Top 20 moments & matches of Euro 2020
This may be a case of recency bias, but many would argue that Euro 2020 was one of the most memorable major tournaments in living memory.
The Covid-19 pandemic meant that everyone, regardless of age, wealth, religion or race, was forced to stay indoors to protect others.
But nothing brings everybody together quite like an international sporting event.
Euro 2020, taking place a year later than advertised, was a welcome release given this backdrop and the tournament more than delivered.
So, here are the 20 moments and matches, in chronological order, that made this European Championships so special, ranging from quirky to the downright tragic.
1) Tiny car delivers ball before the opening game
The opening game of a tournament is always highly-anticipated, accompanied by the opening ceremony that proceeds it.
Rome was chosen to host the curtain raiser and the highlight of the pre-match entertainment was expected to be Andrea Bocelli’s rendition of Nessun dorma which was, as per usual, spine-tingling.
But what caught the public attention came just seconds before the action got underway.
A tiny remote control car delivered the ball to referee Danny Makkelie before scurrying back into a mini garage.
This was merely a publicity stunt to promote an official tournament sponsor- Volkswagen.
But, this mini-car captured the imagination of fans so much that a verified Twitter account was set up, @TinyFootballCar, and it returned for the semi-finals and final.
This is a merely trivial thing that happened but small, somewhat ridiculous events like this are what help make major tournaments memorable.
2) Fans back in stadiums
Before diving into the action on the field, it is worth reiterating that a key factor as to why Euro 2020 was so enjoyable was the return of supporters.
After over 16 months of being locked inside and watching behind-closed-doors matches on TV, it was great to see actual, real-life spectators.
The newly-built Puskás Aréna, rightly or wrongly, operated at almost 100% capacity with the semi-finals and final played in front of 60,000+.
The importance of this is highlighted by the fact Copa América 2021, running concurrently, felt sterile and dull in comparison to the vibrant Euros.
Now that we’re all, hopefully, through the worst of the pandemic, let’s hope we’ve seen the last of echoey, drab matches in front of empty seats.
3) Christian Eriksen’s collapse vs Finland
Going into a big tournament, everybody is very excited.
However, sometimes, something happens that puts football into perspective.
42 minutes into Finland’s clash with Denmark in Copenhagen, Christian Eriksen collapsed whilst controlling a throw-in.
He lay on the pitch for around 20 minutes, received CPR, and a defibrillator was used to bring Eriksen back to life.
Whilst praying that a man’s life would be preserved, the Danish and Finnish fans took part in a heartwarming call and response to show their support.
Finland 🇫🇮 fans: “CHRISTIAN”
Denmark 🇩🇰 fans: “ERIKSEN”
This is why they call it the beautiful game ❤️
— International Champions Cup (@IntChampionsCup) June 12, 2021
It later transpired that he’d suffered a cardiac arrest and, with Eriksen in a ‘stable condition’, the match resumed, somewhat against the player’s wishes.
Joel Pohjanpalo scored the only goal of the game, his header slipping through Kasper Schmeichel’s fingers, as Finland won on their tournament debut.
Regardless of this, the Danes were the winners because their talismanic number ten was still on this earth.
In spite of their horrendous, traumatic event, Denmark rallied and were inspired…… more on that later.
4) Netherlands and Ukraine play out five-goal thriller
It took until the third game of the third day for Euro 2020 to really ignite.
The first six fixtures, the Eriksen incident aside, had been either one-sided, low scoring or both.
The Netherlands’ clash with Ukraine at Johan Cruijff ArenA changed this.
The Dutch raced into a 2-0 lead just after halftime, Georginio Wijnaldum firing home before Wout Weghorst doubled the lead six minutes later.
Oranje were, seemingly, cruising towards an opening night victory but saw their lead vanish quicker than Donny van de Beek did in Manchester.
A trademark Andriy Yarmolenko left-footed curler gave Ukraine hope and then, moments later, Roman Yaremchuk had them level, nodding home a free-kick.
Just when it appeared as though the home crowd were to leave downbeat, Denzel Dumfries’ back-post header snuck in to give Holland a late 3-2 win.
This was when the tournament came to life and many more end-to-end, high-scoring encounters were to come.
5) France defeat Germany in Munich
A first clash between two of Europe’s true heavyweights came in Munich on day five: a meeting of the last two World Champions.
This game was the high-quality, high-tempo affair most hoped for even if there was just a single goal; Mats Hummels turning into his own net after a low Lucas Hernandez cross.
