The final of UEFA EURO 2012 will take place tomorrow, with Spain and Italy aiming to write a new chapter in the competition’s illustrious history. Ahead of the big match, FIFA.com looks at some of the moments that have illuminated past European Championships and made the tournament what it is today.
1. Ponedelnik seals landmark triumph
The inaugural European Championship in 1960 provided the USSR with their only success in a major championship, and Viktor Ponedelnik was the Soviets’ match-winner. The 23-year-old struck seven minutes from the end of extra-time to seal a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia in Paris, although he was honest enough to admit that the star of the tournament had been team-mate Lev Yashin. As he later reflected: “I was lucky and honoured to play alongside this goalkeeper, the greatest of them all.”
2. Shesternyov’s fateful call
Portugal may have considered their recent semi-final defeat cruel, but the ordeal of losing on penalties is nothing compared to the way in which the USSR were eliminated in 1968. Locked at 0-0 with Italy after 120 gruelling minutes, it was left to the Soviet skipper, Albert Shesternyov, to call heads or tails to decide whether his team advanced to the final. Sadly for the man nicknamed ‘Ivan the Terrible’, he predicted wrongly and Gli Azzurri went on to win the trophy, with Yugoslavia again the losing finalists. Shootouts were introduced two years later.
3. Panenka’s inspirational impudence
If ever there was an example of how penalties - far from being ‘a lottery’ - are a test of skill and nerve, this was it. Faced with the biggest kick of his nation’s footballing history, a penalty that could win the European Championship for Czechoslovakia and sink world champions Germany, Antonin Panenka took a long run-up, sped up towards the ball, slowed at the last second and deftly chipped the ball beyond the committed Sepp Maier. Pele later described it as the work of “either a genius or a madman”.
4. Platini weaves his spell
No one player has made a bigger impact on a European Championship than Michel Platini in 1984. Nine goals in five matches, including two ‘perfect’ hat-tricks – right foot, left foot and header – against Belgium and Yugoslavia, illustrate his impact, although the most important of his strikes came in the semi-final against Portugal. In a match widely regarded as the competition’s greatest ever, and with the score at 2-2, Platoche struck a dramatic 119th-minute winner to set up a final with Spain – and paved the way to France’s first European crown.
5. Marco's magic moment
While Platini remains the highest scorer in EURO history, few quibble with the assertion that the tournament’s best goal belongs to another of the game’s greats. Marco van Basten had already illuminated the 1988 edition, but it was in the final against USSR that he provided a moment of pure inspiration, scoring a trophy-winning volley from a seemingly impossible angle. “It was in the second half and I was a little tired,” he told UEFA.com recently. “The ball came from Arnold Muhren and I was thinking, 'Ok, I can stop it and do things with all these defensive players or I could do it the more easy way, take a risk and shoot.” His decision secured the Netherlands their first major championship.
6. Vilfort’s courage spurs Danes
Denmark’s EURO 1992 triumph was rightly described as a fairy tale, but it also had a poignant subplot. Midfielder Kim Vilfort had learned ahead of the tournament that his seven-year-old daughter, Line, was terminally ill with leukaemia, and twice pulled out of the squad only to be persuaded by his family to reconsider. The Brondby star missed the Danes’ third group game to be at Line’s bedside, but returned for the semi-final win over the Dutch and famously went on to score the title-clinching goal in the final against Germany. When Line tragically passed away just weeks later, she died knowing that her father was a national hero.
7. Gazza’s glory goal
England and Scotland, the oldest rivalry in international football, had never fought it out at a major championship before EURO 1996. And ultimately the pair’s Wembley showdown was decided inside a few dramatic second-half minutes. The excitement began when David Seaman saved Gary McAllister’s penalty, keeping the hosts 1-0 in front, and culminated in a truly magnificent goal from Paul Gascoigne. Racing on to a pass at the left-hand edge of the penalty area, the midfielder lifted the ball brilliantly over Colin Hendry’s head before volleying unstoppably beyond his then Rangers team-mate, Andy Goram.
8. Trezeguet’s clinching kick
Although EURO 1996 had been settled by a golden goal, Oliver Bierhoff’s decisive strike had hardly been a thing of beauty. Four years later, it was a different story, with David Trezeguet sweeping left-footed finish into the roof of the net to cap a memorable comeback in a gripping final. “At first I was happy for my team-mates; then I was happy for my family; and then I was happy for me,” Trezeguet recently reflected. “We had dreamt of being champions of the world and Europe.” Thanks to the swing of the substitute’s left boot, that dream became a reality.
9. Otto’s boys' unforgettable upset
No-one saw this one coming. Greece, available at odds of up to 250-1 before the tournament kicked off, pulled off the biggest shock in the history of the European Championship in 2004. Having advanced from their section at the expense of Spain and Russia, Otto Rehhagel’s side beat France, Czech Republic and, finally, hosts Portugal – all by one goal to nil – to lift the trophy. "The Greeks have made football history,” reflected Rehhagel in the aftermath. “It's a sensation.”
10. Zizou’s brilliance undoes England
With the 90 minutes up at the Estadio Da Luz in 2004, England – despite a missed penalty from David Beckham - looked to be on the verge of a famous win. But Zinedine Zidane had other ideas. Not content with equalising in the first minute of injury time with a beautifully struck free-kick, the France playmaker delivered a crushing blow to the Three Lions with a match-winning penalty three minutes later. He later described the encounter as “certainly one of the best games I have ever played in.”
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