A Cup of Nations: Euro 2000
A French Revolution in the Year 2000
The new century was to see international football’s first major tournament go to the land of the low countries of Belgium and Holland. The title at stake was the eleventh European football championships that featured the best of what the continent had to offer in a tournament thought of by many as harder to win than the more coveted and glamorous World Cup.
All of Europe greatest nations were to be participants as were some of football’s most talented and celebrated idols and icons; the continent now ‘Euro-crazy’ looked forward to a highly charged and anticipated festival of football, great passion, and skills over a period of three weeks. It had a lot to live up to.
It would be European football’s first co-hosting of any kind at a major tournament and it could not have matched up two greater or bitter rivalries in which there was certainly no love lost.
As ever Germany, the competitions most successful ever nation and current holders, were to be present. One suspected its team were about to be dethroned, with it thought, even at home, that the nation was going into major tournament with its weakest side of all time. However, they would be written off at every team’s peril. History suggested that they had been the team to beat to win any major finals.
Co-host Holland, with one of the strongest squads and home advantage, for many, were the undoubted favourites to win a trophy they first lifted 12 years prior. The core of the side that had performed admirably at France 98 remained, though with a new man Frank Rijkaard at the helm; he had won the finals as a player in 1988. Embarrassed of riches they would take some stopping if they found their rhythm.
Under the guidance of one of its former star players Jose Camacho, Spain on current form were expected to prove one of the biggest challengers to the Dutch; having lost just once in 17 games. National pride had been restored following the disaster of France 98 and a 3-2 loss in Cyprus. In the aftermath forty goals in seven qualifying matches were scored. However, for all the success of its club sides and participation at every major tournament, bar Sweden 92, the national team had enjoyed few moments of triumph – under-achievement turned into an art form.
Having gone 12 games unbeaten prior to the finals, world champions France could also not be discounted. They retained 18 of the 22 players that had performed in their World Cup victory of 98.
The Italians, a proven and consistent tournament team, was to surely have its own say in the outcome of festivities. They were Europe’s second greatest performers in world football. However, they had seldom shone at the Euro-tournaments of most recent.
The Beaten finalists of 96 Czech Republic swept through European Group 8 to make yet another appearance at the final stages.
Having overcome British rivals Scotland in a tense play-off, England arrived full of expectation, this under the charismatic Kevin Keegan, a former star pupil.
Romania, the nemesis of England at France 98 had proven ability on the international stage, while Portugal had talents in abundance waiting to finally burst onto the world scene.
Yugoslavia came of trumps in the bitter tussle with Croatia to take its place at the finals. It had been the nation’s exclusion from the 92 finals that would hand fellow competitors Denmark, present again, the chance to come from nowhere and conquer and go onto folklore and glory.
Once overcoming a poor start Scandinavian rivals Norway steamed through to the finals, its coach may have changed but nothing else.
The finals biggest outsiders would be Turkey, second-time finalists, and little Slovenia whom had overcome the greatest odds to humble Europe’s newest power Ukraine.
However it was the 92 hosts Sweden and tournaments co-host Belgium that were to begin these finals; June 10th 2000 was the date set for proceedings for what was certain to be a memorable extravaganza.
BELGIUM under the coaching skills of the cigar-smoking Robert Waseige had seen its fortunes take a dramatic turn for the better – from being virtual no-hoper’s to a team with a genuine chance of success on home territory. He would become the first French-speaker to be in charge of the Belgian team.
An embarrassing 4-3 home loss to Finland had been the last straw with the end to come for Georges Leekens whom had lost the respect of leading players, infuriating some whom then refused to play for him. Shock first round elimination at the 98 World Cup finals was followed by a tragic sequence of five consecutive one-zero friendly defeats in just under three months that included losses in Romania and in neutral Cyprus at the hands of Greece; the defeats at home to Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and then Egypt were the most damaging.
Omens had been there in the nation’s first match post-France 98 with a drab 0-0 draw in Luxembourg – of all places. The following single goal victory over Cyprus had been nothing to shout about. Leekens thought the tide had been turned when they halted the five game losing streak with a two-game unbeaten run in the little known Kirin cup with draws against Peru (1-1) and Japan (0-0).
