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Martin Devlin: Euro, the world's best tournament?

opinion

By Martin Devlin

Published: 9:27AM Friday June 08, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

  • Spain celebrate their Euro 2008 win (Source: Getty Images)
    Spain celebrate their Euro 2008 win - Source: Getty Images

If you need to locate any of your friends who might be football fans over the next three weeks take my advice and start searching somewhere near their big-screen TV, because underway Saturday morning (NZT) is the tournament rated by those who care as the creme de la creme of all things football.

Sandwiched supposedly as the entree between FIFA World Cups, in terms of quality/upsets/action/unpredictability this event kicks both balls and butt!

Perfect in length (three weeks), featuring only Europe's finest teams (just 16), it's virtually knock-out football from the first group match played.

Mouth-watering fixtures such as England/France, Holland/Germany, Spain/Italy will all take place before the first quarter-finalist is even found. Compared with the World Cup, just eight different winners over 19 tournaments, the last six European Championships have produced six separate champions - including two classic against-all-odds victories for Denmark ('92) and Greece ('04).

If the World Cup is mostly predictable, the European Championships have long proved that anything is actually possible.

Impress your TV-found friend and become a true Euro trainspotter in your own right by tracking down some of the tournament's most memorable moments:

1976: It's simply called " The Penalty". If Czechoslovakia beating West Germany wasn't upset enough (5-4 on pens after 2-2 draw), then the manner of the winning strike will live forever. Knowing that if he scored the border nation would defeat the defending champions, Antonin Panenka ran up and dinked the softest, lightest, most feather-like chip into the middle of the goal while the 'keeper, who'd dived early, looked on helpless and aghast. If he scored he became legend, if not, one of life's ultimate all-time losers. Watch the video and ask yourself - would you have the cojanes to try that?

1984: In the great tradition of world-class No. 10's (Pele/Maradona/Guillit/Matthaeus/Zidane et al), Michel Platini saved his best football for the biggest stage of all. His semi-final hat-trick to defeat Portugal and drag France into its first major final is something even Roy-of-the-Rovers would struggle to emulate. Platini was Zidane before the world even knew there was a Zi-Zou.

1988: The whole tournament is/was/will always be defined by Marco van Basten's unbelievable goal that clinched victory for Holland over Russia. To even try a volley from that angle, at that moment, in this match is something few would dare. But to aim it, time it, drill it and smash such a goal in front of the world seemed almost normal for the world's then best player. The Dutch team lead by dreadlocked colossus Ruud Guillit, did something not even the great Cruyff could manage, i.e. secured for their country a major international football prize.

1996: "Football's Coming Home". If ever England deserved another honour to sit alongside their World Cup win of 1966 it was back at Wembley, 30 years later, for the 1996 Euro Champs. Two brilliant goals standout, the first scored by Paul Gasgoigne, the second inspired by his wizardry. Gazza's volley against Scotland was born of sheer individual skill, sitting the feared defender Hendry on his backside with all the patronising cheek of Benny Hill shamelessly tapping that bald guy's head. The Gazza/Sheringham/Shearer pass-pass-pulverise against Holland is a coaching manual for teamwork. Glorious, both of them!

2004: Greece? They what? At the time most fans would've believed Shirley Valentine had more chance reappearing in England's No. 9 shirt than lil ole Greece upstaging Europe's best to become champs - especially taking on hosts and hot-favourites Portugal in the final. (Who they'd already lost to in pool play). But just as if to prove the axiom that a champion team will beat a team of champions, the superbly organised and resolute Greeks knocked out both Zidane's France and form side Czech Republic with a gameplan based on defence &and set-piece. If ever you're in Greece remember this name: "Angelos Charisteas". The 2004 matchwinner is your conversation starter wherever, whenever, forever...

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