Kylian Mbappé and then Karim Benzema both thought they’d scored well-worked seconds after the break but both were disallowed for offside.
France looked unstoppable and impenetrable; Germany, all of the place.
Was this a sign of what was to come throughout the tournament?
No. No it wasn’t. But we didn’t know that at the time.
This game was also memorable for Antonio Rüdiger’s potential bite on Paul Pogba.
Roy Keane described it as ‘more of a nibble’ and ‘not a proper bite’ but, in any case, this isn’t the kind of thing you see everyday, unless Luis Suárez is around.
6) Wales secure qualification with win over Turkey
Wales were the fairytale story of Euro 2016 when, appearing at their first major tournament for 58 years, they reached the semi-finals.
This time, under Rob Page, they started with an uninspiring 1-1 draw against Switzerland.
However, if they beat Turkey on matchday two, they’d be through to the knockouts.
Given Turkey and Azerbaijan’s close political ties, almost all of the 19,762 in attendance were cheering on the Crescent-Stars.
Despite this, Wales dominated throughout and led just before halftime; Gareth Bale’s amazing long-pass finding Aaron Ramsey who slotted home.
Wales then only secured the victory in stoppage time, but did so in memorable fashion.
Attempting to waste time, Bale received a short-corner and ran down the byline before cutting back for a teammate.
He first tried from the left but this only forced another corner on the opposite side.
Well, as the old saying goes: if at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.
So, that’s exactly what Bale did, charging into the penalty area, finding Connor Roberts who smashed home a second, thereby securing Wales’ win.
This was their only victory at Euro 2020 but it helped Wales reach the round of 16 where they’d get hammered by Denmark.
Turkey meanwhile were many’s pre-tournament dark horses but Şenol Güneş’ side scored just one goal and didn’t pick up a single point.
Even so, this is a victory Wales fans will remember for a very long time.
7) Hungary hold France to surprise draw
Back in November 2020, Hungary came from behind to beat Iceland in the Euro play-off final.
Their reward? A place in the group of death alongside France, Germany and Portugal.
Given that those three giants had won all five major honours on offer to European nations since 2013, Hungary weren’t given a prayer.
Roared on by 60,000 fans, Marco Rossi’s side held Portugal to a goalless draw for 83 minutes on matchday one before eventually losing 3-0.
The underdogs deployed a similar low-block against France four days later but this time got their moment of glory in first-half stoppage time.
Wing-back Attila Fiola charged down the left and fired Hungary in front against all odds and his celebration will remain long in the memory.
Fiola and teammates charged into the jubilant crowd where they were obstructed by a women sat at a pitch-side table, seemingly unaware the hosts had taken the lead.
Reporter left scared as Hungary's Attila Fiola smashes her table after scoring against France
— Times Now Sports (@timesnowsports) June 20, 2021
It was almost like the Puskás Aréna was offering shared work space for those unaware a football match was taking place.
Antoine Griezmann’s equaliser ensured it finished 1-1 but, more than the shock draw, the ‘women at the desk’ is what this particular clash will be remembered for.
8) Germany bounce back with thumping win over Portugal
Having lost to the World Champions in their opener, Germany were on the brink of potential elimination as they welcomed the European Champions to Munich four days later.
Joachim Löw’s side actually started brightly but were sucker-punched after half an hour when Portugal broke from corner and took the lead through, who else, Cristiano Ronaldo.
But, Die Mannschaft destroyed Portugal out-wide and led at half time thanks to two own goals, both as a result of low crosses from wing-backs.
Rúben Dias and then Raphaël Guerreiro putting into their own net.
Kai Havertz and man of the match Robin Gosens then both scored early in the second half as Germany enjoyed an emphatic 4-2 victory.
This match highlighted that, no matter what they’re going through, Germany are still a strong side.
On the flip side, despite the plethora of talent in their squad, Portugal possessed serious weaknesses that would turn out to be fatal flaws soon after.
9) Denmark’s huge 4-1 victory over Russia
After two matches, Denmark’s fate looked set. The Red-and-Whites had lost to both Finland and group favourites Belgium, leaving them pointless.
No team had ever got through the group stages at the European Championships having lost their first two games.
But, there was still hope. If they beat Russia and Finland lost to Belgium, they’d be through.
Mikkel Damsgaard fired the Danes in front just before halftime and then, shortly after the break, Yussuf Poulsen pounced on a kamikaze back-pass by Magomed Ozdoyev to make it 2-0.
Then came a truly memorable 60 seconds of tournament football.
