As Euro 2020 inches ever closer, the hopes and expectations are intensifying for all 24 countries competing. However, they will also need to be wary that the European Championships is a tournament with a firm track record for producing great upsets. With this in mind, here’s a comprehensive guide to some of the biggest eyebrow-raising results in the competition’s illustrious history.
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Ireland enjoy a historic win against England
When the Republic of Ireland and England were drawn together in the same group for Euro 1988, it had been nearly 40 years since their matches had witnessed an Ireland victory. Two years after England were cruelly eliminated from the 1986 World Cup by Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, they travelled to West Germany among the favourites, while Ireland were distant outsiders ahead of their first major tournament.
However, Jack Charlton led Ireland to a famous 1-0 victory, as Ray Houghton’s well-placed sixth-minute header gave them the lead before they withstood late England pressure to commence their tournament with a win.
The shock result set the tone for both teams’ campaigns - as England finished bottom of Group 2 with three defeats to their name, Ireland battled to a respectable draw against the Soviet Union before being narrowly denied a semi-finals spot by the Netherlands, leaving the tournament with their heads held high and a memorable victory under their belt.
Brolin’s brilliance sends England home
Four years on at Euro 1992, England once again found themselves on the receiving end of a disappointing group-stage defeat, this time at the hands of host nation Sweden. After 0-0 draws against Denmark and France, Graham Taylor’s team needed to beat Sweden in their final match to top Group 1 and progress to the semi-finals, and they were widely expected to achieve the feat.
The match initially followed expectations as England entered half-time 1-0 up via David Platt’s early strike. However, Jan Eriksson equalised for Sweden in the 52nd minute and Tomas Brolin then scored a truly fantastic goal to stun their opponents.
After exchanging a series of quick passes in midfield, Brolin raced to the edge of the box ahead of three England defenders to deftly chip the ball into the top-right corner. The exquisite strike instantly wrote Brolin’s name into Swedish folklore, as the man himself revealed when he said “That goal is always shown in Sweden and everywhere I go people ask me about it”.
Denmark win Euro 1992 as late entrants
An even bigger shock lay in wait at Euro 1992 when Denmark went on to win the tournament in heroic fashion, after initially failing to qualify but being granted a place as a replacement for the expelled Yugoslavia.
Richard Moller Nielsen’s team finished second in Group 1 before edging the Netherlands on penalties in the semi-finals. Germany then stood between them and a title that seemed impossible to win only a month prior, but the ‘Great Danes’ attacking approach ensured they emerged 2-0 victors from the final to complete one of the most unique upsets in soccer history.
Italy are stunned by the Czech Republic
Anfield was the setting for one of the all-time great Euros shocks when the Czech Republic beat Italy at Euro 1996. Pavel Nedved, who would ironically go on to become a soccer star in Italy after his stints at Lazio and Juventus, scored the opener after five minutes before Enrico Chiesa levelled for the Azzurri.
However, 10 minutes before half-time, Radek Bejbl re-established the Czechs’ lead to make it 2-1. Despite being able to call upon the likes of Pierluigi Casiraghi and Gianfranco Zola from the bench, Italy were unable to find an equaliser and missed out on the quarter-finals as a direct consequence.
Greece deny Portugal the trophy on home soil
Following Denmark’s unlikely victory 12 years earlier, Greece unforgettably wrote their own underdog story at Euro 2004. Overlooked from the outset, they impressively progressed from a difficult group featuring host nation Portugal, Spain, and Russia, before eliminating holders France in the quarter-finals and securing their spot in the final with a silver goal at the expense of the Czech Republic.
They faced Portugal again in the final, who lined up with the intimidating attacking quartet of Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Luis Figo, and Pauleta. However, it was Greece who offered the only entry on the scoresheet as their tried and tested set-piece routine culminated in Angelos Charisteas’ powerful 57th-minute header, which proved to be the winning goal.
Iceland enjoy their best-ever victory
When England unconvincingly finished second in Group B at Euro 2016, they thought they’d been offered a slice of good fortune when they were drawn against tournament newcomers Iceland in the Round of 16. Instead, a team featuring the likes of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, and Raheem Sterling found themselves beaten by a triumph of collective spirit in what has since been broadly deemed one of their most humiliating results ever.
Rooney appeared to be following the script when he netted a fourth-minute penalty, only for England’s wayward marking to allow Ragnar Sigurdsson to equalise less than two minutes later. The upset then became a possibility when Joe Hart spilled Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s shot and Iceland found themselves 2-1 up after 18 minutes.
Although Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford were also thrust into the England attack, they were met by a stubborn Iceland defence who calmly and repeatedly thwarted their efforts to find an equaliser. Eventually, the full-time whistle blew and Iceland deservedly and elatedly celebrated the best result in their soccer history.
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