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12 most iconic moments in European Championship history

Cristiano Ronaldo lifts Euro 2016 trophy with Portugal

Iconic moments in European Championship history

In the 60-year history of the European Championships, this world-famous quadrennial international competition has produced some truly amazing moments.

So, to count down to Euro 2020, the 16th staging of the European Championships, here are the 11 most ironic matches and moments in it’s history, so far.

12: England 1-2 Iceland: Euro 2016 Round of 16

A match that’ll never be forgotten took place on 27 June 2016 at Stade de Nice.

Europe’s two biggest Islands went head to head as footballing superpowers England took on minnows Iceland.

At this point, England were competing in their 23rd major tournament whereas Iceland were making their debut.

Heimir Hallgrímsson and Lars Lagerbäck’s side had caused a real upset in qualifying, finishing second in Group A above Turkey and the Netherlands.

They then snuck through the group phase in France, drawing 1-1 with Portugal and Hungary before beating Austria in the last minute to reach the round of 16.

When England took the lead in just the fourth minute through a Wayne Rooney penalty, a win for the favourites looked inevitable.

But, just two minutes later, Ragnar Sigurðsson equalised after a long throw before Kolbeinn Sigþórsson’s squirmed the ball past Joe Hart and in.

Iceland led in the 19th minute and held out until the end to claim a famous victory.

The Iceland players, staff and fans performing the now iconic thunder clap in the French Riviera will never be forgotten.

Iceland went on to lost 5-2 to hosts France in the quarter-finals but that this just highlights how amazing it was that they toppled England.

Everyone loves a fairytale story and this was certainly one of the best, meriting its place on this list.

11: Croatia 1-1 Turkey: Euro 2008 Quarter-final

https://twitter.com/EURO2020/status/1274258435626995713?s=20

One of the most exciting, if forgotten matches ever to take place at a Euro occurred at Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna in 2008 at the quarter-final stage.

Croatia had qualified for Austria/Switzerland ’08 by knocking out England in qualifying, a famous final day 3-2 victory at Wembley the highlight.

Slaven Bilić’s side then, somewhat surprisingly, topped Group B above Germany, Austria and Poland, winning all three group games.

Turkey meanwhile lost their group opener, 2-0 to Portugal, but bounced back by beating the Swiss 2-1 and Czech Republic 3-2 to sneak through.

That latter an amazing win, in which they were 2-0 down, with Nihat Kahveci scoring twice in the final three minutes to send them through.

But the drama was just getting started.

So, in this last eight encounter, 118 minutes had been played and no goals had been scored: not that exciting I hear you say.

Well, in the 119th minute, Ivan Klasnić puts Croatia in front and they think a semi-final spot is surely their’s.

But, in the 122nd minute, Rüştü Reçber punts the ball forward, there’s a bit of a scramble in the box and Semih Şentürk smashes in an equaliser for Turkey.

That is the latest goal ever scored in European Championship history and what an important one it turned out to be.

Thus, penalties are required.

In the shootout, Arda Turan, Şentürk and Hamit Altıntop all score while Luka Modrić, Ivan Rakitić and Mladen Petrić are all denied as Turkey progress.

Turkey then lost a thrilling semi-final, 3-2 to Germany at St. Jakob-Park, but more drama like this quarter-final at Euro 2020 would get fans across the globe of their seats.

10: Germany 1-1 England: Euro 1996 Semi-final

An iconic European Championships night if not a very happy one from an England perspective.

Euro ’96 was all about showing the world that English football was back and was the best there was out there.

England hadn’t won any major silverware since lifting the World Cup, at Wembley, against Germany 30 years earlier.

Despite an opening day draw with Switzerland, Terry Venables’ side bounced back to top Group A, beating Scotland and then hammering Netherlands.

They then won a nerve-shredding penalty shootout against Spain in the quarter-finals; the first time the Three Lions had ever won a shootout.

This set up a semi-final against old foes Germany.

Die Mannschaft had cruised through the tournament up until this point, amassing seven points in the group against Czech Republic, Italy and Russia before overcoming Croatia in the last eight.

This was a first competitive meeting of the two nations since they met in the Italia ’90 semi-finals when Germany won a penalty shootout in Turin.

Alan Shearer and Stefan Kuntz traded early goals in this one but that’s not the single iconic moment that lives long in the memory.

The match went to extra time and, with the golden goal rule in place, just one goal and it would be over.

Late on in the additional period, a well-worked England move saw the ball switched out to Shearer on the right who played the ball across only for Paul Gascoigne to be millimetres away from a tap in, stretching with all his might to touch it.

The tie finished 1-1 so went to penalties and this produced the usual result.