Russia were awarded a very soft penalty, which Artem Dzyuba converted, while, 1,500 kilometers east, Belgium had a goal ruled out by VAR.
Everything seemed to be conspiring against the Danes but, in the final ten minutes, an Andreas Christensen thunderbolt and a fourth, scored by Joakim Mæhle, saw them sneak into second place.
All the Denmark players and officials huddled around a phone at full time which confirmed Finland had lost 2-0 and they were through.
Following Eriksen’s collapse, Denmark had become everyone’s second team so the 23,644 inside Parken and millions worldwide were delighted to see this team advance.
10) Germany just sneak through after late draw with Hungary
It has been said that a format that allows four third-placed teams to advance isn’t conducive to dramatic football.
Well, try telling that to Group F.
On matchday three, France and Portugal played out a high-quality 2-2 draw in Budapest which ensured both teams would go through.
The drama meanwhile was taking place in Munich because Ádám Szalai had nodded massive underdogs Hungary in front away to Germany.
At this point, Hungary were going through and Germany were going out at the group phase of a second successive tournament.
Not to worry, the hosts were on level terms just after the hour mark when Kai Havertz headed home from close-range.
But, straight from kick-off, Hungary pumped the ball forward and András Schäfer came steaming in to flick the ball past a stranded Manuel Neuer.
Die Mannschaft, just, saved themselves with Leon Goretzka scoring six minutes from time, but Hungary gave a brilliant account of themselves.
Ultimately, the big three all advanced and Hungary went out but this group was about as exciting as it can get in a major tournament group phase.
Bring on the knockouts!
11) Czech Republic stun Netherlands and end Frank de Boer’s tenure
A key theme of the round of 16 was big sides making an early exit and this all started with the Netherlands at Puskás Aréna.
Little was expected of the Duch prior to the tournament, following Virgil van Dijk’s injury and, well, because Frank de Boer was now manager.
However, expectations soared as Oranje won all three group matches.
Czech Republic meanwhile bundled their way through the group phase in third-place with just one win.
The Dutch were the more threatening side but then, the game changed in the space of 60 seconds just after halftime.
Donyell Malen raced through and attempted to round Tomáš Vaclík but the goalkeeper managed to swat the ball aside.
Less than a minute later, Patrik Schick thought he was through on goal, only for Matthijs de Ligt to swat the ball away with his arm.
After VAR review, referee Sergei Karasev gave the Juventus centre-back a red card for clear denial of a goalscoring opportunity.
Shortly after, Tomáš Holeš headed the Czechs in front before Holeš was involved again, this time setting up Schick to send the Dutch packing.
It finished 2-0 in Hungary with Holland heading home with de Boer resigning two days later.
12) Belgium end Portugal’s reign as European Champions
One of the two heavyweigh clashes in the round of 16 was the Sunday night game at La Cartuja.
Belgium had won all three group matches but were rewarded with a tie against the reigning champions after the Seleção had finished third in the group of death.
In truth, it wasn’t a classic in Sevilla, possibly as a result of the high temperatures and outrageously sub-standard pitch, but it had its moments.
The only goal was scored by Thorgan, aka the other Hazard, who smashed a long-range effort past Rui Patrício just before the interval.
Chasing a goal, Portugal pressed in the second half.
Rúben Dias forced Thibaut Courtois into a close-range stop while Diogo Jota and João Félix also went close but no equaliser was coming.
So, Belgium marched on into the quarter-finals and Portugal’s five-year rule as champions of Europe was over.
As is often the case when his side is defeated, Cristiano Ronaldo was clearly frustrated, waving his arms in the air at his underperforming teammates he seemingly deems unworthy.
But, in this game, what was notable was Romelu Lukaku up-to similar antics, notably in the direction of Yannick Carrasco when he was introduced in the closing stages.
Lukaku had nothing to worry about, for now at least, as his side were heading to Munich while Ronaldo and Portugal were out.
13) Spain eventually beat Croatia on record-breaking Monday
Without question, the best day of the tournament and possibly, the best day of any tournament, came on Monday 28 June 2021.
Act one was in Copenhagen where Spain met Croatia for the third European Championships in a row.
One of the best moments of the tournament came 20 minutes into this game when Pedri’s back-pass, from the half-way line, was miscontrolled by Unai Simón into his own net.
It looked as though the Athletic Club goalkeeper had got away with it because la Roja fought back and, with five minutes to play were 3-1 up.
But, Mislav Oršić got the Blazers back into it in the 85th before, in stoppage time, the tie caught fire with Mario Pašalić equalising.
