes and scored — Charisteas leapt like a salmon to head Greece into dreamland.

Greece's triumph was a marketing dream for Adidas

Greece’s triumph was a marketing dream for Adidas



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