A 2-1 victory away in Seoul against the home nation enabled Leekens to declare that the team was back on track. But then came Finland and then the end for a man whom used 70 players during his 30-month, 29-match stay.
With Waseige newly installed players clamoured for inclusion into the national team. He was a man that had an unquestionable belief in tried and trusted players, a policy in stark contrast to his predecessor.
Game One could not have come up against a more ferocious opponent – Holland. Taking into account the negativity in which Belgium combated the Dutch in the 0-0 Stade de France World Cup draw, the final score made amazing reading of Holland 5-5 Belgium in a match anything but friendly that saw ten yellow cards and one red issued to Wilmots. Belgium went 2-0 and then 4-3 ahead before grabbing a late equaliser through Emile Mpenza. Improvement continued as Waseige set about changing the fortunes of the national team with the 4-0 Liege crushing of Morocco to follow. The only blight would be a 2-1 loss in Sunderland against England. Both Italy in Lecce (3-1) and Norway in Oslo (2-0) saw themselves overturned by Belgium’s resurgent team. In between Portugal (1-1) and Holland (2-2) escaped with late equalizers in Belgium with the final warm up game ending in a 2-2 Copenhagen draw against those Danes.
Belgium’s proudest achievement at these championships had been its performance of the 1980 games in Italy. After outplaying the former West Germany for long periods the team saw itself defeated by a final minute header from Horst Hrubesch in Rome’s Olympic stadium. A fortuitously given penalty had seen Rene Vandereycken equalise Hrubesch’s original opener. The team had stunned Italy by reaching the final after gaining the 0-0 draw.
The English had seen themselves pegged-back by Jan Ceuleman’s equalising goal in a 1-1 Turin opening game draw. The nation’s appearance in the final would be secured by virtue of the second game 2-1 win over Spain with goals from the defensive Julian Cools and Eric Gerets defeating a team that had held the host and favourites to a scoreless draw.
Home territory in 1972 had resulted in a third-placed finish with the stumbling block those Germans again – the eventual winners. A quarter-final appearance came about 4 years later while a squad-breaking scandal involving bribes rocked the nation’s high hopes going into the finals of 1984. Deficiencies in the defensive department proved decisive as first round elimination came despite having won its opening game 2-0 against also-rans Yugoslavia. It signalled the start of a young and promising career of a talented 18-year-old called Vincenzo Scifo whom would be the nation’s best player for almost the next 15 years. European championship demise continued with failure to qualify for the 88, 92, and 96 finals. Its pre-1972 years had been just as unfruitful.
Sweden reached these finals with an exemplary record, this following a clean sweep through European Group 5 undefeated. Only a single goal had been conceded, and that was in their opening game when they fell behind to England after just two minutes. From then onwards it was just a long spiral going up with England overcome 2-1 in Stockholm. It was the team’s outstanding away form that was to catch the eye and give them a cutting edge above the rest; one-zero wins behind the Iron curtains of Bulgaria and Poland gave them a stranglehold on the group. A less than impressive 2-0 home banker win at the expense of Luxembourg had been sandwiched in-between the wins with the conclusion of the group brought to an end with the 0-0 Wembley draw against England – this in terms of whom would win it. Victories followed over Bulgaria (1-0) and Luxembourg (1-0) before Poland’s qualification hopes were ended following a 2-0 Stockholm defeat.
Experienced Sweden, under the co-coaching skills of Tommy Soderberg and previous assistant Lars Lagerback, based itself, as with previous strong Swedish teams, upon teamwork, collective spirit and mentality, not to mention good organisation. The workmanlike style, unlikely to win friends was sure to prove highly efficient and effective.
The nation’s greatest adventure had come on home soil 8 years earlier with a semi-final appearance with only the tournament masters Germany thwarting an appearance in the final with a 3-2 win. Qualification had been achieved by topping a group involving France (1-1), Denmark (1-0) and England (2-1) with a new star to emerge from the finals – Tomas Brolin. The nation’s only other campaign in 1964 had been dealt a quarter-final eliminating blow with failure to qualify as result of seven other unsuccessful attempts, this after a non-entry in 1960.
