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5 most exciting Euro finals

David Trezeguet’s winner helped France to become the second team to complete a World Cup and Euro double
Neelabhra Roy

The UEFA European Championship (or more famously the “Euros”) is just days away from seeing its 15th edition commencing in France this summer. Over the years, the European championships has seen many exciting and nail-biting matches. However, the most anticipated match of the tournament is the final.

Since its inception, the Euros has seen many finals which were worth remembering. A few of them have in fact gone down in the history books as some of the most exciting matches of that period. Here are five such Euro finals which gave the fans an overdose of entertainment, excitement and suspense.

#1 Euro 2000: Italy vs France

The first European championship of the 21st century had a number of exciting matches which included Spain’s dramatic 4-3 victory over Yugoslavia and France’s exciting semi-final clash with Portugal which was won by France on a golden goal. However, it was the tournament’s final at Rotterdam which proved to be one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the Euros.

Reigning world champions France were looking to become the second team after West Germany to complete a World Cup and Euro double. Les Bleus were having a good run in the tournament and had qualified for the final courtesy of Zinedine Zidane’s golden goal against Portugal in the semis. Standing in their way was a resilient Italy team led by Paolo Maldini. Contrastingly, Italy qualified for the final thanks to four penalty saves by custodian Francesco Toldo against the Netherlands in the semi-finals.The final didn’t have much excitement until ten minutes in the second half. Italy took the lead thanks to a goal from surprise selection Marco Delvecchio. Following Delvecchio’s opener, France made three changes and brought on Sylvain Wiltord, David Trezeguet, and Robert Pires. Meanwhile, Alessandro Del Piero had a couple of opportunities to double Italy’s lead but failed to capitalise on them.

With only moments to go before the end of injury time, Wiltord slid in the equaliser to rescue France and the match subsequently went into extra time where a golden goal would decide the winner. The substitutes turned out to be the heroes for France as Robert Pires’ pass found David Trezeguet who struck the Golden Goal to crown France the champions of Euro 2000.A match full of drama and excitement, the final of Euro 2000 will certainly go down in history books as one of the most thrilling matches in European Championship history.

#2 Euro 1996: Germany vs Czech Republic

Olivier Bierhoff was the hero for Germany in the Euro 1996 final

Euro 1996 was a tournament where a few rules and changes were implemented for the first time. These included the expansion of the tournament format to 16 teams and the first major tournament where the golden goal rule was introduced. Held in England, Euro 1996 had a number of surprises and upsets throughout the tournament.

These included reigning champions Denmark and highly favoured Italy being eliminated in the group stages and instead Croatia and Czech Republic, both of whom were appearing in a major tournament for the first time (Czech Republic as an independent nation) proceeded to the knockout stages. Czech Republic turned out to be the biggest surprise package of the tournament as they beat the likes of Italy, Portugal and France to qualify for the final.Czech Republic’s opponents in the final were their group winner and tournament contenders Germany who had earlier beaten them in the tournament 2-0 when they met in the group stages. The final was held at the iconic Wembley stadium in front of a crowd of more than 73,000. The Czechs continued their dream run in the tournament when they were 1-0 up by the hour mark thanks to a successful penalty kick by Patrik Berger.

In the 69th minute, midfielder Mehmet Scholl was substituted off and in came Olivier Bierhoff. The substitution paid off just four minutes later as Bierhoff headed in the equaliser for Germany and the match headed towards extra time.

Just five minutes into extra time, Bierhoff scored his second goal of the match and the winner which crowned Germany the winners of Euro 1996. Bierhoff also scripted history by becoming the first footballer to score a golden goal in a major tournament.

#3 Euro 1976: West Germany vs Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia stunned West Germany to win a thrilling final at Belgrade (Courtesy: UEFA)

Euro 1976 was expected to be a thrilling contest as all four teams playing the final tournament were established nations in the continent. Reigning champions West Germany were expected to replicate their triumph in Belgium four years earlier. Many expected the final to be a rematch of the 1974 FIFA World Final between West Germany and the Netherlands.

