Euro 2020 Knockouts: Ranking the 5 greatest matches from tournaments past

Best European Championships knockout stage matches

The knockouts, the stage when things get tasty. These all-or-nothing clashes often come down to who can hold their nerve, whose hand is steadier, who can best handle the cranium-crushing pressure.

As the slings and arrows of tournament football take a heavy toll, the nerves become frayed and the limbs become weary.

But with continental pride on the line, frayed nerves and weary limbs at the Euros have made for some of the most pulsating matches in the history of the game.

Here are five of the best.

5. Germany 3-2 Turkey, Euro 2008

Germany 3-2 Turkey, Euro 2008

Germany have played in 22 (twenty-two) semi-finals at major tournaments. Bar the 4-3 defeat to Italy in the 1970 World Cup, this was arguably the best of the lot.

Turkey took the lead in the 22nd minute, the ball falling kindly to Ugur Boral after bouncing off the top of the bar from a deflected shot. He dispatched from four yards, stabbing the ball under Jens Lehman.

A bleach blond-haired Bastian Schweinsteiger showed viper-like instincts to ghost in at the near post and spin a gorgeous finish past Turkish goalkeeper Rustu Recber four minutes later.

Germany had the guts of the second half’s chances before Recber charged off his line with cavalier abandon to punch away a weary, harmless-looking cross with 10 minutes remaining. He missed, and Miroslav Klose headed home.

But Turkey equalised with two minutes left to play, Semih Şentürk prodding home after Sabri Sarioglu swivelled past Phillip Lahm and played a rapier pass across goal.

Lahm had the last laugh though, exchanging passes with Schweinsteiger before smashing home the winner as the clock struck ’90.

4. France 4-5 Yugoslavia, Euro 1960

Yugoslavia, Euro 1960

The very first game in the history of the Euros is also the highest-scoring in the annals of the competition.

In Paris, Milan Galic had the honour of scoring the first Euros goal after 11 minutes. Some goal it was too, his 30-yard blast glancing in off the square goalpost.

France quickly hit back with three of their own, but Yugoslavia rolled with the punches, pulling one back in the 55th minute before being almost instantly pegged back by France again.

But Yugoslavia replied through Tomislav Knez and lit the touchpaper on an explosion of goals. Drazan Jerkovic scored twice from a combined distance of two yards, giving Yugoslavia a sensational 5-4 victory. Three goals in four minutes saw them through to the first Euros final.

It has, in terms of goals at least, been downhill ever since.

3. Iceland 2-1 England, Euro 2016

Iceland 2-1 England, Euro 2016

This match is invariably – and unfairly – seen as England’s defeat to Iceland rather than Iceland’s victory over England. Granted, they had a helping glove from Joe Hart but, by any metric, this was a stunning achievement from minnows appearing at their first major tournament.

Wayne Rooney thumped home an early penalty to prove that this last-16 tie would, surely, be a formality before a sterner test in the quarter-finals. But Ragnar Sigurdsson went wildly off-script when he connected with the weapon of war that was Aron Gunnarsson’s long throw just two minutes later. England’s lead lasted barely two minutes but worse was yet to come.

Kolbeinn Sigþórsson’s tame shot somehow wormed its way under Hart and Iceland led before the 20-minute mark. The scoreline stayed that way, with England reduced to taking pop-shots from distance, Iceland parrying any attempt they made to infiltrate their compact backline.

It was a tragicomedy for England but an almost unparalleled sporting achievement from Iceland, whose population barely exceeds Newcastle’s, the UK’s 16th most populous city.

2. France 3-2 Portugal (AET), Euro 1984

France 3-2 Portugal (aet), Euro 1984

Only two men have scored nine goals at European Championship finals. The first is Cristiano Ronaldo, who did it in 21 matches. The second is Michel Platini, who did it in five.

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner played like a live-action highlight reel in the 1984 championship on home soil in France. He scored eight goals in the group stages, setting up this semi-final clash with Portugal.

Jean-François Domergue thwacked home a free-kick before the half-hour mark to give France the lead in Marseille.

The game remained 1-0 until 15 minutes from time when Rui Jordao’s header levelled things. In extra time, Jordao netted again, leaving France on the brink.

But Domergue equalised with five minutes remaining. The match seemed fated for penalties, until Platini pivoted in the area and summoned up one more moment of baletic brilliance, firing home his eighth of the tournament.

That strike sent France to the final where Platini would net again as they secured their first major honour with a 2-0 victory over Spain.

1. Spain 3-0 Russia, Euro 2008

Spain were once international football’s biggest disappointment. Only once since winning the European Championship in 1964 had they gone beyond the quarter-finals at a major tournament.
The Iberian Peninsula had always been fertile ground for producing tidy footballers with verve and tactical know-how, but few winners’ medals. In 2008, that ended. Emphatically.

Going into the semi-final in Vienna, Spain had already beaten Russia 4-1 on opening night in Group D. Resplendent in their gold away strip, Spain won by the same margin again. The Russians were chewed up and spat out by the tiki-taka tornado, Spain producing three goals of mind-bending quality.

The first, scored by Xavi, came at the end of a bewildering 14-pass combination. Five minutes later, with the coolness of a bomb disposal expert and open-heart surgeon rolled into one, Cesc Fabregas lifted the ball over Russia’s backline to play Dani Guiza through to score Spain’s second. Iniesta played a show-stopping ball down the line in the build-up to David Silva’s third.

Spain subsequently embarked on their platinum era, going on to win the final 1-0 against Germany. The World Cup followed, then the Euros again.

Over the next four years, Spain were at times accused of passturbation, ball circulation for the sake of ball circulation. That could not have been further from the truth in Vienna. They played with poise and purpose and produced one of the competition’s great displays. In the spiritual home of classical music, this was a breath-taking symphony from La Roja.

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