Germany progressed to the final, which they would win, with Gareth Southgate the only man to miss.

1996 was, in many ways, the summer football came home although the trophy, as most international honours often do, found itself in German hands.

9: Germany 1-2 Italy: Euro 2012 Semi-final

https://twitter.com/EURO2020/status/1308685282737356805?s=20

This is a goal that can sometimes be forgotten when discussing the pantheon of great Euro moments.

But, it certainly merits a place on this list.

At Euro 2012, Germany were amongst the favourites to lift the trophy in Kyiv.

They’d won all three group games, topping the group of death above Portugal, Netherlands and Denmark, before hammering Greece 4-2 in the quarter-finals.

Italy meanwhile snuck out of Group C with five points, only beating a hopeless Republic of Ireland, before needing a penalty shootout to beat England.

So, going into this semi-final at Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw, it’s fair to say the Germans were red hot favourites.

However, it didn’t pan out that way.

Mario Balotelli’s brace helped Gli Azzuri to a 2-1 victory that was far more comprehensive then the scoreline suggests; Germany’s goal was a 92nd minute penalty from Mesut Özil.

Balotelli, only 22 years old at this point, opened the scoring with a bullet header from an Antonio Cassano cross but it was his second goal that’ll be forever remembered.

Riccardo Montolivo plays little more than a hopeful ball over the top and, with Philipp Lahm flailing to get back, Balotelli hammers the ball past Manuel Neuer, the world’s best goalkeeper.

The most iconic part is the celebration as Balotelli tosses his shirt aside to reveal a fine physic; the ultimate flex.

Italy then lost the final, 4-0 to Spain, but this victory over enemies Germany features an iconic moment.

8: France 3-2 Portugal: Euro 1984 Semi-final

For this iconic moment, you’ll need to turn the dial a bit further back on the time machine, back to 1984 to be precious.

No this moment didn’t take place in a George Orwell novel, more that summer’s European Championship semi-final.

France were the hosts, staging a major competition for the first time since the inaugural Euros were played 24 years earlier.

At this point, Les Bleus had never won a major competition, losing in semi-finals in 1958, 1960 and 1982.

So, this competition was all about Michel Hidalgo’s side delivering success.

It was all going well for France in the group stage where they won all three matches, scoring nine and conceding just two against Denmark, Belgium and Yugoslavia.

But, in this iconic semi-final in Marseille, they found Portugal a tougher nut to crack.

Jean-François Domergue put the hosts ahead but a Rui Jordão brace, the second of which was early in extra time, had them on the brink of elimination.

Domergue equalised in the 114th minute but the game looked destine to go to penalties.

That is until, in the final minute; Jean Tigana’s cross from the right found Michel Platini in the centre, he steadied himself and fired in the winner.

Platini, arguably the greatest player of his generation, cementing his place as such.

He’d go onto score in the final, his ninth goal in just five appearances at this tournament, as France beat Spain 2-0 to win their first ever trophy.

France have had, and currently have, some extraordinary footballers but Platini is part of the crème de la crème and this was his crowning moment.

7: France 0-1 Portugal: Euro 2016 Final

https://twitter.com/EURO2020/status/1281495119821025280?s=20

Staying in France, but fast forwarding 30 years, this is another clash between France and Portugal.

As was the case in 1986, France hosted the European Championships and this brought with it huge expectations that they were going to win the competition.

Since reaching the World Cup Final a decade earlier, les Bleus had gone out in the group stage of Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 before reaching the quarter-finals in 2012 and 2014.

Nevertheless, Didier Deschamps boasted a star-studded squad featuring N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann.

This talent was on show as France topped Group A with seven points before beating Republic of Ireland and Iceland in the knockout phase.

They then beat reigning world champions Germany 2-0 in the semi-finals at Stade Vélodrome; Griezmann with a brace on an iconic night of its own.

So, going into their final at Stade de France, the home team were overwhelming favourites.

That’s because, in contrast, Portugal had seemingly got to the final by mistake.

Fernando Santos’ side hadn’t won any of their group games, only getting through as one of the best ranked third-placed teams, before beating Croatia in extra time and Poland on penalties.

Their only win in 90 minutes in fact was in the semi-finals, a 2-0 win over surprise package Wales at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Then, in the final, talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo hobbled off with an injury after just 25 minutes.

André-Pierre Gignac missed France’s best chance in normal time as the game went to an additional half hour.

19 minutes into this extra 30, substitute Eder tried a long range shot that arrowed past Hugo Lloris, much to the shock of the home crowd.

That was enough to see Portugal lift their first major silverware; a bit of retribution for 30 years earlier perhaps.

