Top 10 iconic moments from the European Championship

Van Basten’s volley, Gazza’s dentist chair, Balotelli’s pose and the original Panenka all feature… but what makes No 1 in our top 10 iconic moments from the European Championship?

  • Euro 2020 kicks off on June 11 after being postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic
  • It will be the 16th edition of the European Championship, which started in 1960
  • Originally a 4-team tournament called the European Nations’ Cup, its name changed in 1968, before it was expanded in 1980, 1996 and 2016
  • Sportsmail counts down the most iconic moments in the tournament’s history 
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here.

Finally, after a prolonged five-year wait due to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Championship is back for its 16th edition.

It is a tournament which has defined careers and broken hearts, with its drama only increasing as it has been expanded through the years from its initial format of just four teams at the finals from 1960 to 1980.

Stunning goals, outrageous celebrations and shock triumphs all count themselves among the greatest moments in the history of the Euros.

Here, Sportsmail counts down the top 10 most iconic moments from the European Championship…

Portugal celebrate winning the European Championship in 2016 after beating France


Iconic for all the wrong reasons, this farce summed up the slap-dash early years of the Euros, which was called the European Championship for the first time in 1968, having been the European Nations’ Cup for its first two editions. Despite the name change, the tournament still only held four teams and hosts Italy were drawn against the Soviet Union in the semi-final – which teams reached by winning a group stage and quarter-final over two years, similar to UEFA’s new Nations League competition. 

After no goals over 90 minutes and extra-time, Giacinto Facchetti ‘beat’ Albert Shesternyov with a toss of the coin by the referee in the dressing room to book Italy’s place in the final against Yugoslavia. That match was also drawn after extra-time, but UEFA had sanctioned a replay if this were to happen in the final, which Italy duly won 2-0. The incident, and many others like it in the 1960s, was a major factor in FIFA introducing the penalty shootout in 1970.

Italy captain Giacinto Facchetti with the newly named European Championship trophy in 1968


Jumping forward 40 years, Holland were among the favourites to win the competition held in Switzerland and Austria, a status cemented by them winning a group featuring Italy and France with a 100 per cent record. Their quarter-final against Russia was supposed to be procession to set up a mouthwatering semi-final against Spain – but Andrey Arshavin had other ideas.

A late bloomer announcing himself to the world for the first time aged 27, the speedy, tricky forward tormented the Dutch throughout, with Ruud van Nistelrooy’s late equaliser forcing extra-time after Roman Pavlyuchenko’s opener. Rather than wilting in extra-time though, Arshavin and Russia upped their game, with the future Arsenal man creating and scoring a goal in the second-half to secure a shock win.

Andrey Arshavin is mobbed by his team-mates after his goal put Russia 3-1 up against Holland


By Euro 84, the competition had expanded to eight teams featuring two groups, a semi-final a final, with hosts France qualifying automatically and optimistic of a first-ever title – led by their talismanic captain and No 10 Michel Platini.

They had waltzed through the group stage, with Platini scoring seven goals in three wins, but the pressure looked to have got to them in the semi-final as a Rui Jordao double saw unfancied Portugal equalise late on, before taking the lead in extra-time. Step forward Platini, who set up Jean-Francois Domergue for an 114th-minute equaliser, before netting an 119th-minute winner – more famous for its wild celebrations than the finish from Jean Tigana’s cross.

Michel Platini (right) wheels away in celebration after his winner against Portugal at Euro 84


‘Panenka’ is a name so synonymous with the act of nonchalantly dinking a penalty into the middle of the goal after sending the keeper diving to one side, that its origins have become a distant memory. But the name derives from another iconic European Championship moment from the 1976 final.

With coin tosses a thing of the past, the finals tournament remarkably saw all four matches go to extra-time, but none had gone to penalties until the final, when West Germany had come back from 2-0 down to equalise in the 89th-minute against Czechoslovakia. A tense extra-time was followed by an even nervier shootout, with all seven spot-kicks being scored until Uli Hoeness’ miss. With hearts in mouths all over the world as he stepped up to take potentially the winning kick, Antonin Panenka cut right through the tension with an audacious finish to completely deceive Sepp Maier.

Czechoslovakia midfielder Antonin Panenka seals Euro 76 triumph with a cheeky penalty


On to a more recent memory England fans have been desperately trying to forget for the past five years. Roy Hodgson’s side had not hit top gear yet after two draws in the group stage saw them finish second to Wales, but there was a feeling that they had dodged a bullet by avoiding Belgium and hope that they could put up a fight against France in the quarter-finals in the now 24-team tournament – once they had brushed aside Iceland of course.

A fourth-minute Wayne Rooney penalty saw England take the lead and settled the nerves of fans, but Hodgson’s players relaxed a little too much. 

Just two minutes later Iceland were level through Ragnar Sigurdsson as England failed to deal with an Aron Gunnarsson long throw. Then, after 18 minutes, a Joe Hart error saw Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s effort slip through his hands to give the minnows the lead in their first ever major tournament. 

