Ahead of the Euros, which begin this Friday — Stream LIVE on ESPN, ESPN+ all summer long (U.S.) — ESPN’s experts have selected the most iconic moments from tournaments past as we wait to see what the 2021 edition has in store.
Jump to: 2016: Ronaldo’s final | 2012: Spain’s “three-peat” | 2012: Balotelli vs. Germany | 2004: Greece shock the world | 2000: Trezeguet’s magic | 1996: Gazza’s goal | 1992: Denmark win | 1988: Van Basten | 1988: Ireland’s win | 1984: Platini | 1976: Panenka
The Portuguese legend had dragged his side through to face hosts France in the final, but in the 17th minute he was on the wrong end of a clumsy tackle from Dimitri Payet. The camera ignored the ongoing play and just focused on him, stumbling around and trying to walk off the pain. He fell to the ground — and was attacked by a giant moth — and limped off, finally admitting he couldn’t continue in the 22nd minute and calling for a stretcher.
What followed was a bizarre split-focus experience. You had the drama on the field, locked at 0-0 after a fairly dire final, but with the camera constantly panning to an increasingly agitated Ronaldo. Once Eder scored what proved to be the winning goal in the 109th minute, Ronaldo went into de-facto coach mode, barking orders from the touchline alongside manager Fernando Santos. After the final whistle, he slumped to the floor and then hugged anything moving in a crimson shirt.
It was an incredible, theatrical performance from Ronaldo, who had been superb throughout the tournament only to be forced into a spectator role for the crucial game. Lifting the trophy further added to his legend, redemption for their heartbreak against Greece 12 years earlier. “I have been looking for this for a long time, since 2004,” Ronaldo said. “I asked God for another chance at this because we deserved it. Today I was unfortunate, I was injured but I always believed that these players, together with the strategy, would be strong enough to beat France. This is one of the happiest moments in my career.” — Tom Hamilton
Spain win their third consecutive major title (2012)
Sid Lowe talks through Spain’s hat trick of major tournament wins, culminating at Euro 2012.
Spain’s Euro 2012 win was historic for all sorts of reasons. No team had won two European Championships in a row before, nor three consecutive international tournaments. Spain’s 2008/2010/2012 hat-trick was completed with the biggest winning margin ever seen in a final in this competition, a 4-0 demolition of Italy that silenced any earlier criticism of their trademark possession football as “boring.”
Nobody who watched that final — in which David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored — had any complaints about the entertainment. That was despite Spain playing without a centre-forward, as man-of-the-match Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas formed a fluid front three. The opposition was perfect, too. Italy had always been Spain’s most feared rival, and if those ghosts had been exorcised with a nail-biting penalty shootout quarterfinal win over them in Euro 2008, they were truly buried here.
Spain had gone into this tournament under enormous pressure to perform as overwhelming favourites. There had been bumps along the way — an opening 1-1 draw with Italy, a late 1-0 group stage win over Croatia, the penalties needed to beat Portugal in the semifinals — but the emphatic nature of their final display left no room for arguments. This was Spain’s era, and the Euro 2012 final was both its apex and its end. — Alex Kirkland
Balotelli smashes Germany with two great goals and an unforgettable celebration (2012)
Nedum Onuoha looks back at Mario Balotelli’s performance vs. Germany to send Italy to the final of Euro 2012.
Germany had sailed through to the semifinals winning four of four games; Italy had won just once and needed penalties to beat England in the quarterfinal. Then again, this is one of the game’s classic rivalries and there was a sense anything could happen.
Italy had taken the lead when Antonio Cassano’s cross set up Mario Balotelli’s header after 20 minutes, but Germany were pushing forward, tightening the screws towards the end of the first half. Suddenly, Riccardo Montolivo seized upon a loose ball, noticed Phillip Lahm playing Balotelli onside and curled a ball over the top into the path of the Italian center-forward.
Balotelli lets the ball bounce, turns, takes a touch and then smacks the ball from the edge of the box straight into the top corner. Manuel Neuer, in the Germany goal, is posterized. He doesn’t move, save for his left arm meekly outstretched, as if he was discreetly summoning a waiter.
Balotelli rips off his shirt and flexes, arms low, biceps bulging, face scowling. He was 21 years old, he was the Azzurri‘s first Black superstar, he had the world at his feet. Knowing what we do now, it’s all the more poignant. He never lived up to his potential for myriad reasons, from injuries to his personal life, though he’ll still retire with three Serie A titles, a Champions League crown and the knowledge that he set up Sergio Aguero at 93:20 for Manchester City‘s historic first ever Premier League win.
The celebration was iconic, the stage was special and the adversaries too. Neuer was arguably the best keeper in the world at the time, Lahm possibly one of the most cerebral defenders ever. Seeing the former helpless and the latter making the mental error that led to the goal made it all the more special. Unless, of course, you’re a Germany fan… — Gab Marcotti
Greece shock the world (2004)
Jurgen Klinsmann looks back on Otto Rehhagel’s role in leading Greece to its only European title.
