Almanac Soccer: Let’s Look Back at the Euros – Euro 2000 (Holland/Belgium)

With the new millennium arriving the Euros were moving back to the continent and for the first time two countries would host the event. The low lands countries Holland and Belgium would share the event after Spain and Austria missed out. The mascot was Benelucky who looked like he had been genetically engineered on the Island of Dr Moreau. He had a Lions body (to represent Holland) and a devil’s tail (to represent Belgium AKA The Red Devils) along with having human hands. The format would be the same as Euro 96. Four groups then quarter finals, semi finals and final.

 

Almost all tickets for the games sold out in quick time.

 

QUALIFICATION

With 14 spots to be filled instead of 15 it was going to make it just that little bit harder. Norway qualified for their first ever Euros while Sweden were back finishing well above England. Yugoslavia were back in the Euros too even if it was pretty much only in name with anyone else apart from Serbia or Montenegro claiming independence. Ireland again missed out through cruel luck being denied in the last kick of the game in Macedonia that forced them in a playoff with Turkey. They lost to Turkey controversially with an all in brawl at full time to wrap it all up. England had to go in to a play off and were up against the Scots. England won 2-0 in the first leg and Hampden Park then almost blew it at Wembley losing 1-0 as Scotland wasted a hosted of chances which is not like them at all.

THE GROUP STAGE

 

It didn’t get easier for Kevin Keegan’s England who now had players such as Owen, Beckham and Scholes coming through the ranks. Their GROUP A would feature an emerging Portuguese side along with the champions Germany and Romania. In the opening game of the group Germany could only draw with Romania while England were up 2-0 against Portugal but within 20 minutes before they fell apart and couldn’t handle their flamboyant opponents who were even by half time then won it 3-2. In the second lot of games Portugal defeated Romania 1-0 to advance while Shearer picked up where he left off in 1996 scoring in England’s 1-0 win over Germany in a packed 27,000 capacity Charleroi Stadium. In the final lot of games for the group England only had to draw to advance but Romania were no pushovers going up 1-0. Goals to Shearer and Owen had the score 2-1 at half time but Romania scored early in the second half. England looked like they would hold on even if they were completely unconvincing but a stupid foul by Phil Neville in the final minute gave away a penalty dispatched by Ganea and England were out with Romania advancing. English fans decided to mark the occasion by smashing up town squares in Belgium. Portugal played their kids and humiliated Germany in the other game 3-0 showing off how strong they were. The champions Germany now bereft of their stars of the 90s were pathetic and going home without winning a game for the first time.

 

In GROUP B Belgium would host Italy, Sweden and the Turks. Belgium won their first game against Sweden 2-1 to open the tournament while Italy won a controversial game 2-1 thanks to Hugh Dallas giving them a suspect penalty with 20 minutes to go. The decision left the Turks incensed and throwing items such as screwdrivers at the ref. Italy advanced beating Belgium in their next game 2-0 while Turkey and Sweden drew 0-0. The pivotal final game in the group would be Turkey V Belgium where the hosts only had to draw to advance with Italy. The star striker for Turkey Hakan Sukur had other ideas though and his double sent through following a 2-0 win. This game was also played at a rebuilt Heysel Stadium, the first UEFA sanctioned game at the venue since the Heysel Disaster in 1985. Italy defeated Sweden 2-1 to top the group with a 100% record.

 

GROUP C would feature Spain, FR Yugoslavia, Norway and Slovenia. It didn’t seem that this group would deliver but offered some of the best games of tournament. First off Norway defeated a fancied Spain 1-0 while Slovenia were brilliant against their former masters going up 3-0 before the hour. The Yugoslav side rallied though and got in to the Slovenian heads as they tried to hold to their lead defending deep but ultimately conceded three goals in just six minutes meaning it all ended 3-3. In the second lot of games Spain were too good Slovenia winning 2-1 while Yugoslavia won 1-0 against Norway thanks to an early goal from their powerful star striker Savo Milosevic. The final group games saw a Euros classic though. Yugoslavia and Spain seesawed between leads in Brugge with Yugoslavia holding a 3-2 lead as the clock wound down. If it stayed the same Spain would be out but in the final minutes and after a host of corners a soft penalty was given to Spain that was dispatched by the brilliant Mendiata. It seemed that would be it for the Yugoslav bench rather forward with their points of view to the ref wanting him to blow the while. Moments before he would do though a hopeless long ball was headed down to Alfonso who scored. 4-3 win for Spain in extraordinary scenes but thanks to Norway being held to a 0-0 draw by Slovenia in the other game both teams advanced.

