European championship: Look back in wonder - Hindustan Times
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European championship: Look back in wonder

ByDhiman Sarkar
Jun 14, 2024 08:29 AM IST

As Euro 2024 kicks off, we look at five moments that have stayed with us from previous editions

The European championship, that football extravaganza also called the World Cup minus Brazil and Argentina — a statement untrue only in terms of representation not reputation, begins on Friday. Interest in Euro 2024 will be all over the planet and some of it could come at the cost of the Copa America with which there will be a big overlap. That Qatar tourist board and Alibaba subsidiaries are partners of Euro 2024 shows that it is more than a continental competition.

A giant ball of the upcoming UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship.(AFP)
A giant ball of the upcoming UEFA Euro 2024 European Football Championship.(AFP)

Like most such tournaments among FIFA’s confederations, the idea took shape in the 1960s. The first edition was in 1960 in France and was a four-team affair. From then to now, from four to 24, it has been an eventful journey. USSR, the winners of the first edition, don’t exist and sanctions have kept away its biggest constituent, Russia. Through the competition’s four-year cycle over the years, the continent’s map has been redrawn and countries birthed. This time, Georgia will make their debut at the high table of Europe’s football.

For the longest time, it was the only title Spain had. Along with Germany, they now have three, the most. It remains the only championship Holland and Portugal have won and the latter did it in 2016 without Cristiano Ronaldo for most of the final. This time, it is being said, England could win for the first time. The last time the Euros were hosted by Germany, the country was called West Germany and the Berlin Wall not something whose parts you could treasure as souvenir. That was in 1988.

Before we get into earnest conversations about Mbappe and Modric, Kroos and Kane, Bellingham and Broja, here are in no particular order the top five moments of the tournament that turns 64 this year.

1. That goal by Van Basten: At a time when international club football wasn’t the flick of a remote away in India, the final of the 1988 edition was a looked-forward to event. Two years ago, we had seen Diego Maradona bend a World Cup to his will and to say it had whetted our appetite for live action of quality international football would be understating the obvious. USSR had Rinat Dasaev in goal, a worthy successor to the legendary Lev Yashin it had been said. But Marco van Basten’s on-the-run volley gave him no chance. It had Dutch coach Rinus Michels holding his head in his hands and, mind you, he had seen the masters of Total Football.

2. Panenka’s moment of fame: Van Basten’s shot was an incredible piece of skill executed without a moment’s thought. Antonin Panenka’s was the opposite. West Germany and Czechoslovakia had shared two goals each in regulation time and extra-time taking the 1976 final to the tie-breaker. Till Uli Hoeness missed, both teams had converted their penalties. With the score at 4-3 and the cup on the line, Panenka stepped up and scored with a lob down the middle. It was chutzpah and class meeting and raising a toast to each other.

3. Greece champions in 2004: At a stadium that was Eusebio’s workplace once, one where George Best had dazzled, Greece found an Angelos of their own. The odds on them winning were 150-1 and it was because they didn’t come to Portugal with a reputation for that sort of thing, 2004 finals being the first major where they won a game. But they beat Portugal, fizzing with talent, in the first match and again in the final, Angelos Charisteas’ header making the difference between the teams. What they lacked in flair, Greece made up with fortitude. They were hard to break down and no one could question their commitment. It didn’t make for football that was visually pleasing but effective it was for sure. How else would a team beat France (taken care of by another Charisteas header) and Czech Republic and hold Spain?

4. The great Danes of 1992: If Greece’s title march was a surprise, Denmark’s was even more so. They were not even supposed to be there. Yugoslavia were but the country broke up giving the Danes an entry. They were held 0-0 by England and had lost to Sweden before meeting France in their final group league game. It was also the occasion for Henrik Larsen to impact the tournament. He put Denmark ahead but Jean-Pierre Papin equalised. Lars Elstrup made it 2-1 and from being on holiday, Denmark were in the semi-final. Netherlands, the defending champions, were taken care of in a tie-breaker before West Germany were sucker-punched by goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort.

5. Zidane’s double: The match was in stoppage-time and England were leading 1-0. They conceded a free-kick and the commentator said, “this is Zinedine Zidane territory.” 1-1, Zidane’s angular delight swinging into the bottom corner leaving England goalie David James rooted to his spot. Frank Lampard’s header, off a David Beckham free-kick, had put England ahead and then Wayne Rooney won a penalty. Beckham’s shot was saved by Fabien Barthez. When Steven Gerrard played a backpass without looking, Thierry Henry was on his way and James brought him down. Up stepped Zidane and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

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