As Iceland sensationally, against all odds dumped England out of the competition to book a place in the quarter-finals against hosts France, we take a look at the five biggest shocks in the history of the European Championship.
Euro 2004: Latvia 0-0 Germany
Latvia made history by qualifying for Euro 2004 but, far from being disgraced in the finals, they came close to producing one of the biggest shocks in European Championship history. The tiny Baltic nation couldn’t have asked for a tougher group: the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic. They began with a 2-1 reverse against the Czech Republic and then came Germany – three-time European and three-time world champions, no less. Brave, persistent, organised and disciplined, Latvia resisted everything that was thrown at them and even went close to an astonishing victory moments before half time. A 3-0 defeat against the Netherlands ended their run in the tournament but they will always savour their draw against the mighty Germans.
Euro 1988: England 0-1 Republic of Ireland
It was Ireland’s final debut and though it was only England’s third tournament appearance, the script was not meant to read like this. Under the tutelage of World Cup winner Jackie Charlton, Ireland had some heralded names – Paul McGrath, Ronnie Whelan, Kevin Sheedy, Ray Houghton, John Aldridge – but Bryan Robson, Peter Beardsley, Gary Linekar, John Barnes and company were the clear favourites. Houghton headed the underdogs into a sixth-minute lead, however, and the Boys in Green survived an England barrage thereafter thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Packie Bonner. Charlton may not have had a great deal of talent to work with, but he knew how to organise his team defensively and they continued to surprise teams in major competitions.
Euro 1996: Czech Republic 2-1 Italy
Germany and Italy were expected to qualify comformatably from Group C in Euro 1996 and everything seemed to be going true to form after victories in their opening fixtures. Defeated by Germany in their group opener and up against the 1994 FIFA World Cup runners-up, the Czech Republic appeared to be facing an uphill struggle. The gradient looked to have lessen when Pavel Nedved fired them ahead on five minutes, however, and though Enrico Chiesa soon equalised, the dismissal of Luigi Apollini just before the half hour swung the balance back in the Czechs’ favour. Radek Bejbl restored their advantage and this time they clung on. The defeat was one of the biggest European Championship shocks and rattled the Italians. A draw against Germany was not enough to secure qualification. The Czechs, on the other hand, followed up with stunning victories over Portugal (1-0) and France (6-5 on pens) before losing to Germany (1-2 aet) in the final.
Euro 1992: Germany 0-2 Denmark
The culmination of a fairy-tale story to delight football romantics. Denmark had not even qualified for Euro 1992, but just two weeks before it kicked off in Sweden they replaced Yugoslavia, on political grounds due to the civil war in the Balkans. Denmark gleefully took their opportunity and after picking up just a solitary point from their first two games against England (0-0) and Sweden (0-1), they stunned Europe by going all the way to win the competition. Defeating France (2-1) in their final group game, Peter Schmeichel was the hero in the semi-finals by saving Marco van Basten’s spot kick as Denmark dumped out the holders Holland on penalties. In the final itself, they defeated Germany 2-0 courtesy of goals from John Jensen and Kim Vilfort to complete on of the biggest shocks in European Championship history.
Euro 2004: Portugal 0-1 Greece
A triumph every bit as unexpected as Denmark’s feat 12 years before. On home soil and with the golden generation of Luis Figo and Rui Costa nearing the end of their career, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho at their peaks and Cristiano Ronaldo bursting onto the scene. Portugal were seemingly champions-elect. Greece, on the other hand, had only qualified for two major tournaments in their entire history prior to Euro 2004 and went into the competition as complete outsiders, however, they started with a 2-1 victory over the hosts. By playing a counter-attacking style under German legend Otto Rehhagel, Greece came through a group containing Portugal and Spain. They then stunned the reigning champions France 1-0 in the quarter-finals and beat the Czech Republic on a silver goal in the semi-finals. Their incredible run was complete when a goal by Angelos Charisteas was enough to defeat Portugal in the final.
This article is written by Shantanu Ambekar, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShantanuAmbekar. What are your thoughts? Let us know by dropping a comment via our comments box below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Google+, Instagram and like us on Facebook.