No football championship is complete without any upsets. We always get to see something new, a new rising team which can become the best in the future. Throughout the UEFA European Championships, there have been many upsets over the years but the best of these upsets are those in which the unheralded sides make a big impact on the entire tournament and not only in a single match.It’s not always the big guns who make the biggest results even in championships, sometimes teams go into tournaments seemingly just to make up the numbers but often a strange mix of determination, talent and luck brings them to the fore when they succeed in putting together a performance or more to upset the order of things.So here are 5 surprising team performances at the UEFA European Championships.
#5 Portugal - 1984
Ever since the days of the legendary Eusebio, Portugal failed to make it to any World Cup or European Championship in the next 18 years. This was finally broken when Portugal overcame Soviet Union and Poland to qualify for Euro 1984 in France, their maiden European Championship.
The Portuguese side was not as strong as those of France and West Germany but had some really decent players like Manuel Bento, Rui Jordao, Joao Pinto and Fernando Chalana. Portugal were placed in a tough group consisting of Spain, tournament favourites West Germany and Romania. In their opening game, Portugal held West Germany to a 0-0 draw.
This was followed by a 1-1 draw against Spain at Marseille. In their final group game at Nantes, Portugal needed to beat Romania to qualify and a late goal by Nene gave Portugal second place in the group above West Germany.In the semifinals, Portugal were up against a very strong French side led by Michel Platini and his magic square Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse and Luis Fernandez. The match went on to become one of the greatest matches of the tournament with France taking the lead in the 24th minute through Jean-Francois Domergue and Portuguese talisman Rui Jordao equalising in the 74th minute to take the match to extra time.
In extra time, Jordao scored his second of the match to put Portugal 2-1 ahead but France equalised 6 minutes later when Domergue scored his second of the match and captain Michel Platini won the match for France in the 119th minute to take them to the final.
#4 Belgium - 1980
The Belgium side had been considerably improving under their new coach Guy Thys. Belgium overcame a difficult group consisting of Austria and Portugal to qualify for Euro 1980. The side consisted of many top players like Jean Marie Pfaff, Eric Gerets amd Jan Ceulemans.
In Euro 1980, Belgium were drawn in Group 2 with Italy England and Spain. In their opening match Belgium held England to a 1-1 draw which was followed by a 2-1 win against Spain thanks to goals from Eric Gerets and captain Julien Cools. A draw against Italy in the final group game was enough to take Belgium to the final where they would face a strong West Germany side at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
In the final West Germany took the lead after just 10 minutes through Horst Hrubesch. Belgium equalised in the 75th minute when they were awarded a penalty kick which was successfully converted by Rene Vandereycken.
West Germany restored the lead in the 88th minute once again through Horst Hrubesch and won Euro 1980. However, the Belgians’ performance was a surprise and this same team later went on to make the semifinals of the 1986 World Cup.
#3 Czech Republic - 1996
The Czech Republic team was formed in 1994 and Euro 96 qualification was its first qualification for a major tournament. The Czechs din’t have an easy group as their group had Netherlands and Norway. However, the Czech team led by Vaclav Nemecec, qualified for Euro 96 by winning their group above The Netherlands.
This Czech side consisted of sone experienced players like Vaclav Nemecec, Jiri Nemec, Miroslav Kadlec and Pavel Kuka but also had some talented youngsters like Pavel Nedved, Karel Poborsky, Vladimir Smicer and Patrik Burger.
In Euro 96, Czech Republic were drawn into a tough group consisting of Germany, Italy and Russia. This group was termed the “Group of Death” and the Czechs were not expected to progress past the group stage. They began with a 2-0 defeat to Germany but this was followed by an impressive 2-1 win over Italy. In their final group game, the Czechs needed at least a draw against Russia to qualify.
The Czechs took a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes but Russia came back and took a 3-2 lead in the 85th minute. With the Italy-Germany match going to a 0-0 draw , Czech republic desperately needed a goal and salvation came from youngster Vladimir Smicer in the 88th minute and the match ended 3-3. With Italy drawing with Germany 0-0, the Czechs progressed ahead of the Italians on goals scored.
In the quarter finals, Czech Republic faced Portugal where Karel Poborsky scored one of the goals of the tournament by lobbing the ball over Portuguese goalie Vitor Baia to give the Czechs a 1-0 win. Czech Republic faced France in the semifinals. The scoreline was 0-0 after regualr and extra time and the match went to penalties.
With the score tied 5-5, Czech goalie Petr Kouba saved reynald Pedros’ penalty and Miroslav Kadlec scored the winning penalty to take Czech Republic to a final. In the final, Czech Republic faced group rivals Germany at the Wembley. Czech Republic took the lead in the 59th minute through Patrik Berger’s penalty and were looking to cause another upset in the tournament before substitute Olivier Bierhoff equalised for Germany in the 73rd minute.
