Wednesday, 4 June 2008

EURO 2000: AKA: “ZZ is tops…”

Written by Daz

EURO 2000 “ZZ is tops…”

Hosts: Belgium & Netherlands (Joint)

Euro 2000 instigated a curious new idea - the co-host. The reasons behind this idea were not exactly clear as both countries had at least 4 Stadia each that were UEFA approved, more than enough to cover the on average 2 games per day schedule. The only logical conclusion was that there was a touch of cynicism in electing to have two hosts who both qualified without playing a game, at any rate it meant that a complicated qualification process was put in place with four teams having to qualify by playing additional play off matches instead of traditional qualifying group placing.

The teams qualifying were:

Group A


Group B


Group C


Group D

Czech Republic

Group A and D were rightly considered the toughest groups but there was also a fascinating match-up in in Group C which pitted the newly reconstituted Yugoslavia against Slovenia, a former part of the communist Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which had dissolved into messy civil war in the 90s, the game lived up to it’s billing too as the teams fought out a thrilling 3:3 draw.

In Group A, there were shocks all round as the heavily backed England team, who despite finally defeating Germany one nil, were beaten by Portugal and Romania to crash out at the first round. Even worst was to come for the defending Champions Germany who finished bottom of the group and in disarray, possibly the Germans poorest display ever, well apart from that whole invading Poland affair in the late 1930's...

Belgium could not find their way out of Group B and were eventually knocked out by underdogs Turkey who qualified with Italy who were untroubled. In Group C, Spain started with a shock loss to Norway but recovered to win the group with Yugoslavia coming second. In Group D, the second “Group of Death”, the co-host Dutch team finally lived up to a pre-tournament billing as they imperiously brushed aside all competition with 3 straight wins including a victory over Tournament favourites and reigning World Champions, France. Holland seemed to have one hand on the trophy but a man named Zinedine Zidane or Zizou for short was just preparing to strut his stuff, there would be some va va voom to come.

The Quarter Finals saw these match-ups:

Turkey v Portugal
Spain v France
Netherlands v Yugoslavia
Italy v Romania

The Portugeuse, inspired by the mercurial Luis Figo overcame Turkey whilst the ever talented Dutch ripped apart Yugoslavia recording a 6:1 win with a hat-trick from Patrick Kluivert and brace from Marc Overmars. The Spanish once again could not mount a serious challenge and were put to the sword by France, the World Champions were growing in confidence and their attacking threat was nearly unmatched with the likes of Thierry Henry, Youri Djorkaeff and David Trezegeut blasting in the goals. There was one player in particular however who was starting to stride like a colossus above the tournament and his name was Zinedine Zidane. Zidane was an elegant play-maker in the Michel Platini mold with a knack for a defence splitting pass, incredible technique and an eye for a goal. Unlike Platini though he was also a physically imposing man, tall and strong and whilst not blessed with pace his astonishing skill on the ball could take opposing players out of a game completely with a deft flick of the ball. Italy were also quietly and efficiently progressing and a comfortable 2:0 win over Romania set up a big name Semi Final line-up with France v Portugal and Italy v Holland. Both games were close affairs, a Zidane penalty winning it for France in extra time whilst the Italians held their nerve from the spot to knock-out the Dutch side who had seemed rampant in earlier games.

So to the final, France v Italy there was a classic match-up of attacking Gallic flair vs. stern Italian defence. The Italians scored in the second half courtesy of a Delvechio goal, time ticked away and it seemed that the title was slipping from the French grasp when a 90th minute equaliser from Sylvain Wiltord saved Les Bleus Baguette! The French would go on to grab a Golden Goal courtesy of David Trezeguet in the 103rd minute and complete their World and European Cup double. So dominant were the French that it seemed that nobody could stop them…still, the rest of Europe could comfort themselves in knowing that they were also a bunch of surrender monkeys who smelled of Garlic, as would be proven at the 2002 World Cup.

Belgium’s abject failure and group stage exit as co-tournament hosts hammered home a key failure of Euro 2000 which was mostly saved by the Dutch and the powerhouse last four showdown, one truism emerged; the longer the host nation stay in with the accompanying fans, the better the tournament will normally be. A lesson which may be particularly interesting to observe this year with Switzerland and Austria…

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