Wednesday, 6 October 2010


Here are my top five European Championship Finals in ascending order:

5. 1960: USSR 2-1 Yugoslavia (Paris)

The first ever European Championships were held in France. The official title of the competition was the "European Nations' Cup" and the inaugural event was won by the Soviet Union - their one and only major international trophy. The Final was a closely fought affair which could have gone either way. Yugoslavia drew first blood with a scrappy goal just before half-time from ace striker Milan Galic but the lead was to be short-lived. Slava Metreveli levelled matters in the 49th minute. The Soviets then had legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin to thank as he proceeded to make a string of great saves as the match wore on and took the Final to extra-time. The superior fitness of the Soviets began to tell, and Viktor Poneldelnik's strike seven minutes from the end sealed victory.

4. 1980: West Germany 2-1 Belgium (Rome)

German playmaker Bernd Schuster has an outstanding match that day in Rome to lead his country to a deserved second European Championship triumph. A spirited Belgium made a game of it and rallied in the second half to cancel out Horst Hrubesch's early goal with an equalizer from the penalty spot in the 75th minute. The Germans were not to be denied, however, and Hrubesch headed a dramatic winner with just two minutes left.

3. 1992: Denmark 2-0 Germany (Gothenburg)

This was one of the truly great football stories. Denmark hadn't even qualified for the tournament, but stepped in as last-minute replacements for war-ravaged Yugoslavia. World Champions Germany were huge favourites ahead of the Final, in spite of the fact that the Danes had seen off the defending European Champions Holland in a thrilling semi-final. The fairytale ending became reality when superb strikes from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort sealed a truly memorable and extraordinary triumph.

2. 2000: France 2-1 Italy (Rotterdam)

Unlike Germany in 1992, France did succeed in adding the European Championship Title to their World Title in Rotterdam in 2000 - in dramatic circumstances. For long periods of the match Italy were comfortably in control, and appeared to be cruising to victory following a Marco Delvecchio goal early in the second half. Substitute Alessandro del Piero missed two gilt-edged opportunities to extend the lead though, and the Azzurri were made to pay. A late, late equalizer from Sylvain Wiltord dealt the Italians a savage blow, and it was left to David Trezeguet to smash home a golden goal winner 13 minutes into extra-time.

1. 1976: Czechoslovakia 2-2 West Germany (Belgrade)

A thrilling Final, full of direct, attacking football and tremendous goalkeeping from both Ivo Viktor and Sepp Maier. The Czechs built up a deserved two-goal lead inside 25 minutes, but the West Germans halved the deficit almost immediately following a goal by Dieter Muller, who punished the Eastern European nation for slack defending. Both teams continued to play on the offense and several chances to score went begging at both ends. In the last attack of the match the Germans won a corner, and Bernd Holzenbein rose above everybody to head his side level. The frenetic pace continued in extra-time as both teams sought - but failed - to find a winning goal. With the score in the penalty shootout locked at 3-3, up stepped Uli Hoeness to blast his shot over the bar and leave Czechoslovakia one penalty away from winning their first major Title. What followed was an audacious demonstration of supreme confidence by Antonin Panenka, who dinked the ball over Maier in what is probably the most famous penalty ever scored.

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