The score remained 1-1 at regular time and the match went to extra time where Bierhoff scored the first golden goal in international football to win the European Championship. The Czechs had been the surprise package of the tournament and had dazzled the crowd with some scintillating performances. The youngsters of this side Karel Poborsky, Pavel Nedved and Vladimir Smicer would later go on to be the pillars of the national team a couple of years later.
#2 Greece - 2004
Greece weren’t even expected to qualify for Euro 2004 after being put in a group which consisted of Spain and Ukraine. However the Greek side coached by Otto Rehhagel qualified for Euro 2004 after winning their group ahead of Spain. The Greek side consisted of Theodoros Zagorakis, Giorgos Karagounis, Angelos Basinas, Angelos Charisteas, Kostas Katsouranis, Demis Nikolaidis, Zisis Vryas and goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis.
Greece were put into a group consisting of hosts Portugal, Spain and Russia. Greece were considered outsiders in the tournament and were given odds of 150-1 of winning the tournament. However, in their opening game Greece produced the upset of the tournament by beating Portugal 2-1 with goals from future captains Giorgos Karagounis and Angelos Basinas.
In their next group game Greece drew Spain 1-1 thanks to the eqaliser from Angelos Charisteas. Greece lost to Russia in their final group game but however qualified over Spain on goals scored.
In the quarterfinals, Greece produced another big upset after defeating reigning champions France through a header by Charisteas from Zagorakis’ cross. In the semifinals, Greece faced a Czech Republic side who had been the only team to win every match and were considered the favorites to win the championship.
The Czechs played a very attacking game with Tomas Rosicky hitting the crossbar and Jan Koller forcing several saves from goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis. The match went into extra time and in the 105th minute, defender Traianos Dellas headed Greece in the final of Euro 2004 by scoring the only silver goal in international football. In the final Greece faced their group rivals Portugal.
Greece once again defeated Portugal, this time 1-0 courtesy of an Angelos Charisteas header. Greece who were considered the tournament’s biggest underdogs won Euro 2004 and skipper Theodoros Zagorakis was named “Player of the Tournament”. Zagorakis, alongwith goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis, Giourkas Seitaridis, Traianos Dellas and Angelos Charisteas was named in the Tournament’s “All Star Team”.
#1 Denmark - 1992
When one thinks of fairy tales, this is a real one. During the qualifiers of Euro 92, Denmark won their opening game against Faroe Islands but this was folowed by a disappointing 1-1 draw to Northern Ireland and a 2-0 defeat to Yugoslavia at home. This resulted in Michael Laudrup and Brian Laudrup quitting the national team and later on coach Richard Moller Nielsen dismissed other quality players Jan Heintze and Jan Molby.
However Denmark went on to win their remaining matches but this wasn’t enough as they ended one point behind group winners Yugoslavia. In 1992, due to international sanctions resulting from the Yugoslav wars, UEFA announced that Yugoslavia were excluded from Euro 92 and that group runner-up Denmark would take their place. This announcement came just 10 days before the commencement of the championships.
Denmark were considered underdogs as they were placed in a tough group which consisted of England, France and hosts Sweden. The Danes however were given a boost when Brian Laudrup decided to make a comeback to the national side.
The Danes began their campaign with a 1-0 defeat to hosts Sweden but then held England to a goalless draw. This meant that Denmark needed to beat France in their final group game to qualify for the semifinals. They surprisingly defeated France 2-1 with goals from Henrik Larsen and Lars Elstrup.
In the semifinals, Denmark were up against defending champions Netherlands who had been unbeaten throughout the tournament. The match began with Denmark taking the lead in the 5th minute through Henrik Larsen but the Oranje equalised through their upcoming youngster Dennis Bergkamp. Denmark restored the lead once again through Larsen and Frank Rijkaard made it 2-2 in the 86th minute.
The match ended 2-2 after extra time and would be decided by a penalty shootout. Goalkeeper Peter Schmiechel turned hero for the Danes as he saved the penalty from Marco Van Basten and Denmark won the shootout 5-4 to set up a clash with world champions Germany in the final. The imposiible turned possible for Denmark when John Jensen gave them the lead in the 18th minute which was followed by another goal in the 70th minute by Kim Vilfort.
What initially appeared to be a failed qualification turned out to be the finest hour in Danish Football history as they won the UEFA European Championship in 1992 with Henrik Larsen being the joint top goalscorer and Peter Schmiechel and Brian Laudrup were inducted in the Team of the Tournament.