There was a high rising level of expectancy and a sense of burgeoning optimism and belief in the country that a major surprise was possible at the finals. An enthusiastic crowd full at a 50,000 capacity packed into the King Baudoin stadium, the former Heysel now totally rebuilt. As host Belgium knew they had to take the challenge forward to a side with football’s meanest defence that had not conceded a competitive goal for 751 minutes. The Belgians needed to be a better side than that which had sent FIFA delegates to sleep at their last World Cup game of the 1998 finals.
Belgium’s most inventive and talented player of the last 15 years Enzo Scifo was no more (discarded at 34-years-old) with there to be no Franky Van-der Elst (lost to retirement and old age), nor Luis Oliviera (lost touch) as Tanghe and Genaux were lost through injury. Of the 22 players selected eleven had been part of the World Cup squad of 98; the backbone of the last few years, De Wilde, Staelens, and Wilmots still to remain. They had been in squads as far back as 1990. After witnessing the birth of his child Philippe Leonard made a return to barracks to take his place in a Belgium side starting with six home-based players in a line-up of no surprises – the same that had started against the Danes a week earlier in a friendly. Blessed with a wider-range of forward talent the coach decided on Branko Strupar, with six goals in eight starts, to partner star in the making Lokonda Emile Mpenza – checked out by some big clubs in Europe and a sensation with Schalke 04. This left Luc Nilis, a former player of year in Holland and Belgium, and Gillles De Bilde (having won back the hearts of the Belgian people) to wait patiently on the bench. Luc Nilis ended his exile from the 98 World Cup side in November 99 and had scored 18 goals as PSV reclaimed the Dutch title. His inclusion at the expense of Toni Brogno, top-goalscorer of the domestic league, caused some uproar in the country. Though he would not start Johan Walem, the only doubt with an ankle injury, took his place in the squad – veteran Danny Boffin had been on standby. Besides home advantage Belgium believed the lack of expectation would work in their favour.
With a fully fit squad to choose from Sweden included several of the side that finished fourth at the World Cup of 94. For the sake of team unity the managers, with little time for superstars, sacrificed its most talented player, the Belgian-based Per Zetterberg. Three stars of the 94 finals had been lost to injury, two temporary and the other permanent – Stefan Schwartz, Pontus Kamark, and Martin Dahlin (retired who had long since been discarded by the Swedish establishment). There was also no Anders Anderson or Jesper Blomquvist with the biggest casualty the loss of Tomas Brolin a player that had long since lost the appetite to play football after being unable to give up his appetite for food. As with both Norway and Denmark the nation had a strong contingent of British-based men, its two most talented plied their trade at Celtic and Arsenal. Henrik Larsson at Celtic was to make the most remarkable of recoveries and make the squad after a serious leg fracture last year. Brazilian legend Pele urged the Swedish management to show more courage and take a chance and play the striker from the onset against Belgium, this despite having played little competitive football. They ultimately resisted the temptation to play a man that had scored around 70 goals in 2 years at Celtic. Freddie Ljungberg at Arsenal was the other Swede that the nation looked towards. Kennet Anderson a five goal star of 94 was to lead the attack as Roland Nillsson remained and scored the equaliser against Spain (1-1) in his 111th international.
After a low-key and brief but puzzling opening ceremony we got down to the real business of these championships.
The excitement and anticipation was there as the nerves of the (home) representatives were very much in evidence as Sweden settled well and exerted the early significant pressure with possibilities to arise of a breakthrough that included the first after 13 seconds from Kennet Anderson. Patrick Anderson’s drive, Staelens’s goal-saving clearance and Kennet Anderson’s header 6-yards-out sent wide, unnerved the host nation even further. Domination of the air by K. Anderson – a focal-point – was to totally leave Staelens, a serial foul offender, and Valgaeren, not inspiring confidence, unhinged in a fragile looking defence. Backed by the support of its enthusiastic fans that included the Royal Family, Belgium, slowly but surely found its feet with Strupar, Wilmots, and Verheyen threatening slightly with efforts while Deflandre, having space on the right was a constant threat with his thrusts forward. Fears of a sterile opening did not materialise.
