Twenty-two years have passed since UEFA Euro 2000, a tournament many regard as one of the greatest soccer finals in modern times.
Despite leading a charmed life at times, France’s ability to play the most attractive, attacking soccer made them the deserved winners of the European Championships. The French rode their luck, especially in the Rotterdam Final, where it took a last-gasp injury-time goal to keep them in the match against Dino Zoff’s Italy.
Euro 2000 Final
On 2 July 2000, one of the greatest international tournaments ended in Rotterdam in front of 50,000 spectators. The final began with an equally frantic opening. Thierry Henry’s hooked shot hit the post as France nearly took the lead. Italians came into the game after Youri Djorkaeff’s header from a corner had just missed the target. A free-kick by Demetrio Albertini narrowly goes over the bar. Only 15 minutes had been played.
After each side settled, the World Cup holders France came close to breaking through six minutes before the break. After weaving through the penalty area, Henry drove the ball goalward. Djorkaeff seized the initiative and tried to fire low, but Toldo made a fine point-blank save.
The game continued to open up after the break as the Azzurri sensed their chance for glory in Euro 2000. Italy brought on Alessandro Del Piero early in the second half, and they soon took the lead. Francesco Totti skilfully fed Gianluca Pessotto on the right, and his controlled cross evaded the attention of Marcel Desailly and fell for Marco Delvecchio, who hit a volley into the net from close range.
Suddenly the Italians were on song, and another chance was created when Totti put Del Piero in the clear. Racing clear of the defense, it looked like the Juventus forward would put Italy two goals to the good, but unfortunately, he put the ball wide of the goal posts.
Euro Cup 2000 Big-Name Players
That miss gave the French team hope, and they started to come back. First, Francesco Toldo was forced to make a couple of good saves from Sylvain Wiltord and Thierry Henry. After that, Zinedine Zidane began to dictate the game’s pace. Throughout the Euro 2000 final tournament, Zinedine Zidane carried the ball nearly 1 kilometer (956 meters) in five games, 200 meters more than any other soccer player.
The next player was Luis Figo of Portugal. It was Zidane who completed more passes in the final third of the pitch and produced more dribbles than any player at this UEFA European championship.
The Italians, however, remained dangerous on the counterattack, and on 84 minutes, they should have made the victory safe when Del Piero was sent through again. This time he hit a tame shot which Fabian Barthez in the French goal saved easily. With the confidence that being world champions often affords, France pressured the typically efficient and reliable Italian defense.
After successfully keeping them out for a dogged five minutes, the Italians finally relented, thus beginning an extraordinary end to a fantastic European Championship. Four minutes into injury time, Barthez pumped a long kick upfield and found the head of David Trezeguet. The substitute headed the ball into the area where World Cup winner, Sylvain Wiltord struck the ball back across the goal.
The shot looked to be a tame one, especially as Toldo – so outstanding throughout the competition – seemed to be in the perfect position to keep out any effort from what was a tight angle. But for once, the Fiorentina man was slow to react, and the ball slipped under his body, bringing France back from the abyss. Now they were level.
Italy was killed off thirteen minutes into extra time of the UEFA Euro 2000 final when Fabio Cannavaro’s weak header fell to Robert Pires, who was free on the left. His cross caught the Italians square. The soccer ball was only half-cleared when David Trezeguet hit a stupendous, thumping volley soaring high into the goal net. Despite not starting in any of the group or knockout matches, Trezeguet managed to make the most of his cameo appearance in the final.
After the West German side of the early 1970s, the French became only the second team to be able to hold the European Championship and World Cup at the same time.
Qualifying For The Final
France had finished as runners-up to the Dutch (The Netherlands) in their group and therefore had the harder quarter-final against Spain. Zinedine Zidane’s free-kick gave France the lead just after the half-hour, but the lead lasted just eight minutes. Liliam Thuram fouled Munitions in the area, and Gaizka Mendieta stroked home the penalty.
A thrilling first half ended in France’s favor when Youri Djorkaeff broke clear and knocked a low shot beyond Canizares. Then, in the last minute and France on the verge of victory, Barthez fouled Abelardo, and Spain was awarded a penalty. Real Madrid golden boy Raul took the penalty but shot horribly over the bar, sending France into the semi-finals to meet Portugal.
