So, here are my two final choices as my two favourite games from the European Championships and both may seem suprising.
Number 2: Spain Vs Yugoslavia Euro 00 Group C June 21 2000
So this was one of these games were both sides could qualify or be eliminated depending on other results. Sometimes, that can lead to a cagey, tepid game. Sometimes, it can lead to a goal fest with no rhyme or reason to how or who would win.
Thankfully this was the latter. Yugoslavia had been involved in another classic in this group, a thrilling 3-3 draw with Slovakia and knew they needed Norway and Slovakia to draw and beat Spain. Spain knew they had to win and hope the other match was a draw. So this game had 0-0 stamped all over it. Fortunately for us, this game was anything but 0-0. The game was frenetic, with Yugoslavia having the best of the early openings but Spain came back having three good chances and a good penalty appeal turned down and Spain seemed to be in the ascendency with Kralj keeping Yugoslavia in the match. After half an hour Spain were pressing but suddenly found themselves a goal down, former Aston Villa striker Savo Milosevic heading home. Spain hit back, Aberlado just missing with a back post header but Alfonso drew them level after a mazy run from Raul. The equaliser fired up the Spanish who pressed forward trying to get ahead before half time but Yugoslavia held firm to go in level after a breathtaking first half.
The second half carried on with both sides pushing forward again and again and once more, Yugoslavia scored. Dejan Govedarica struck a lovely shot in to the net and Spain look stunned, yet they replied within 30 seconds, Pedro Munitis hitting a sweet curling shot past the despairing dive of Kralj and it was 2-2!
10 minutes later, the game once again swung Spain’s way when Slavisa Jokanovic was sent off after nasty challenge on Munitis and the 10 men had 30 minutes to hold on. Amazingly, Yugoslavia took the lead for the 3rd time after 73 minutes, Komljenovic poking the ball home after a free kick had caused chaos in the Spanish box. Spain kept pressing but as the 90th minute clocked up, they looked down and out, yet the game had more twists. A desperate ball into the box was aimed for Abelardo who took a tumble and the referee pointed the spot and Mendieta fired the ball home.
From the kick off, a loose pass saw Raul surge forward and play in Alfonso who took a touch a crashed the ball home for the Spanish to take the lead 4-3 in 4th minute of injury time and the Spanish players went wild! Seconds later it was all over and Yugoslavia’s players had no idea if they were out. Minutes seemed like hours until the loudspeaker confirmed the news that Slovenia and Norway had drawn 0-0 and both sides had qualified. An absolutely amazing game that had everything.
Number 1: Holland vs Czech Republic Euro 2004 Group D June 19th 2004
Now this game just blew me away when I witnessed it, an absolutely wonderful example of attacking football and the never say die attitude that some teams have in the face of adversity. The start of the game saw the Czechs playing the great football they’ve become renowned for and it did come as a little bit of a surprise when Holland took the lead when Bouma, unmarked, headed home Robben’s free kick. The Dutch seemed infused by this early goal and poured forward. Seedorf, Davids, Robben and Van Nistelrooy all went close to doubling the lead but it the second goal came through very controversial circumstances.
Van Nistelrooy seemed a good 5 yards offside when Robben found him and he slotted the ball past Petr Cech and the Dutch looked set to be cruising. The Czech coach, Karel Bruckner knew he needed to change things quickly and was readying a substitute when Philip Cocu shot himself in the foot, playing a loose square ball that Milan Baros surged onto. Baros powered his way into the area and slipped the ball to Jan Koller to bring them back into the match after 23 minutes but the substitution still went ahead, Smicer coming on. Holland though seemed to just carry on, having several chances to go 3-1 up, Petr Cech was showing Europe just why he was rated as the best goalkeeper in Europe as he produced save after save to hold the Orange waves at bay.
The second half continued and Cech saved again from Van Der Meyde, but after 59 minutes the crucial change occurred. Inexplicably, The Dutch took off Robben who had ripped the Czechs apart on the left wing all game for the defensive midfielder Paul Bosvelt and the impetus seemed to fall away from their game. Once again, the Czech coach played a tactical masterstroke and fetched on Marek Heinze and he almost set up Smicer to level the game.
The Czech Republic began to pour forward, Holland having no answer to the movement of Nedved and Rosicky and unsurprisingly the Czechs levelled. Jan Koller chested a Nedved cross into the path of the on rushing Milan Baros who smashed the ball past Van der Saar and Holland were wobbling. It got even better for the Czechs 5 minutes later as Johnny Heitinga had 30 seconds of madness, getting booked twice and reducing the Oranje to 10 men.
Holland were on the ropes and when Nedved hit a screaming shot from 30 yards it looked all over but the bar saved the Dutch and they looked like they were somehow going to hang on. The game was drifting to the final whistle as the clock ran down when Karel Poborsky broke free on the right and played Smicer in who slotted the ball in to the net and capped a wonderful fight back to pinch all 3 points.
So there you have it, my 5 favourites and I hope they gave you some wonderful memories of the European Championships. Let’s hope by 2012, this tournament has given some more games to challenge these wonderful matches.