If the things had gone differently this year, we would have just witnessed the crowning of Euro 2023 winner at Wembley Stadium. Alas, we will have to wait for next summer, and perhaps console ourselves with the fact that August will see rescheduled Europa League and Champions League tournaments. Moreover, there has been plenty of domestic football on television over the past six weeks to keep fans entertained.
And yet, nothing beats the excitement of a major international tournament. And, in light of having to wait another year, we thought we would look back on some of the greatest games of the competition. Below, we look at four of the best match-ups, including a final with one of the most sublime goals in football history.
Soviet Union 0 – 2 Netherlands, Euro 88
To be frank, Euro 88 wasn’t known for its stylish football. Some games, like England vs Ireland, are almost painful to rewatch; even if you are an Irish fan with fond memories of Ray Houghton’s winner. The Final, however, was a different matter, with the legendary Netherlands side of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten taking on an excellent Soviet Union team.
The Soviets had already beaten the Dutch in the group stages, but goals from Gullit and Van Basten secured a first major trophy for the Netherlands. Van Basten’s goal appears at the top of this list of the greatest European Championship goals of all time, and few would disagree with that assessment. But the game was more than the-then AC Milan striker’s goal from an impossible angle. A true classic.
England 4 – 1 Netherlands, Euro 96
England limped through Euro 88 without getting a single point, and they failed to qualify for Euro 92. But the home comforts of Euro 96 being played in on English soil helped the team immensely, and they were arguably the best team in the tournament despite losing out to Germany in the semis.
Anyhow, everything seemed to click at Wembley Stadium when England welcomed an accomplished Dutch team (featuring many of Ajax’s recent Champions League winning side). A brace each for Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer put the English 4-0 up before Patrick Kluivert’s late consolation. More importantly than the scoreline, however, was the fact that England played with a freedom we rarely see at major tournaments. It was a joy to behold for everyone but the Dutch fans.
Spain 4 – 0 Italy, Euro 2012
With Andrea Pirlo playing like he was conducting an orchestra from midfield, and livewires like Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli in the attack, Italy quickly became the hipsters’ choice at Euro 2012. As for Spain, neutrals were beginning to tire a little bit of the suffocating tiki-taka style that had served them so well in the years leading up to this tournament.
Moreover, teams had begun to work out more effective strategies Spain’s tactics, and they were lucky to be in the Final. All doubts were cast aside when David Silva opened the scoring after 11 minutes, though. And, the Spanish proceeded to maul the Italians for a further 80 minutes. One-sided matches are sometimes not considered great games, but you could only sit back and admire one of the greatest international sides in history in its pomp.
France 2 – 1 Italy, Euro 2000
A match that was recently shown on BBC’s Euro’s Rewind; this was another classic European final. Italy definitely deserved more from this match, and they looked like certain winners when taking a 1-0 lead into injury-time.
A strike from Sylvian Wiltord – who would soon join Arsenal – leveled things for the French with just seconds on the clock, and David Trezeguet banged in the Golden Goal in injury time.
The French certainly weren’t at their best here, but the manner of the match had fans on the edge of their seats throughout. Unfortunately, the game will always be remembered for what might have been for the Italians, with Alessandro Del Piero missing two glorious chances for the Azzurri. Also, the game is worth watching back to see a young Francesco Totti pulling the strings in Italy’s attack – he deserved better that day.