Luis Figo Inspiration
The Portuguese, inspired by Luis Figo, were quarter-final victors over surprise qualifiers Turkey and were the most impressive unit in the Championship. After 19 minutes Nuno Gomes, one of the real finds of Euro 2000, struck a snapshot curling effort past Fabian Barthez and France was on the ropes.
However, they equalized through Arsenal’s Thierry Henry after half-time before the game slowed down and drifted into extra time. Not much happened in the extra half-hour until everything exploded into life in the final five minutes. After Xavier was adjudged to have handled the ball by the post, Zidane converted the spot-kick.
Italia And The Dutch
Having got past Romania 2-0 in the quarter-finals with goals from Totti and Inzaghi, Italy took on a buoyant Holland in the semis after the Dutch had thrashed Yugoslavia 6-1 in a display worthy of their 1974 and 1988 predecessors.
A Holland-Italy semi final finished 0-0. However, it was not short of incident. Having witnessed the Dutch defeat of the Yugoslavs, the match started predictably as Italy sat back and defended against the incredible attacking potential of Dennis Bergkamp, Kluivert, Marc Overmars, and Zenden.
Early on, Gianluca Zambrotta was sent off after two awful fouls on Zenden before. On 39 minutes, Holland was awarded a penalty. However, Toldo brilliantly saved Frank de Boer’s effort to start what turned out to be a night of horrors for the sea of Oranje fans.
In an entirely one-sided second-half, the hosts were given another penalty when Edgar Davids’ charge into the area was stopped illegally by Mark Iuliano. Although the Juve defender avoided a red card, Kluivert stepped up to take the spot-kick, but the ball struck the left-hand post of Toldo’s goal.
When the contest went to a shoot-out, you knew that the poor hosts never stood a chance. Frank de Boer and Jaap Stam missed the first two Dutch kicks while the Italians scored their first three. Then Kluivert scored and gave some hope to Holland, which was reinforced when Paolo Maldini missed for Italy. Finally, though, Toldo saved from Bosvelt, and Italy went through to the Euro 2000 Final.
England Euro 2000 Campaign
England got off to a great start in their Euro 2000 opening group A match with Portugal. After just three minutes, David Beckham was allowed far too much time and space on the right, and he swung in a cross headed home by Paul Scholes.
Then a good piece of skill by Michael Owen gave another crossing opportunity to Beckham, which Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman converted this time. Two-nil-up, eighteen minutes played. However, England never looked comfortable, and they struggled to keep possession of the ball for any meaningful length of time.
A superb long-range effort from Luis Figo quickly got the Portuguese back in it, and then a well-judged glancing header from Joao Pinto leveled things up before half-time. On the hour, Numo Gomes sped onto a through-ball from Rui Costa, got ahead of Tony Adams, and steered the ball past David Seaman. The match finished 3-2 and gave the Portuguese a well-deserved win.
In Charleroi, victory against Germany gave England hope of qualification for the quarter-finals. However, the game’s only goal came eight minutes after half-time when England was awarded a free-kick deep on the right. Beckham’s cross was allowed to bounce, and the ball found its way past three defenders and Owen before dropping on the head of Alan Shearer, who stooped to steer it past the despairing Oliver Kahn.
So attention turned to the final group game against Romania, where a draw would see the England, the home of football through to a quarter-final against Italy. The match got off to a bad start when, after 20 minutes, Christian Chivu’s cross was wickedly deflected, looping over stand-in ‘keeper Nigel Martyn and falling inside the far post. Romania was ahead.
England was slow to get into the game and struggled to retain enough possession to create chances to equalize. But then midfield colossus Paul Ince was fouled in the area, and Shearer stepped up to gratefully dispatch the penalty to level things up.
Five minutes later, Owen was put clear by Scholes, and he went round ‘keeper Bogdan Stelea, evading the ‘keeper’s dangerously high challenge, to score his first goal of the tournament. Despite being a goal up at half-time, England wasn’t playing with any authority. Their weaknesses at the back were exposed when Daniel Munteanu equalized following a poor punched clearance from Nigel Martyn.
England retreated into their shell and seemed intent to settle for a draw and ride out time. However, Kevin Keegan’s men managed to survive the pressure that the Romanians applied until two minutes from time when Phil Neville made an ill-judged tackle in the box. The penalty was stroked home by Ganea, and England was out of Euro 2000.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!