While international football might not be quite the pinnacle of football for many these days, major international tournaments are still capable of producing moments of mesmeric skill, as has been illustrated at Euro 2020 so far.
Inspired by Patrick Schick’s once-in-a-lifetime half-way line goal against Scotland, here are five goals that belong in the pantheon of all-time great goals of the competition.
Tournaments prior to 1988 are well before my time and television footage of course is not plentiful, certainly pre-1980. Therefore goals from pre-1980 are up against it in terms of featuring on this list of all-time great European Championship goals.
Antonín Panenka – Czechoslovakia v West Germany, Euro ‘76 final
I have stated that tournaments prior to 1980 have less television coverage. Also, goals scored in penalty shootouts technically don’t count as goals in the footballing record books. However, this goal has become so transcendent in footballing lore that I feel it has to get a place in my top five.
After extra-time, the Euro ’76 final finished 2–2, and so the first ever penalty shootout in international football ensued. The first seven kicks were converted until West Germany’s fourth penalty taker, Ulrich “Uli” Hoeneß, shot over the crossbar.
With the shootout score 4–3 to the Czechs, Panenka stepped up to take his penalty, to win the match and the tournament under immense pressure. He feigned shooting to the side of the goal, causing German goalkeeper Sepp Maier to dive to his left, and then Panenka gently and cheekily chipped the ball into the middle of the net.
The ball travelled so slowly from his boot to the goal that Panenka, who ran after the ball, almost reached the net before the ball! The sheer audacity of the goal led a watching French journalist to dub Panenka “a poet”, and to this day his winning kick is one of the most famous ever, making Panenka’s name synonymous with that particular style of penalty-kick.
Since 1976 there have been numerous attempts (some successful and some unsuccessful) to emulate Panenka at every level of the footballing pyramid across the world. A penalty chipped (gently) down the middle of the goal is now, some 45 years later, still known as a “Panenka penalty”. While there may be more stunningly skillful goals that have missed out on this list, there aren’t many footballers who can claim to have a type of skill or a type of goal named after them.
Karel Poborský – Czech Republic v Portugal, Euro ‘96 quarter-final
Poborský’s name is often attached to his performance at Euro ‘96, where, during the quarter-final match against Portugal, he scooped the ball, lobbing it over the advancing Portuguese goalkeeper Vitor Baía. The goal became a trademark shot for Poborský, as that shooting style was soon attributed to him.
In 2008, it was voted the best individual goal in the Calrsberg goal of the day poll on Euro2008.com.
Poborský’s decisive effort was a gravity-defying lob from the edge of the penalty area that came after a slaloming – if somewhat fortuitous – run.
Speaking to UEFA.com, Poborský describes the goal “When Jiří Němec passed the ball to me, there was a fight over it. The ball ricocheted a few times, fell behind the three Portugal players, and I had some space to run alone. If it was one-on-one, maybe the game would have gone another way. [However] it was lucky that the ball bounced off those players and fell behind them.”
“Vítor Baía was too far [from his goal line]. The ball went really high and bounced a little on the grass, so I didn’t have to kick it. It was more of a scoop: I picked it up from underneath. I chose a technical finish as I was used to doing that my whole life; I had scored two or three similar goals before.”
Poborský’s moment of genius was a goal that not only saw his country into the last four of Euro ‘96 but also significantly contributed to him earning a move to Manchester United.
Patrick Schick – Czech Republic v Scotland, Euro 2020 group stages
It’s a coincidence that all three goals so far have been scored by Czech players!
Schick had already scored at the end of the first half in the opening game of the Czech’s and Scot’s campaign at the delayed Euro 2020.
Schick’s first goal was a towering header in the first half. His second goal of the game, expertly hit over Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall from the halfway line, will appear on highlights reels for decades to come. With the ball coming from behind him, Schick barely had a chance to look at the goal as he ran onto the rapidly moving ball before he struck a fierce, curling, looping shot from an angle towards a goal Marshall was rapidly retreating towards.
There is an argument that Marshall was too far (about 40 yards) from his goal-line as the ball was coming out of the Czech defensive third after a Scotland shot had been blocked.
The goal was a piece of remarkable skill though, arriving when Scotland looked like they might haul themselves back into the game. Schick has likely netted the goal of the tournament with a piece of left-foot sorcery. Not even the stiff breeze could faze him from precisely 49.7 metres away from the goal as the ball sailed beyond the helpless Marshall.