Otto Rehhagel’s Greece side went into the tournament as 80-1 outsiders, but they pulled off one of the greatest displays of football skulduggery to storm Euro 2004 and come away as champions.
They were set up to be defensive and belligerent, but it paid off as they were clinical in front of goal, and watertight at the back. From the quarterfinals through to the final, they scored three goals via headers and won each match 1-0.
After opening with a 2-1 win over hosts Portugal — their first ever victory in a major tournament — they battled to a 1-1 draw with Spain and a 2-1 defeat to Russia, but they went through on four points thanks to scoring two more goals than third-place Spain. Then came a 1-0 win over France thanks to the head of Andreas Charisteas, Trainos Dallas’ extra-time “silver goal” (the only one in Euros history) against the Czech Republic in the semis, and Charisteas’ headed winner in the final against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Portugal, a side which included Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Deco and Rui Costa.
The pundits hated Greece’s anti-football style, but this was tactical mastery from Rehhagel. “It was an unusual achievement for Greek football and especially for European football,” Rehhagel said shortly after the final. “The opponent was technically better than us, but we took advantage of our chances. The Greeks have made football history. It’s a sensation.” — Hamilton
Trezeguet’s golden goal (2000)
France were the defending World Cup champions going into the 2000 European Championships, but they were a much better team than when they beat Brazil in Paris. Their 1998 trophy was won on the back of their defensive strength; they’d win Euro 2000 with their midfield control and attacking flair. However, they also needed a miracle in the final to fend off Italy.
First was Sylvain Wiltord’s equaliser, deep into added time, cancelling out Marco Delvecchio’s second-half finish. Then came the David Trezeguet masterclass, like a Vivaldi concerto or masterpiece by Michelangelo.
The cross from Robert Pires was inch-perfect and Trezeguet hit the sweetest of half-volleys with his left foot, the ball flying into Francesco Toldo’s top-right corner. The Italians had defended so well all game that it was always going to need something very special for the French to win. After coming off the bench (like Pires and Wiltord did), Trezeguet provided that moment of magic. — Julien Laurens
Paul Gascoigne’s goal, England vs. Scotland (1996)
Craig Burley reflects on Paul Gascoigne’s wondrous strike for England vs. Scotland at Euro 1996.
It was the moment that left England daring to dream once more. With the tournament on home soil and build-up hooked upon delivering a first international title since the 1966 World Cup. England’s preparations were far from ideal, with controversy from their trip to Hong Kong — framed as a trip to “forge a strong team spirit” — focused on pictures emerging of the players engaging in a drinking game called the “dentist’s chair.” In some sense, watching manager Terry Venables’ side was just like pulling teeth: star striker Alan Shearer had gone 12 international games without a goal before scoring in the opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland.
The Scotland game was in the balance too, with England’s 1-0 lead only preserved by David Seaman saving Gary McAllister’s penalty. Then, Gascoigne received the ball in the 78th minute. A delicate lob over defender Colin Hendry preceded a sumptuous volley thrashed past Andy Goram. Few goals are actually improved by the subsequent celebration, but this one was: Gascoigne lay down on the turf and recreated the “dentist’s chair” pose as his teammates squirted water into his mouth.
Victory was assured, England were up and running, Britpop had conquered the world… maybe this England team could too? For a minute, it felt like football really was coming home. — James Olley
Denmark do the impossible (1992)
Denmark should not even have taken part in Euro 92, staged in neighbouring Sweden, having finished second in their qualifying group to Yugoslavia. But with United Nations sanctions forcing all Yugoslav athletes to be banned from international competition due to the escalating conflict in the Balkans, the Danes were called in just nine days before the opening game following Yugoslavia’s expulsion. Less than a month later, they returned home as European champions after a remarkable tournament saw Richard Moller-Nielsen’s team beat 1990 World Cup winners Germany in the final.
After an unspectacular start, drawing 0-0 with England and losing 1-0 to Sweden, the Danes qualified for the semifinals with a 2-1 win against pre-tournament favourites France in the final group game. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel’s save from Marco van Basten sealed a 5-4 penalty shoot-out victory against the Netherlands, the reigning champions, following a 2-2 draw in the semis, before the Germans were beaten 2-0 with goals from Kim Vilfort and John Jensen in the final.
Denmark’s success was even more incredible considering that they achieved it without their best player, Michael Laudrup, due to a feud with coach Moller-Nielsen. But former Manchester United keeper Schmeichel insists that the Danes, despite the legend, weren’t sunning themselves on their holidays when the call came to replace Yugoslavia.
“The myth is that we were all on the beach,” Schmeichel told Uefa.com. “We were not quite on our holidays, but I think every single one of us had switched off. Physically we were there, but we had a lot of mental work to do to compete in a championship of that calibre. To win it was magical and unexpected.” — Mark Ogden
Van Basten’s iconic volley (1988)
It’s a goal that defies belief, even 33 years after it was scored. Just imagine how good Marco van Basten’s volley for the Netherlands against the Soviet Union, in the Euro 88 final, would look had it been filmed by the multitude of cameras with which we get every possible angle of goals scored in the modern day.