The game went into extra time with Spain, eventually, coming through 5-3 thanks to quick-fire goals from Álvaro Morata and then Mikel Oyarzabal.
This is the highest-scoring knockout match at a Euros since Yugoslavia beat France 5-4 in the semi-finals of Euro 1960.
That was, incidentally, the very first European Championship Finals match ever played.
In most competitions, this would be a front-runner for game of the tournament but would probably come second in the contest of best match played that evening.
14) France crash out on penalties
Part two of Manic Monday is set at Arena Națională.
After winning Group F, France were given a seemingly kind round of 16 tie against Switzerland who’d only qualified as a best-ranked third-place finisher.
However, Haris Seferović headed Switzerland in front after just 15 minutes: game on.
Then, moments into the second period, Benjamin Pavard was penalised and the Swiss had the chance to double their lead from the penalty spot.
Ricardo Rodríguez, who’d scored 82% of his career penalties, stepped up but was denied by Hugo Lloris.
Shortly after, Switzerland’s chance had seemingly gone because, three and a half minutes later, France were 2-1 up with Karim Benzema scoring both.
When Paul Pogba curled home a goal of the tournament contender in the 75th, it was game over right?
Well, Seferović didn’t think so, heading in his second seven minutes from the end before, in the final minute, Mario Gavranović snatched an equaliser, forcing extra time and penalties.
In the midst of all the excitement, this fans’ show of raw emotions ensured he went vital.
The first nine penalties were all scored, meaning that Kylian Mbappé had to convert to force sudden-death but Yann Sommer swatted his effort aside.
Switzerland were through and the World Champions were out: the golden boy had become the villain.
This was the first time Switzerland had won a major tournament knockout match for 83 years.
For neutrals, no-one would’ve predicted that Switzerland would win this tie and this unpredictability is why football is loved.
15) England edge out Germany – could football really be coming home?
For all England football fans, the prospect of playing Germany is a terrifying one.
England’s one and only major honour, to date, was won by beating the Germans 4-2 in 1966.
So, despite having the majority of the 41,973 inside Wembley on their side, this was a nervy affair.
Harry Kane and Timo Werner both squandered presentable openings as it remained goalless with just 15 to play.
Then, the breakthrough came; Kane played it out-wide to Luke Shaw who crossed for Raheem Sterling to tap past Manuel Neuer.
Just moments later though, Thomas Müller raced clear.
He’d been a key reason behind England’s World Cup exit just over a decade ago so everyone watching assumed he would score, including these German fans.
Germany fans react to Thomas Muller's miss at 1-0… 👀😂 pic.twitter.com/0N0FSwgOud
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) June 30, 2021
But he didn’t, skewing the ball wide of the post.
With Joachim Löw’s side chasing an equaliser, Shaw won the ball in midfield, found Jack Grealish and he slotted it across for Kane to nod home.
2-0: game over.
The relief inside Wembley when Danny Makkelie blew the final whistle was palpable as a whole nation started to seriously believe.
For Germany, the Löw era was over after 197 games.
16) Belgium’s golden generation get crushed by Italy
The pick of the quarter-final ties was in Munich as Italy took on Belgium and it delivered.
All the scoring came in the first half: Nicolò Barella popped up after half an hour before Lorenzo Insigne pulled off a trademark Insigne goal.
The Napoli man cutting in to bend into the top corner with his right foot.
A Romelu Lukaku penalty in stoppage time got the Red Devils back into it but, despite having an half to do so, Belgium couldn’t find an equaliser.
Although, they had less time than you might think; during the last 21 minutes, the ball was actually in play for just nine of them.
This was a masterclass in time-wasting and gamesmanship from the Italians, masterminded by Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.
Mancini winning the battle of the Robertos while for Martínez’s side, it was close but no cigar once again.
Belgium’s golden generation have only managed quarter-final, quarter-final, semi-final and now quarter-finals once again.
17) England hammer Ukraine – football might actually be coming home!
By Saturday night, 75% of the semi-final line-up was set.
Italy, Spain and Denmark would be heading to Wembley but would the home crowd have someone to cheer?
In their first game of this tournament away from London, England met Ukraine in Rome.
This really should be a regulation win but England just don’t do those. Well, this England do.
The Three Lions led after just four minutes when Raheem Sterling slipped it through to Harry Kane.
The captain’s arteries now throbbing with confidence after his clincher against Germany.
Just 45 seconds after the break, a classic Harry Maguire header doubled England’s lead.