With Belgium’s best chance, after Sweden’s defence had fallen asleep, Mpenza sent the ball over from Verheyen’s quick and accurate free-kick; Wilmots had been better placed for an attempt on target. De Wilde then got down well to deny Freddie Ljungberg before an uncharacteristic loss of concentration from the 112-capped Roland Nillson – dispossessed in the process and then substituted at half-time – enabled Bart Goor accelerating away from Bjorklund to steer Belgium into a lead just before the break. It was Goor’s third international goal as Brussels went even madder 40 seconds into the restart with the tie looking all but over. After surviving a suspicion of controlling the ball with his hand Emile Mpenza emphatically crashed the ball decisively into the roof of the net, this after Strupar had played him on goal with an exquisite flick of the ball. However, a catastrophe among catastrophes would befall a bewildered but otherwise impressive Fillip de Wide who made a foolhardily attempt to control a needlessly ball played back from Leonard. He trod on the ball stumbled over losing control with the ball to fall for Mjjaby to walk the ball into an unguarded net. Henrik Larsson had made his expected appearance a minute earlier in the place of Peterrsen. De Wilde atoned for the error after Ljungberg sprinting clear through the middle saw his point-blank attempt deflected as the keeper stood his ground. The tension in the stands replaced the buoyancy as it was backs-to-the-wall for Belgium. Attempting to come back in on his right foot Mjjalby saw his chance go for a strike on goal with Valgaeren to get the important block. Deflandre’s well driven effort tried to bring the buoyancy back to the stadium as Anderson’s free-kick was close without worrying De Wilde. After losing control of the ball Hedman was to get the protective decision from the official while a poor late lunging two-footed tackle made by Patrick Anderson on Bart Goor, a second bookable offence, led to his unarguable dismissal; he had earned an earlier card for a chop on Mpenza. It was getting all too frantic with Belgium introducing substitutes in order to steady the boat. De Wilde touched over Mjjalby’s headed attempt as Nilis, a substitute, made an impression by stretching Sweden; adding class and craft with a touch of greed. He attempted to curl an indirect free-kick into the net before an audacious chip over Hedman and under the bar. He got himself booked in the process as Goor and Wilmots looked to end it. Belgium survived bumps to Deflandre and Verheyen to become victorious with the former so dazed that he tried to return to the field, this after not realising that he had already been substituted.
The second game of Euro 2000, the first in the country of Holland was to pit the big match experience, tradition and pedigree of Italy against the rookies by comparison of Turkey, perennial underachieving also-rans. Years ago this would have been considered a forgone conclusion, but today Turkey did have a chance as Istanbul had come to Arnhem with Turkish fans to outnumber Italians by 5/1. Both nations looked for a stark improvement on its performance of 96; Italy on its shock first round elimination, Turkey on its three defeats without scoring a single goal under Fatih Terim. The exit brought a curtain to the reign of the legendary Arrigo Saachi’s Italian leadership. This season had been a disaster for Italian clubs in European football with dismal showings from all the top clubs, its worst in 10 years; this while Turkey saw its own Galatasaray lift the nation’s first ever European honour. A fine performance at these finals would restore much needed national pride for the Italians.
Having started its qualifying group in such convincing fashion, the Italians made hard work of gaining its inclusion at these finals.