 

The most intriguing of the groups would be GROUP D. Co-hosts Holland were now coached by Frank Rijkaard and after going close to winning the World Cup in France had a wonderfully potent team featuring Van Der Sar, the De Boer twins, Bergkamp, Davids, Seedorf, Overmaars and the list went on. A team that were a joy to behold and strong all over the ground. Joining them were the World Champs France who were now under Roger Lemerre and had the core of their World Cup winning sign with the additions of potent forwards Anelka and Wiltord to add to Henry, Zidane, Lizarazu..need I go on? The French made it no secret that they wanted to be only the second team to be both World and European champs at the same time.  The unfortunate Denmark and Czech Republic rounded out the group. The Dutch won all three group games 1-0 v the Czechs, smashing Denmark 3-0 and then knocking off France in a cracking 3-2 match playing a b team. France would join them defeating the Danes and Czechs making it a very one sided group.

THE QUARTER FINALS

 

The first quarter final would be between the hard as nails Turkey and attacking Portugal. The Turks were going through a bit of a renaissance at this time at club level with Galatasaray winning the UEFA Cup but this Portuguese side were just too strong with young Benfica star Nuno Gomes scoring a double in  2-0 win. Italy did the same to Romania with the new star Francisco Totti scoring along with a vintage Pippo Inzaghi tap in. This would be the last time the great Gheorge Hagi would play for Romania.

 

The other quarter finals also both went to the favourites. In Rotterdam the Dutch took on a FR Yugoslavia side that were strong and could challenge that perceived soft underbelly of their hosts. Holland were merciless though destroying the Yugoslavs 6-1 in their most complete performance in years. Young Barca star Patrick Kluivert scored a hattrick and Overmaars a double with an own goal to complete the humiliation. Holland were by far the favourites to win it all now.

 

In the other quarter final France would play Spain and it was an exciting competitive first half in which France went to the sheds up 2-1. The second half was an opposite of the exciting opening stanza with cards aplenty as a frustrated Spain lashed out. Then with minutes left French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez gave away a needless penalty. Real Madrid star Raul was tasked with taking the penalty and either forcing the game to extra time or blowing it. He did the latter missing the goal completely. France through to the semi finals.

 

THE SEMI FINALS

 

While the quarter finals were quite one sided both semi finals were quite the opposite. The first semi final would pit the hungry Portuguese against France. Portugal were entering a new dawn led by Luis Figo with a host of new powerful stars that all seemed to be energizer bunnies. One to emerge in this tournament, Nuno Gomes, opened the scoring on 19 minutes with a cracking shot from the edge of the area while off balance rewarding the early pressure by the young tykes as France had no answer. Early in the second half Portugal forgot to bring their brains back out when Henry was set up by Anelka and finished with a wonderful shot to equalise. 1-1.

 

Both sides had one more chance each in the fading light at Heysel but it would go to golden goal extra time. Again it was an arm wrestle as both sides came agonisingly close to finding the golden goal. With three minutes to go before penalties France broke down with the keeper Vitor Baia smothered a shot that fell to Wiltord who shot from a tight angle with the keeper stranded but the rather unique looking defender Abel Xavier blocked the shot and a penalty was given for handball after the linesman raised his flag. The Portuguese were beside themselves surrounding the ref and raining down gestures and abuse claiming it was never a penalty and replays may have backed their claims. While all this went on Zidane had the ball on the spot ready to go practising zen like patience among the boos and whistles. Finally everything settled down and Zidane nailed the penalty sending France through to their first final since 1984. Portugal were howling after a loss like this but their time would come with such a young side and hosting the next Euros.

 

In the other semi final the Amsterdam Arena was a sea of orange for the game between Holland and Italy. The Dutch were riding high but this Italian team with its resolute defence would be tough and uncompromising. This side was coached by Euro and World Cup winning keeper Dino Zoff who was trying to usher in new stars while relying on that old Italian tactic; deep defending. It didn’t help also that their star keeper Gianluca Buffon was injured meaning Gianfranco Toldo was chucked in cold. The Italians were snipy and managed to harass and frustrate the Dutch trying to turn them in to chocolate soldiers. It seemed that this tactic was going to blow up in their face when Zambrotta received his second yellow on 34 minutes and was off. Then a few minutes after this Nesta fouled Kuivert and a penalty was given. This would be the time the trustworthy Ronald De Boer would put his side up 1-0 and keep the lead against 10 men? No as his penalty was saved. Half time 0-0 and the locals were tentative, the Italians gaining more confidence as the game went on.

 

In the second half Italy grew bolder having two chances to Di Biagio and Del Piero denied before a lovely chain of passes got to Davids who was fouled and another penalty was given to Holland. De Boer gave the penalty duties to the in-form Kluivert but he too was to have his penalty saved and the game went to golden goal extra time and then penalties leaving fans hoping to come to see a home town triumph again questioning their logic in trusting in their beloved team. In the shootout Italy would go first and dispatched their first penalty before De Boer had another go and was saved again. Another conversion from Italy and then Man United star Jaap Stam sent his penalty in to row z with the BBC at the time claiming that it was the worst penalty ever taken. Ridiculously good looking Italian captain Paolo Maldini had his penalty saved which game with the Dutch hope but the new boy at right back Paul Bosvelt had to score to keep them in it. His shot was saved and Italy were through! The siege mentality had upset many with its anti football stance but it had worked. Games like this were there to be won and entertainment was a side product. The Dutch had found yet another way to shit the bed and there would be some packed coffee houses in Amsterdam to get over this one.