England huffed and puffed, but could not find the equalise, suffering arguably their most humiliating tournament exit ever, prompting rapturous celebrations from the Icelanders and their hoards of fans. 

Iceland celebrate their shock win over England at Euro 2016 with their fans


Euro 2004 was set up to be a thrilling tournament and didn’t disappoint – though not in the way many had expected. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s ‘Golden Generation’ of England players were hotly tipped to win it but had holders France in their group, while hosts Portugal were in with a shout along the traditional heavyweights of Germany, Italy, Holland and Spain. Of the 16 teams in tournament, only Latvia and possibly Bulgaria would have got you longer odds to win it than Greece.

A shock 2-1 win over Portugal on the opening day was soon written off as an anomaly put down to nerves as the hosts recovered to win their group – especially after a defeat by Russia saw Greece finish second. 

Incredibly though, Otto Rehhagel’s side rallied to knock out France in the quarter-finals and the impressive Czechs in the semis, before beating Portugal again in the final. All with 1-0 wins. Football was stunned as Theodoris Zagorakis lifted the trophy.

Greece captain Theodoris Zagorakis lifts the trophy after their shock win in 2004


Euro 92 would be the final time the tournament had eight teams in it, though that should not detract from the remarkable feat of the Danes. What made Denmark’s success unique was that they did not even qualify for the tournament – being awarded Yugoslavia’s place just a month before it kicked off after the former Balkan state was hit with UN sanctions amid a civil war. 

After a point against England in their opening match and a narrow 1-0 defeat by hosts and bitter rivals Sweden, Denmark’s tournament had gone to script, with France still to play and a group-stage exit on the cards. 

Then, they kicked into gear, stunning the group favourites 2-1, before knocking out holders Holland on penalties in the semi-final after a 2-2 draw. 

World champions Germany were heavily fancied going into the final, but a Danish side brimming with confidence and momentum brushed them aside to win 2-0 and lift the trophy.

Denmark’s players looked stunned at their achievement after beating Germany in the ’92 final


Many had predicted – and were looking forward to – a Spain v Germany final at Euro 2012, and with each match it seemed more of an inevitability, with world and European champions Spain being challenged by Joachim Low’s impressive young side. 

Italy had needed penalties to beat England in the quarter-finals and Germany were expected to have too much pace and flair for them. Step forward, Mario Balotelli.

His first goal came against the run of play after 20 minutes, a poacher’s header in the six-yard box after a smart turn and cross by Antonio Cassano. Germany regained control of the game thereafter and began to press for an equaliser, before Italy hit them with a sucker-punch. 

A ball over the top from Riccardo Montolivo found Balotelli, who surprised Manuel Neuer by taking the shot on early, nearly bursting the net from 20 yards. His team-mates mostly half a pitch away, he stopped in his tracks, ripped his shirt off and tensed his muscles for the world to see to create one of the most iconic Euro moments.

Mario Balotelli poses for his iconic celebration after his second goal against Germany in 2012


Probably the greatest goal ever scored at the European Championship – certainly when you take into account it sealed victory in the final for Holland. 

The 1970s had seen the Dutch emerge as every neutral’s favourite team, playing Total Football under Rinus Michels with Johan Cruyff at the heart of it – but their moment seemed to have passed after agonising World Cup final defeats in both 1974 and 1978 were followed by failure to qualify for major tournaments in 1982, 1984 and 1986. 

Euro 88 saw them reborn though as a new generation of superstars emerged. 

The fluid football was still there, but added to it was power and ruthlessness brought by superstars Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard. Van Basten’s hat-trick helped knock England out in the group stage, before he hit a late winner in a stirring semi-final comeback win over West Germany. 

The outcome of the final was never in doubt, with Gullit netting in the first half, but Van Basten’s stunning execution of a powerful dipping volley from the tighest of angles summed it all up.

Marco van Basten thunders home an incredible volley from a tight angle in the Euro 88 final


Come on, it had to be! OK, so we’re biased. Yes, we know – we’ve had three winning moments from finals and three from semi-finals and we’ve gone for a goal in a group-stage win over Scotland in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign. 

But this is about the moments, the Euros are about the moments and football is about the moments. Nothing says European Championship more than a nation frenzied by a summer heatwave celebrating a goal against their nearest rivals.

The goal itself was incredible, not far off Van Basten’s for its technical execution as Paul Gascoigne controlled in an instant, lifted the ball over Colin Hendry and volleyed home under Andy Goram. 

But it was the celebration – re-creating a drinking scandal the England team had been caught up in a just a weeks earlier – which said it all. Just as we were all looking back at the TV screens, wondering if it had really happened or an offside flag had gone up, there were England’s finest drinking it all in, saying: ‘Don’t worry, it’s only football, and it’s summer. Enjoy’.

Paul Gascoigne celebrates with Steve McManaman, Alan Shearer and Jamie Redknapp

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