Eder ensured he will always be a legend in Portugal and the then Lille striker was probably smart to leave Northern France for Lokomotiv Moscow shortly after.

6: Denmark 2-0 Germany: Euro 1992 Final

https://twitter.com/itvfootball/status/1399311600956420096?s=20

Before any major tournament newspaper columnists, pundits and supporters all around the world will debate who’s going to win the competition.

Most of the time, it’s impossible to predict but one thing is certain, it’ll be one of the teams who’ve qualified right?

Well, that was not the case 29 years ago.

Ahead of Euro 1992, eight countries were preparing to travel Sweden but Denmark were not one of them having finished second in qualifying Group 4.

However, they got the call at the 11th hour.

The winners of that group, Yugoslavia, were banned on 30 May 1992 by the UN after the outbreak of civil war.

With club seasons over, Danish players were on holiday but were called together just 10 days before the tournament kicked off.

This didn’t include star man Michael Laudrup who rated Denmark’s chances of success so low he opted to stay on holiday,

As a result of this, they started slowly, drawing 0-0 with England and then losing 1-0 to the hosts at Råsunda.

But, in the final group game, they snuck through to the semi-finals, beating France 2-1 in Malmö with Lars Elstrup scoring a late winner.

There, they faced reigning and defending champions Netherlands in Göteborg and Store Larsen’s braced helped the tie to a penalty shootout.

Superstar goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel saved Marco van Basten’s spot-kick and Denmark, against the odds, reached the final.

The specific iconic moment, of course, took place in this final.

Just 18 minutes in, Brøndby midfielder John Jensen smashed a shot into the top corner from long range; Bodo Illgner had no chance.

He would go onto sign for Arsenal that summer but only scored once in 118 games for the Gunners, doing so against QPR, with fans ironically signing “I was there when Jensen scored”.

However, he was the hero that day with Kim Vilfort securing the victory with a late goal in off the post in the second half.

In the space of 27 days, Denmark went from having failed to qualify to European Champions, all without their best player who was on the beach somewhere.

Scenes like this will, probably, never be replicated ever again.

5: Germany 0-1 Spain: Euro 2008 Final

The top five iconic moments in this list all took place in finals and, for this one specifically, it’s the final of 2008.

Spain and Germany were the two outstanding sides at Euro 2008 so, fittingly, they met in the final at a packed to the rafters Ernst-Happel-Stadion.

La Roja had needed penalties to beat Italy in the quarters before hammering Russia 3-0 in the last four.

Die Mannschaft meanwhile had been involved in two thrilling 3-2 victories, first over Portugal and then against Turkey, both at St. Jakob-Park.

So, Vienna played host to two teams packed with superstars.

Unlike the two semi-finals, this one witnessed just a solitary goal.

It came in the 33rd minute when Xavi played a trademark through-ball to Fernando Torres, at the peak of his powers, who pocked the ball past Jens Lehmann.

That was the only goal as Luis Aragonés’ side claimed Spain’s first trophy since Euro ’64.

They would of course go on to retain their title in Kyiv four years later, with the small matter of a World Cup triumph in between.

Spain would go onto be the most dominant national team in modern times and this was just the start.

They’d come along way in a very short period of time.

Aragonés’ side started qualifying with a 3-2 defeat in Belfast to Northern Ireland, immediately after which iconic players such as Raúl were dropped.

Instead, Aragonés favoured technical midfielders, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fàbregas and this style of player lit-up Euro 2008 and would dominant football for many years after.

Even with an amazing midfield, they needed someone to put the ball in the net and Torres certainly did that with this amazing moment.

4: Soviet Union 0-1 Netherlands: Euro 1988 Final

https://twitter.com/EURO2020FR/status/705443759803244544?s=20

Despite the passing of 33 years, this remains the best goal ever scored at a European Championships and that alone warrants its place as one of the most iconic moments.

Netherlands, under legendary coach Rinus Michels, were incredible at Euro ’88 playing their iconic brand of Total Football.

To get to the final, Oranje beat Republic of Ireland, England and then hosts and fierce rivals West Germany in the semis.

At Olympiastadion, they met Soviet Union, the side who’d beaten them 1-0 in the group phase.

This time, Holland made no mistake, taking a first half lead through Ruud Gullit.

But, it’s the second of the two goal that is so iconic.

Marco van Basten’s amazing volley, from such a tight angle, remains one of the best goals ever scored but to do it in a victorious Euro Final is what makes it so special.

Still, to this day, any volley scored anywhere is compared to van Basten’s strike with this goal the benchmark for great volleys, even after over three decades.