Two more headers were to come with Kane nodding through Heorhiy Bushchan’s legs before Jordan Henderson came off the bench to get his first for his country.
This was Henderson’s 62nd cap: no player has ever taken longer to open their account for England.
Also, England had now scored 20 goals across the last two major tournaments, half of which were headers.
This 4-0 thumping saw Gareth Southgate’s side cruise into the last four. Would 55 years of hurt finally end?
18) Italy oust Spain in penalty shootout
And then there were four. In the first of the semi-finals, rivals Italy and Spain went head to head.
At Euro 2008, Spain beat Gli Azzurri in a quarter-final shootout en route to winning three major tournaments in a row.
This all culminated in their 4-0 drubbing, again of Italy, in the Euro 2012 Final.
But, times started to change at Euro 2016 when Antonio Conte’s side ended Spain’s eight-year reign in the round of 16.
This meeting was a high-tempo, highly-entertaining clash of, undoubtedly, two of the best international sides on the planet.
It took until the hour mark for the deadlock to be broken when Federico Chiesa bent the ball around Eric García and into the bottom corner.
Cue bedlam behind that goal from the thousands of fans in blue.
But, the drama was not over yet as, with just ten to play, Álvaro Morata came off the bench to equaliser for la Roja.
That was Morata’s sixth goal at European Championships: only Cristiano Ronaldo, Michel Platini, Alan Shearer and Antoine Griezmann have more.
But, Morata would be the villain after all as the match went to a penalty shootout.
Italy’s first effort, by Manuel Locatelli, was tame and saved by Unai Simón but, in reply, Dani Olmo smashed his miles over the bar.
After that false start, the next five penalties were scored so, with Italy leading 3-2, up-stepped Morata.
Sometimes football is wildly unpredictable. Other times, it isn’t.
Morata’s weak shot was easily saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, meaning Jorginho had the chance to win it for Italy and he was never going to miss.
Heartache for Luis Enrique’s side but it was Italy who would return to Wembley for Sunday’s final.
But who would they face?
19) England reach first final for 55 years
England just don’t do tournament semi-final victories.
24 hours after Italy’s victory over Spain, the Three Lions welcomed Denmark to North London, expecting a victory.
However, with the first direct free-kick goal of the tournament, Mikkel Damsgaard fired the Danes in front after half an hour.
But, just nine minutes later, Bukayo Saka’s low cross was turned into his own net by Simon Kjær, under pressure from Raheem Sterling.
Just like England’s last four semi-finals, this one finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Unlike 1990, 1996, 2018 and 2019, England pulled through this time.
Just before half time in extra time, Joakim Mæhle tripped Raheem Sterling. Penalty!
As Harry Kane stepped up, many couldn’t watch including substitute Kieran Trippier.
Kane’s initial effort was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but captain Kane came steaming in to smash home the rebound.
So, for the first time in over half a century, England were through to a final.
But was football really about to come home?
20) Italy are the European Champions!
So to the final; around 70,000 packed inside Wembley Stadium, the majority of whom were hoping football would come home.
This looked on the cards when, just 117 seconds in, Luke Shaw volley England in front, his effort going in off the post.
But, from about the 20th minute onwards, Gareth Southgate’s side sat back, seemingly looked to hold onto this lead.
But, this England team aren’t quite as good at catenaccio as legendary Italian teams of the past, such as Helenio Herrera’s Inter in the 1960s.
That’s because, in the 67th minute, gli Azzurri equalised, Leonardo Bonucci scrambling the ball home after it had bounced around at a corner.
Both came close but neither side could find a winner.
So, for just the second time at the European Championships, after 1976, the final was to be decided in a penalty shootout.
After two each, it was advantage England as Andrea Belotti was the only man who’d missed.
But then, both Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who’d been sent on in the 120th minute, failed to convert, hitting the post and having their effort saved respectively.
That meant Jorginho had the chance to win the trophy but no, Jordan Pickford pulling off a remarkable save.
But the hosts couldn’t capitalise as Bukayo Saka’s tame strike was swatted away by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Football did not come home: England’s wait for a first trophy for 55 years goes on.
As for Italy, they’re European Champions for the first time in 53 years, to go alongside their four World Cups.
This is the fifth time they’ve knocked out the World Cup or Euros hosts, winning their sixth trophy in their tenth final.
Regardless of who you support, how they did or how it ended for your side, this was a truly memorable European Championships.
Just a shame for England fans that it ended in penalty shootout heartbreak: again.
This article was edited by Ben Gray.