Euro Classics: England heartbreak, Ricardo’s penalty and Albanian agony

Every neutral football fan tunes into matches on a weekly basis in the hope they witness a real memorable encounter that will linger in the mind for years to come.

Major international tournaments emphasise this more than anything, bringing in mass worldwide audiences even for games involving teams not on the radar of most average supporters.

The European Championships have produced plenty of ties that tick this box and the following articles will look back on some of those blockbuster matches.

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France 2-1 England: Euro 2004

France feature once more on this list with another 2-1 success, this time four years on from their Golden Goal heroics over Italy, with a match that certainly sums up England at every European Championship for the last 50 years.

One of the first matches at Euro 2004 produced one of the most memorable capitulations by an England side.

The self-dubbed ‘Golden Generation’ of English football fancied their chances pre-tournament of making a real impression but were brought crashing back down to earth in their group opener with France.

After leading through Frank Lampard’s 38th minute header, England had a chance to open up a cushion when Wayne Rooney was hacked down by Mikael Silvestre with just under 20 minutes to play.

David Beckham stepped up but was subsequently denied by Fabien Barthez, however it still looked like they would hang on as they went into stoppage time still ahead by that solitary Lampard goal.

France looked to have earned themselves a point though, when Zinedine Zidane powered home a free-kick from the edge of the box in the first minute of time added on.

Whereas in fact, they would go on to earn all three, after Steven Gerrard’s woeful backpass played Thierry Henry through on goal which resulted in David James wiping out the Arsenal man.

Zidane stepped up and, despite visibly vomiting into the turf before starting his run up, showed his Galactico team mate Beckham how it’s done and sent James the wrong way before turning away to celebrate, still clearly worse for wear.

But his extremely late double was enough to turn a certain looking defeat into a victory for Les Bleus.

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Portugal 2-2 England (Portugal win 6-5 on penalties): Euro 2004

One of the craziest, most bizarre matches in the history of the competition took place in Lisbon, the exact same stadium where England went to pieces against France, as hosts Portugal faced England in the quarter finals.

Just like against France, the Three Lions took a first half lead in this tie, Michael Owen capitalising on an error from Costinha to flick the ball beyond Ricardo in the Portugal goal.

It would be Helder Postiga, a man who had just flopped in his sole season in English football at Tottenham Hotspur, who equalised with seven minutes to play, nodding home from Simao’s whipped cross, forcing extra time.

Rui Costa’s wonder goal with ten minutes to play of extra time would have won the game on the Golden Goal rule had it been four years earlier, but since then, the Silver Goal had been introduced, meaning Portugal still had to see out the remainder of the second period of extra time. 

A much less eye-catching strike canceled Costa’s thunderbolt out, as Frank Lampard bundled the ball home from a knock down at a corner five minutes later, rescuing penalties for England, a route in which they very rarely win.

The two high-profile players on either side were the only players to miss in each side’s first six spot kicks, David Beckham missing once again just as he did against France, blazing over the bar just as Rui Costa did a few penalties later.

The seventh round of penalties will go down in folklore though for the sheer madness of what happened.

Ricardo took his gloves off and saved from Darius Vassell, giving Portugal the chance to win the shootout should they convert their next penalty.

It was Ricardo himself who stood up and beat his opposite number one David James to send Portugal through to the semi-finals 6-5 on penalties and compel England to another penalty shoot out defeat.

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France 2-0 Albania: Euro 2016

The atmosphere surrounding this game made it much bigger than it appeared on paper to a neutral supporter.

France had narrowly scraped past Romania in the opening game of the tournament, with Dimitri Payet’s 89th minute long-range strike snatching a win while Albania were playing in their first ever major tournament and this match itself would have been the first time millions of people around the world will have ever watched them play.

Albania certainly gave France some scares as Ermir Lenjani went close from a set piece and Ledian Memushaj fired just over from a free kick before hitting the post in the second half.

Even with the scoreline at 0-0 it would have been one of the all time biggest shocks seen at any major tournament globally, and a huge embarrassment for the French side playing in front of a home crowd. 

The Albanian players were five minutes of extra time away from getting the keys to every city in the country until Adil Rami’s cross was glanced home by Antoine Griezmann right on 90 minutes, as the Eagles players fell flat on their faces in disbelief that all their hard work had been undone.

Payet added a cruel second on Albania in overtime of extra time to seal a 2-0 win in a game that was hardly a classic but produced a breathtaking finale.

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England 2-1 Wales: Euro 2016

In just the second ever match played between two British sides at a major tournament, the first coming at Euro 96 between England and Scotland, England and Wales faced off in Lens in the group stage of Euro 2016.

Wales were flying high off the fact they had made a winning start to the group against Slovakia while England were still deflated from Vasili Berezutskiy’s stoppage time equaliser for Russia, against the run of play, in their opener.

England really needed a positive result but were behind at half time when Joe Hart fumbled Gareth Bale’s 30-yard free kick into his own net.

Jamie Vardy scored his first and last major tournament goal not long after being introduced as a half time substitute and it would be his fellow half time sub Daniel Sturridge who mazily made his way through the Welsh back five to fire home high beyond Wayne Hennessey.

It made no difference to the group standings because Wales still finished above England in the group and the Euro debutants went all the way to the semi-finals while England stumbled and crashed out against Iceland in the Last 16 in true England-style, but they still have this result to brag about to their bordering neighbours.

The Author

Andrew Delaney

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