3: Czechoslovakia 2-2 West Germany: Euro 1976 Final

What talking about historic football moments, not just from the European Championships, Antonín Panenka’s contribution to the beautiful game will never be forgotten.

This is the oldest event on this list but that only adds to its pertinence.

The year is 1976 and the fifth iteration of the European Championships are taking place in Yugoslavia.

Just four teams qualified back then but, between them, they produced two thrilling semi-finals.

First, Czechoslovakia beat Netherlands 3-1 after extra time before, 24 hours later, the hosts were beaten 4-2 by West Germany, also after extra time; Dieter Müller with a hat-trick.

In the final itself in Belgrade, Czechoslovakia raced into a 2-0 lead, Ján Švehlík and Karol Dobiaš scoring, but strikes from Müller and then Bernd Hölzenbein forced extra time and then penalties.

This was the first penalty shootout in Euro history with, for example at Euro ’68, Italy winning the semi-final after a coin toss before winning a final replay.

The first seven penalties were all converted but Uli Hoeneß was denied, meaning Antonín Panenka had the chance to win it for Czechoslovakia.

Rather than getting his head down and hitting it as hard as he could, the norm in those days, Panenka delicately chipped the ball down the middle with Sepp Maier helplessly diving out the way to his left.

Panenka lends his name to this skill to this day, meaning his exploits in helping his nation win Euro ’76 will always be remembered.

2: France 2-1 Italy: Euro 2000 Final

Euro 2000 was the first to be co-hosted by two nations with Netherlands playing host the tournament alongside neighbours Belgium.

Two years earlier, France had won their first World Cup title, beating Brazil on home soil 3-0 in the final; Zinedine Zidane with a brace.

Despite being reigning world champions, this France team, now under Roger Lemerre, was even more vibrant and exciting.

They won their first two group games, then losing a dead-rubber to Netherlands, before beating Spain and then Portugal in the knockout phase.

In the latter, Thierry Henry equalised before Zidane won the tie with a 117th minute golden goal.

Golden goals were certainly the theme of this tournament as it was the second and final Euros to be played under this system.

So, Les Bleus reached the final where they would face the other blues, Gli Azzurri, Italy in Rotterdam.

Marco Delvecchio put the Italians in front early in the second half and that looked like it was going to be enough to see them claim their first silverware for 18 years.

But, in the third minute of added on time, Sylvain Wiltord raced clear and poked the ball past Francesco Toldo to force extra time.

In the additional half hour, David Trezeguet’s stunning volley in the 103rd minute saw France claim the trophy there and then in the most dramatic of circumstances.

France would go onto win two Confederations Cups after this before meeting Italy again in the 2006 World Cup Final which they lost on penalties.

However, this was when they were at the peak of their powers with such a fast, thrilling, attacking side so to win the Euros in this fashion makes it an iconic moment.

1: Portugal 0-1 Greece: Euro 2004 Final

https://twitter.com/HellasFooty/status/1279311243698819072?s=20

Everyone loves an underdog story.

Leicester City winning the Premier League or perhaps Wimbledon winning the FA Cup may be your footballing go-to in that regard.

Whatever sporting underdog victory you can think of, not many compare with Greece in 2004.

Going into Euro 2004, Greece had only ever qualified for two major tournaments: Euro 1980 and USA ’94, at both, combined, they’d amassed just one point.

So, when the group stage draw was made, they were ranked 15 out of the 16 finalists, only Latvia were below them.

Despite this, they caused a massive upset by beating hosts Portugal 2-1 in the tournament opener at Estádio do Dragão; Giorgos Karagounis and Angelos Basinas scoring.

However, they could then only draw with Spain and were beaten by Russia so only snuck through to the knockout phase above the Spanish on goals scored.

Thus, that victory over the Portuguese was written off as a fluke and Greece were given no chance as they took on defending champions France at Estádio José Alvalade.

But, in their trademark smash-and-grab defensive style, Otto Rehhagel’s side dumped out the side who’d won World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000.

In the semis, they played out a 0-0 draw with Czech Republic before getting through via a silver goal, scored by Traianos Dellas just seconds before half time of extra time.

So, in the final, 22 days after they kicked off the tournament together, Portugal and Greece met once again.

The iconic moment going to number one on this list came in the 57th minute; Angelos Basinas’ corner was headed in by Angelos Charisteas from close range.

That would prove to be the only goal in Greece’s third successive 1-0 victory as they lifted the trophy, much to the dismay of the home crowd in Lisbon.

Euro 2020 will be the 16th staging of the European Champions and, the previous 15, have been won by ten different nations.

However, none have been more a shock than Greece in 2004 and that’ll take some beating in any international competition.


This article was edited by Benjamin Newman.

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