Prior to the final in Munich’s Olympiastadion, Van Basten had already emerged as one of the stars of the tournament. At just 23, Van Basten arrived at the tournament after an injury-hit first season with AC Milan, and there were doubts in Italy as to his ability to succeed in Serie A. But a hat-trick in a 3-1 group stage win against England in Dusseldorf showcased the Dutch forward’s all-round ability, and Van Basten then added to his tally with an 88th minute winner in the semifinal victory against West Germany in Hamburg. Van Basten saved his best for the final, though, and his goal, following Ruud Gullit’s headed opener, remains one of the best in European Championship history.
Arnold Muhren’s arching cross from the left found Van Basten deep in the opposition penalty area, approaching the right side of the box. But from a seemingly impossible angle, Van Basten struck a right-foot volley that looped over goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev — at the time, one of the world’s best — and into the far corner of the net.
Dutch coach Rinus Michels reacted by putting his palm to his face, laughing in disbelief, while Van Basten raced away to celebrate the goal that would define a career, albeit one cruelly cut short by injury at the age of 28. — Ogden
Houghton gets Ireland a win over England (1988)
Some goals and victories carry much more significance than the points at stake at the end of the 90 minutes, and Ray Houghton’s headed winner for the Republic of Ireland against England at Euro 88 is considered a cultural turning point for the Irish, both as a football team and as a nation.
Managed by Jack Charlton, a member of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, Ireland arrived in Germany as rank outsiders at their first major tournament. They had only ever beaten England once, in 1949, and in order to make Ireland competitive in football, Charlton had exploited the so-called “Granny rule” by selecting English and Scottish-born players with Irish ancestry to bolster his squad. Against England, six of Charlton’s team had been born in England and one — Houghton — was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. The game was billed as a David vs. Goliath clash, but after Houghton headed Ireland into a sixth minute lead, England tried in vain to haul themselves level to salvage the game.
Ultimately, both England and Ireland failed to qualify from the group, but Houghton’s goal in Stuttgart has been credited in Ireland as being one of the factors that sparked the country’s growth in the 1990s. It also helped turn a nation of Gaelic games into a football-obsessed country, but most importantly for the “Boys in green,” it was Ireland beating England at their own game. — Ogden
Platini vs. Portugal (1984)
Frank Leboeuf says France’s Michel Platini was a star like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in his day.
People living in the Marseille area still say that on that night — June 23, 1984 — you could hear the crowd celebrating Michel Platini’s goal against Portugal a hundred miles away. That’s how loud and noisy the Stade Velodrome got that night.
Approaching the end of extra time against a talented Portugal team, in the Euros semifinal on home soil, the score was locked at 2-2. First was the incredible run and cross from Jean Tigana, the never-tired N’Golo Kante of the 1980s and local lad who grew up in Marseille. Then, the Platini finish. His first touch is perfect, as it always was, and he buried his shot to give France the win and a place in the Euros final.
Not many players have owned a big competition like Platini did in 1984. With his nine goals (coming in the form of three “perfect” hat-tricks, goals scored with left foot, right foot and head) in five games, he joined the likes of Diego Maradona in 1986, Ronaldo in 2002 and Pele in 1958 on the shortlist of players who made a big tournament their own.
Platini was the king of decisive goals for France, and the one against Portugal will stay forever in the hearts and minds of Les Bleus fans. — Laurens
The original Panenka (1976)
Steve Nicol recalls Antonin Panenka’s famous free kick to win Euro 1976 for Czechoslovakia.
West Germany were the World and European champions at the time, and Bayern Munich had won three straight European Cups, but it was Czechoslovakia that raced out to a 2-0 lead in the 1976 final. Then, as so often happens, the Germans buckled down, pulled one back and grabbed a dramatic equaliser with a minute to go in the second half. As the game went into extra-time, you sensed the momentum was shifting; it felt as if the underdogs, having come so close, were being pushed back by the uber-favorites, but Czechoslovakia held on to take it to penalties: the first time a European or World Cup final had gone to spot-kicks.
The first seven were duly converted. Up stepped Uli Hoeness, Germany’s emotional leader, who shocked everyone by blasting his kick way over the cross bar. This gave Antonin Panenka — long-haired, moustachioed and slightly portly with an insouciant, bohemian demeanour — the chance to win it for Czechoslovakia.
Panenka stared down Sepp Meier, the legendary German keeper, and began his run-up straight and at speed. His body language and approach suggested that he would blast it to one side or the other: the keeper would have to guess which way it was going to go and dive accordingly. In the end, it didn’t matter which side picked; it only mattered that he picked a side because, rather than drilling it left or right, Panenka gently dinked the ball straight down the middle of the goal, leaving a prone Maier to watch it settle into the net.
It was a moment of misdirection. It was a moment of outside-the-box creativity. It was the work of a genius, and a move that’s been emulated both brilliantly, and horrifically, in the years since. — Marcotti