THE FINAL

 

France would take on Italy in Rotterdam. It would be Zidane and the supreme attack force of the world champs against the Italian defensive wall. Both teams sprung surprises in the lead up. Lemerre started Henry with veterans Djorkaeff and Dugarry leaving Anelka, Trezuguet and Pires on the bench preferring to keep his powder dry. Dino Zoff took an even bigger risk leaving Inzaghi and a half fit and questionable Del Piero on the bench playing the AS Roma duo Totti and Marco Delvecchia.

 

The game would be intriguing but in the first 45 it was uneventful at best. Zidane was nullified by a hardworking Italian midfield leaving Henry stranded up front. At half time Lemerre pushed Zidane forward which allowed the Italians to take over the midfield and let their side get on top. Del Piero was subbed on to ram home the advantage. On 55 minutes an abstract backheel by Totti to Pessotto left the French defence flatfooted with a perfect cross finding Delvecchia who sidefooted it in to put Italy ahead 1-0. The Zoff gamble had worked!

 

Lemmere now had to act and put on Wiltord for Dugarry looking for an equaliser but the best passing of the French was being done with 8 blue shirts and a goalkeeper in front of them. On 62 minutes Del Piero was put through by Totti but managed to some how not score. Djorkaeff made way for Trezuguet as Del Piero again squandered a chance not pulling the trigger and letting Barthez save. Still time ticked on though and Wiltord beat the Italian defence just once having his shot blocked by Toldo after trickery by Zidane now with space at times. The Italians thought they had it as Pires came on as the final sub for France with the Italian bench standing as one arms around each other ready to celebrate in the final minute. Barthez had a goal kick and launched the ball up the field. The ball was headed on by a French player but straight to an Italian defender who had no time to react and half cleared the ball which fell to Wiltord who controlled it calmly and managed to slot it in the one spot not covered by a desperate Italian defender or the keeper taking the game in to extra time. While the French in the crowd and his teammates celebrated with a mix of 51% joy and 49% relief his celebration was as calm as his finish.

 

The goal had deflated Italy. Zoff urged to find the golden goal but France now had their attackers off the bench and went for the kill. Three minutes in to extra time a fresh Pires danced with pace and guile down the left past a bamboozled Pessotto and squared a pass to the edge of the area where Trezuguet slammed the ball the home past a static Toldo with an almighty wallop that almost ripped the roof of the net off in the goal. France were the champions of Europe with a brilliant goal more than deserving. Trez was shirt off and running to the bench to celebrate while the Italians cursed their luck and Maldini wondered if he would ever win something with his country after chalking up countless medals with his club AC Milan. France had become only the second country to be both concurrent champions of both Europe and the World and only now the players from the time realise the greatness of that team.

 

In the aftermath Zoff would quit as boss of the Italian team citing snitching from powerbrokers such as Silvio Berlusconi but his legacy would be bringing through new talent like Totti who would ultimately take Italy to World Cup glory in 2006. This was probably the best tournament of all the Euros so far. Exciting matches, full stadiums and a tournament fully embraced by the football world and not just Europe. It would only get bigger from here!

CHAMPIONS – France (2nd title)

RUNNER UP – Italy

 

GOLDEN BOOT – Patrick Kluivert and big Sasa Milosevic both scored 5 goals tying for golden boot. Kluivert was already seen as the next big thing at this tournament at 24 but would be washed up by age 28 once he had left Barca for many reasons. Milosevic had an emotional time during the tournament with his mother fighting terminal cancer using that pain to inspire his country. Unfortunately Yugoslavia would only make the quarter finals.

 

SACRED COW – Zinedine Zidane. There were many sacred cows at Euro 2000 and I really wanted to nominate the Italian defence but this was Zidane’s tournament. The maestro missed a lot of the 1998 World Cup through suspension so this was the time where he was influential in every game except the final providing moments on inspiration when needed such as the free kick against Spain, the calm penalty against Portugal etc. One of the greats of his generation. Too bad about the next time he played Italy in a major cup final.

 

DUNCE HATS – Germany and Eric Ribbeck. It was safe to say the champs were in a rebuilding phase but they were awful in this tournament. Ribbeck had taken over from Berti Vogts and had replaced legends with bit part players and veterans like Lothar Matthaus. He was also 61 and took the job after coming out of the retirement. Not the usual German efficiency. His questionable coaching moves and selections blew up in his face and was sacked with the German FA wanting to break everything down and start over again from youth development up. The fruits of this resulted in a World Cup win in 2014.

 

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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