Using neutral Anfield as a home venue Wales saw itself fall to a 2-0 defeat with Switzerland to suffer a replica fate following two goals from golden boy Del Piero. A 2-1 victory in Copenhagen gave an invincible look to the romping Azzuri with a home game against Belarus to look a routine banker – far from it. The former Soviet-Block nation scared the pants off the home team with a well-deserved 1-1 draw with the whole of Italy left dismayed. It proved only a temporary hiccup as Wales crashed 4-0 before a passable 0-0 draw in Switzerland followed. However, it was to go all-wrong when Denmark made the visit to the city of Naples. At 2-0 up Italy were on cruise control, this before something went inexplicably wrong, they lost 3-2. The national team was uprooted into a state of flux with the country taken to its most nervous point as they were set to face the nation that had tested them most severely – Belarus. Defeat had to be avoided if they wanted to escape the lottery of the play-offs; the Italian team survived the test as the draw (0-0) was achieved that denied Denmark automatic entry, the Azzuri to head the section by a single point.
What Italy narrowly avoided the Turks had to endure after narrowly failing to topple Germany at the helm of Group 3.
The national team based around the three Istanbul clubs, Galatasaray, Besiktas and Fenerbache began its campaign very well by trouncing Northern Ireland 3-0 in Bursa. However, it was with the historic 1-0 victory over Germany, a first ever in over 40 years that brought the greatest glory and praise from the media; Hakan Sukur to head the winning goal after profound confusion had enveloped within Germany’s defence. Having won the hearts of the nation and heralded a hero coach Mustapha Denizli they experienced the other side with the unexpected 3-1 home loss to Finland. A fourth consecutive home match saw a much needed 2-0 win over Moldova as the jinx of Finland looked to have returned when the team trailed 2-0 after the first 15 minutes in Helsinki. However, an impressive midfield contribution from Sergen and two goals a-piece from Tayfur and Sukur turned the game around. Arif Erden then became the nation’s most prized asset in Belfast with a stunning treble as the home side crashed 3-0 – again. With a third consecutive away victory expected in Moldova, Turkey blew its chance of taking a major automatic qualification step by scraping a 1-1 draw. The unexpected scoreline was to leave them requiring victory in Germany, this in the nations final group game. Germany survived 0-0 as Turkey would be confined to a play-off with Republic of Ireland. Qualification would be achieved on the away goal that was scored in a 1-1 Dublin draw. The return ended 0-0.
Traditional slow starters and underrated Italy drew its team from seven different Italian clubs with Juventus having the most with three inclusions. They entered the finals with its lowest expectancy level of all-time with fans not holding out for too much. Predicting doom and gloom the press were also as pessimistic as ever and it was not surprising with its form of four defeats in seven, scoring six goals very uninspiring. Consecutive defeats to Denmark and Belgium were its first back-to-back on home soil for 14 years. Tactics were undecided and selection often too varied. Were they a spent force? Whatever, they could not afford to lose today. But because of this ‘fear of losing’ they may well be prepared as a team with a mission not to lose. Dino Zoff, part of the championship winning team of 68, looked to take the nation back to the top of the European tree. He had captained the side to a World Cup victory in 82 at 42-years-old. He reverted to a traditional Italian system of defence and counter-attack. In a team bereft of creativity Francesco Totti was the man touted by most Italians; with himself and Phillippo Inzaghi given the forward votes and national approval ahead of Del Piero, said not to be fully-fit after struggling and recovering from a long-term injury. Many doubted that he was in peak form. Like all gifted players Del Piero, the world’s highest paid player until recent, had not always delivered. Paolo Maldini, appearing in his 106th international for the country, was still a force on the left-side of defence, this as he perilously closed in on the 112-caps set by the coach. There was no Dino and Roberto Baggio as well as the discarded Zola, Ravanelli, and Casiraghi (to injury). The most significant casualty to these finals was the world’s most expensive player, the 31 million pound Christian Vieri, lost to an aggravated thigh injury while playing for his club Inter as there would be an unexpected call for Angelo di Livio.
The team was forced into a late selection change due to an unfortunate injury to one of the world’s best young keepers Buffon with Toldo taking over the No.1 as Abbiati was flown in as cover.
Resurgent Turkey, no longer the whipping boys of Europe and buoyed by Galatasaray’s triumph in Copenhagen, included 5 men from that successful winning team, four from Fenerbache and one a-piece from Beskitas and a Spanish team. The surprise was the exclusion from the starting line-up of Arif Erdem. Having matured from the talented but wayward side of 96 the elite regarded Turkey, never stronger at club and international level, with respect mixed with a little trepidation. Most Turks felt that tournament of 96 had come just a little too early. They would present stiffer opposition for all of its opponents now.