However, Netherlands were surprisingly beaten 3-1 by relative underdogs Czechoslovakia. West Germany expectedly beat hosts Yugoslavia 4-2 to set up a title clash with Czechoslovakia at Belgrade.The final at first looked a tad one sided but soon became the best match of the tournament. Czechoslovakia were 2-0 up by the 25th minute. However, West Germany pulled one back just three minutes after Czechoslovakia’s second goal courtesy of their tournament star Dieter Muller. The defending champions were desperate for an equalizer and finally got one in the dying moments of the game when Bernd Holzenbein’s header beat Czech goalie Ivo Viktor to level the scores at 2-2.

With no goal coming in extra time, this would be the first Euro final to be decided by a penalty shootout. Both teams were locked in a stalemate before West Germany’s Uli Hoeneß skied his shot over the crossbar. Antonin Panenka sealed Czechoslovakia’s victory with a splendid chip which was later named the Panenka. Thus, Czechoslovakia won their first and to date their only major championship and ended West Germany’s tournament winning streak.

#4 Euro 1980- West Germany vs Belgium

West Germany struck late to shatter Belgian dreams

The sixth edition of the UEFA European Championship was held in Italy and was the first edition of the European Championship to feature eight teams instead of four. Reigning champions Czechoslovakia couldn’t replicate their performance of 1976 and lost 1-0 to West Germany in a rematch of the Euro 1976 final. West Germany ended up winning the group ahead of Czech Republic and the Netherlands to qualify for the final.In the final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, West Germany were up against the biggest surprise of the tournament, Belgium who topped a group consisting of hosts Italy, England and Spain. In the final, West Germany were off to a great start as they opened the scoring in the first ten minutes thanks to Horst Hrubesch who drove his shot well past Belgian goalie Jean-Marie Pfaff. Belgium, however, wouldn’t easily give up and were awarded a penalty kick in the 75th minute. Rene Vandereycken cashed on the opportunity and brought Belgium back on level terms.

However, the West Germans fought back and Horst Hrubesch won the tournament for West Germany by scoring the winner and his second goal of the match with only two minutes left on the clock. Belgium’s dream run in Euro 1980 finally came to an end and West Germany were crowned European Champions for the second time after winning it in 1972.

#5 Euro 1960- Soviet Union vs Yugoslavia

A resilient Soviet Union beat Yugoslavia to win the inaugural European Championship

The inaugural edition of the UEFA European Championship was held in France. The final four teams in the competition were hosts France, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. The tournament had only four games but it did have its share of excitement in a couple of matches.

The first semi-final between hosts France and Yugoslavia is regarded to be one of the most thrilling matches in Euro history as Yugoslavia came from 4-2 down to beat France 5-4. This match in fact, is still the highest scoring match in Euro history.

The other semi-final between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia was, however, a one-sided affair as the Soviets comprehensively beat Czechoslovakia to book their place in the final.The Parc Des Princes in Paris was the venue for the first European Championship final featuring the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. While Yugoslavia had star forwards Milan Galic and Drazan Jerkovic in their lineup , Soviet Union had the best goalkeeper in the world Lev Yashin in their roster alongside the likes of Vladimir Ivanov and Viktor Ponedelnik. The match was expected to be a tight contest and it certainly turned out to be so.

Yugoslavia showed their flair time and again and opened the scoring after 43 minutes when Jerkovic’s cross was headed in the net by Galic. Yugoslavia had several chances to increase their lead but were foiled time and again by a defiant Lev Yashin. His counterpart Blagoje Vidinic, however, couldn’t produce the same display as his inability to hold Valentin Bubukin’s shot allowed Slava Metreveli to equalise for the Soviets.Both the teams had scoring opportunities in the dying moments of the game and in the beginning of extra time. With seven minutes remaining on the clock, Ponedelnik headed in the winner and the Soviet Union won the match 2-1 to be crowned the inaugural European Champions.

Edited by Staff Editor

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