Schick said afterwards that he had noticed Marshall in the first half spend a lot of time far from his goal when the ball was in the Czech half of the pitch and that he had planned to strike a shot from distance.
The goal has been compared to David Beckham’s strike from the halfway line for Manchester United versus Wimbledon back in 1995. For this observer however, Schick’s goal was better. Yes, it came from slightly closer to the goal than Beckham’s own audacious strike. However, the ball came at Schick quicker, it came from behind him and to strike it first time without taking a touch to figure things out makes Schick’s goal better than Beckham’s for me.
Paul Gascoigne – England v Scotland, Euro ‘96 group stages
England had started their Euro ’96 campaign with an uninspiring 1-1 draw versus Switzerland. After a largely disappointing first half of the second game in which Scotland had dominated, England took the lead early in the second-half through a goal from Alan Shearer. With David Seaman having saved a penalty moments before, Gascoigne would go on to light up the game – and the tournament – with a moment of absolute genius. The goal ignited England’s campaign and sparked a run that unluckily ended with a semi-final defeat to Germany.
Receiving the ball from Darren Anderson outside the Scotland penalty area, Gascoigne flicked the ball over Colin Hendry with his left foot before changing direction; Hendry was completely wrong-footed and fell on his backside. As the ball dropped from the Wembley sky, Gascoigne volleyed it with his right foot past Andy Goram to seal a 2–0 victory. The goal was followed by the “dentist’s chair” celebration (referring to the incident before the tournament where Gascoigne and his team-mates had been filmed cavorting drunkenly and boorishly in a “dentist’s chair” at a Hong Kong nightclub), where Gascoigne lay on the ground as if he were sitting in a dentist’s chair, and England teammates sprayed Lucozade from bottles into his open mouth.
Gazza is no longer a fat, drunken imbecile. He is, in fact, a football genius.
— The Daily Mirror editorial entitled “Mr Paul Gascoigne: An Apology” following his solo goal against Scotland in Euro ’96.
What a lot of people don’t know was that, if the Scotland penalty moments earlier had been scored, England had Gascoigne’s number up to take him off.
While Gascoigne’s goal was immensely special and galvanised the hosts and their support for the remainder of the tournament, that time was also an era where everyone in the country was invested in the national team in a way that simply isn’t replicated now.
Marco van Basten – Netherlands v USSR, Euro ’88 final
This goal ticks the boxes required for a goal to be labelled amongst the greatest of all time: a technically skillful goal, a goal very difficult or almost impossible to score or to recreate, a significant moment in an important match/final and a breakthrough moment for a team in their tournament life.
Up until 1988, the Dutch had been perennial underachievers at major international football tournaments. With the pain of World War II still fresh, the Dutch would have loved to have beaten West Germany in their own background in the 1974 World Cup final. Despite taking an early lead in that final, the Oranje would succumb to a narrow 2-1 defeat as the West Germans lifted their second world title. Holland would suffer a similar fate four years later, losing in the World Cup final to the hosts again, this time to Argentina, 3-1 after extra-time.
1988 would see a Dutch side possessing a galaxy of stars finally lift a major prize. They beat hosts and arch-rivals West Germany in the semi-final and overcame USSR 2-0 in the final.
Captain Ruud Gullit gave the Dutch a 1-0 lead in the first-half of that final with a thumping header from 10 yards out. Van Basten was left out of the opening Dutch game of the tournament, a 1-0 loss to the USSR. He was to more than make up for that though as he went on to be leading scorer with five goals at that tournament. The last of those goals was undoubtedly the most special.
Arnold Mühren, playing his last international match, got the ball wide on the left in the 54th minute of the final. His instant high cross went deep across the Soviet penalty area and when the ball reached him, Van Basten was eight metres from goal and only five or six from the right-hand goal line, with no obvious option except maybe a cross towards Gullit.
Instead, full of confidence, Van Basten hit an astonishing top-spin volley over the head of the best goalkeeper in Europe and just inside the far post. Even the neutral West Germans rose at the Olympiastadion to applaud. While the Soviets would go on to miss a penalty later in the game, Van Basten’s amazing goal sealed a deserved win for the Dutch.