The nation looked to top-notch striker Hakan Sukur, one of the continent’s most consistent performer’s and a scorer of 26 international goals in just over 50 matches. He failed miserably at Euro 96 after his team had been unable to supply him with any ammunition to fire. Doubts still existed on his ability at the very highest level – the jury was still out. There was talk of interest from England’s Aston Villa and host of others. Despite not being the captain he was regarded as the leader of the team. The only significant worry had been that Turkey had only participated in a single warm up game this year which resulted in a 2-0 home loss to Norway.
Having sworn his allegiance with Turkey, English-born Muzzy Izzet found a place on the bench. He had turned them down twice. Turkey full of optimism had never beaten Italy before.
The Arnhem crowd was treated to a blistering, unexpected and promising opening; the nations, playing 3-5-2 to employ attacking principles. Tremendous uproar was heard throughout with Hakan Sukur to almost curl the Turks in front after just a minute before Italy struck back to rattle its opponents; guilty of some shambolic defending with Recber missing corners and stuff. Totti was the dominant man as Turkey failed to settle with tight decisions denying Italy chances on goal twice. All that almost counted for nothing as Sergen narrowly failed to curl the ball past Toldo, this for an undeserved lead. A minute later, Inzaghi threatened to squeeze the ball home, but his connection was not hit cleanly enough. Unmarked in the 6-yard box he should have achieved that within a minute, instead he sent a header wide from Fiore’s second fine cross of the occasion. Gradually, a growing threat from Turkey, fortunate to be level, increased with dominance for most of the remainder achieved. The presence of Hakan Sukur, said to be undergoing a crisis in confidence, was uncomfortable for the Italian defenders as their forwards were now unable to create as in the earlier stages. Passing was equally wasteful and sluggish from both sides, possession wilfully surrendered too often in a match lacking ingenuity, the midfield cancelling out one another – well that was until Conte found the key on 51 minutes via route-one Italian football. Back-to-goal whilst adapting his body well in the process he acrobatically hooked the ball from edge of far 6-yard box and over the head of the flailing keeper, this in Italy’s first attack of the second half. To save it Turkey had to score its first European Championship goal ever as a quick reply almost came from Tauyfur before the woodwork and a sweeping clearance on the line prevented Turkey from falling two behind; this after Recber in another piece of suicidal goalkeeping had missed the cross by a mile. Okan in his 11th appearance, with his first ever goal – from the in-swung free-kick – put himself in the record books and into Turkish folklore. This was with a headed equaliser curtsy of dreadful marking and goalkeeping. He was the smallest man on the field. Arnhem went crazy with just under 30 remaining in a game to be won or lost, but by who as it could go either way? Inzaghi then set about attempting to regain Italy’s lead with Recber and the covering Olgun on the line to clear the danger. It was to be a debatable, contentious, and suspect award of a penalty in favour of a lightweight Inzaghi, adjudged to have been barged to the ground that Italy would have the chance to retake the lead. There looked minimal contact in the challenge as Inzaghi recovered his poise in a test of character to emphatically crash hard and low past Recber for a seventh goal in 22 internationals. The Italians were then forced to back-peddle as Turkey set about saving it. Del Piero with his first kick after stepping onto the pitch to take a free-kick saw the effort rock the crossbar as Toldo at the opposite end scooped out an attempt that looked to creep into the net. Inazghi yet again failed to finish off the Turks with his low drilled effort beating the far post. Turkey bombarded the Italians, holding onto a tense lead, who still had chances to finish it through Del Piero’s drilled effort, this after showing fine balance and movement into Turkey’s box. It was Del Piero again with Alpay’s life-saving scooped clearance off the near post to deny the effort touched past Recber. Offside denied a third for substitute Angelo di Livio after the ball had been played across by Del Piero, today his finest tournament performance ever.