The 2000 European Championship marked the first time that hosting was split between two nations.
Belgium and the Netherlands split the duties between the two countries and both were given progress to the finals as a result.
By 2000 there was a newly dominant team in world football. France had hosted the World Cup in 1998 and defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final. The multicultural French side had grown together after that triumph and were arguably in even better shape than they had been two years earlier. In Zinedine Zidane they could boast the best player on the planet.
Still, France had been pushed to the end in qualification by a determined Ukraine side, who finished second without losing a match. France had dropped points away in Iceland and were beaten by Russia, but still stayed a single point ahead of the Ukrainians.
The majority of the teams who had competed at Euro ’96 returned for the 2000 tournament. Italy, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Germany qualified automatically, while Norway made their first appearance at the finals alongside Sweden, who returned.
The playoffs saw Denmark thrash Israel 8-0, Slovenia beat Ukraine 3-2 to make their first appearance at the Euros and Turkey beat Ireland on away goals.
There was also a playoff between England and Scotland for a place at the finals. Scotland had finished runners-up to an imperious Czech side, while England had finished second behind Sweden. Paul Scholes inspired England to a 2-0 win at Hampden, scoring both goals and seemingly putting the tie beyond any real doubt. However, a first-half Don Hutchison goal gave Scotland hope at Wembley, only for the heroics of David Seaman to allow England to progress.
Their stay would be short-lived, however. Despite going 2-0 up on Portugal in their opening match, a Luis Figo-inspired Portuguese team came back to win 3-2. Romania and Germany drew 1-1. England salvaged some form of revenge for their 1996 exit when Alan Shearer’s goal gave them a 1-0 win over Germany, while Portugal qualified with a 1-0 win over Romania.
With Portugal thumping Germany 3-0, England simply needed to avoid defeat against Romania to guarantee their progress into the next round. Despite conceding an early goal to Christian Chivu, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen gave England the lead. Dorinel Munteanu quickly equalised, but England held the upper hand. However, Kevin Keegan made a series of increasingly defensive substitutions, withdrawing Owen, Scholes and Dennis Wise for Emile Heskey, Nick Barmby and Gareth Southgate. In the final minute, Phil Neville felled Viorel Moldovan in the penalty box and Ionel Ganea scored the resulting penalty.
Not only was it a sobering tournament for England, but the Germans took the manner of their exit so hard that they proposed a series of changes to their game and its setup, with the intention of producing dynamic, youthful sides. A decade on and those implementations have borne fruit.
Italy recovered from their woeful 1996 tournament by taking maximum points from the group stage. Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Pippo Inzaghi were amongst the goalscorers as they defeated Sweden, Turkey and Belgium to progress. The Turks, who beat Belgium and drew with the Swedes, joined them in the quarter-finals.
Spain had been constant underachievers, despite the re-emergence of Real Madrid and the growing forces at Valencia and Deportivo. Still, they topped their group from Yugoslavia, Norway and Slovenia, despite losing their opening match to Norway and only qualifying by virtue of an injury time Gaizka Mendieta penalty in a 4-3 win over Yugoslavia, who finished runners-up.
Group D was won by what was seen as the best Dutch side in at least 12 years. Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, the de Boer brothers and Clarence Seedorf formed part of a team that were favourites for many. The Dutch did that reputation no harm at all, sweeping aside all before them in the group stages, including a 3-2 win over World Cup holders, France.
The French were almost as good. After destroying Denmark 3-0 in their opening game, they beat an excellent Czech Republic side 2-1 thanks to goals from Thierry Henry and Youri Djorkaeff. The team which was defeated in the final match was mainly made up of reserve players, as France opted to rest members of their squad following confirmation of their progression.
In the quarter-finals, Nuno Gomes scored twice as Portugal ousted Turkey, and Italy continued their ominous form with a 2-0 win over Romania, goals coming from Francesco Totti and Fillipo Inzaghi. The Netherlands pummelled Yugoslavia 6-1, Patrick Kluivert scoring a hat-trick. France were also improving, with Djorkaeff and Zidane particular standouts. The pair were both on target in a 2-1 win over Spain, setting up a semi-final with Portugal.
The Netherlands, to all intents and purposes, should have secured their place in the final of the tournament when they faced Italy. The Dutch completely outplayed the Italians, winning and missing two penalties in normal time, and failing to capitalise on Gianluca Zambrotta’s red card after just half an hour.
Still, the Italian defence stayed resolute, and with the Dutch crumbling under the pressure, the Italians won the match 3-1 on penalties to reach the final.
France and Portugal’s match is remembered as much for the work of Zidane as much as anything else. The playmaker turned in arguably the single finest performance of his illustrious career, producing driving runs, intricate passes and the winning goal from the penalty spot.
The French talisman was a hugely modern player, ahead of the game even a decade ago. Capable of creating space where there was none, Zidane inspired confidence in great players around him. While Brazilians had tricks and flicks designed to humiliate opponents, there was an economy to Zizou’s brilliance; everything he did was the means to an end. It was testament to his abilities that despite possessing the top strikers in England, France and Spain during the 2002 World Cup, France couldn’t find the net in his absence.
Nuno Gomes gave Portugal an early lead, but Thierry Henry equalised after half-time. Deep into extra-time the ball struck the arm of Abel Xavier in the Portuguese defence, and despite remonstrations from the Portugal players, which would end in several bans being issued, France had a chance to win the game with a penalty. Zidane made no mistake. Xavier, to this day, insists he did not handle the ball, despite video evidence to the contrary.
In the final, France dominated the early exchanges, Thierry Henry hitting a post and Toldo saving well from Djorkaeff. However, it was the Italians who opened the scoring, Marco Delvecchio volleying home from a Pessotto cross.
France peppered the Italian goal for the remainder of the match, with Henry, Wiltord and Zidane denied by the on-form Toldo. France gambled, throwing on Trezeguet alongside Wiltord and Henry, and in the dying seconds they got their reward. Sylvian Wiltord found space in the Italian box and fired past Toldo to take the game to extra time.
The Italians were deflated, and France picked up where they left off. Henry and Zidane went close to winning the game with a golden goal, before Pires picked the ball up on the left, slalomed past Italian challenges and crossed for Trezeguet to thrash the ball past a despairing Toldo.
France had won their second European Championship and become only the second team to hold both the World Cup and European Championship simultaneously.
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