Panenka, Van Basten, golden goal and more: The 5 best Euro finals ever

Ahead of France and Portugal's clash in the Euro 2016 final, take a look at the five best finals in tournament history.
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There's only one more game left to play in Euro 2016, so what kind of final can we expect? Portugal plays a cautious and solid game, while France will be on the front foot looking to make home advantage count for a third straight time in a major tournament. Cristiano Ronaldo is out to add a major international trophy to all of his club success, while Antoine Griezmann looks to settle the personal score after his Atletico Madrid fell to Ronaldo's Real in the Champions League final.

Will it all add up to a classic final? Only time will tell (although based on the balance of Portugal's games in this tournament it's hard to see), but the final stage has seen some classic encounters over the years.

Here are the five best European Championship finals from years gone by:

5. Euro 1988: Netherlands 2, USSR 0

These two teams had met in the opening game of the tournament, with the Russians winning 1-0. Back then, though, Marco van Basten was not in the starting lineup. He proved to be the key man in the final.

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Two minutes after Gennady Litovchenko missed USSR’s best chance of the first half, Van Basten headed back Erwin Koeman’s corner across goal, and Ruud Gullit powered a header to open the scoring. The lead was doubled in incredible fashion early in the second half, as Arnold Muhren’s long ball was volleyed home by Van Basten from a tight angle. It remains the most dramatic, and technically brilliant, goal ever scored in a European final.

USSR had a chance to get back into the game after Dutch keeper Hans van Breukelen brought down Sergey Gotsmanov to concede a penalty. The PSV No. 1 had helped his club side win the European Cup on a penalty shootout six weeks earlier; he was the hero again, diving the right way to keep out Igor Belanov’s spot kick. Holland won its first and only major tournament, with Van Basten’s a worthy reminder of the team’s brilliance. 

4. Euro 2000: France 2, Italy 1


A last-minute equalizer swung the direction of this game, which had looked like going Italy’s way. The clash between Zinedine Zidane’s attacking guile and the Italians’ solid defense of Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini was a stalemate until Walter Zenga brought on the surprisingly benched Alessandro Del Piero early in the second half. Francesco Totti’s back-heel set up Marco Delvecchio for the opening goal, and Italy could have won it had Del Piero not squandered two great chances soon after.

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France boss Roger Lemerre turned to his bench for solutions, and he found them; he brought on Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet for Christophe Dugarry and Youri Djorkaeff, and France poured forward with three strikers and Zidane just behind them.

With over 90 minutes on the clock, the equalizer came from Wiltord’s shot from the edge of the area that flew past Francesco Toldo.

The golden goal decided the winner, and that came after Robert Pires skipped past three defenders down the left, and crossed for Trezeguet to lash the ball home for a dramatic come-from-behind victory.

3. Euro 1992: Denmark 2, West Germany 0

There has not been a greater underdog in a major tournament than Denmark, which did not even qualify for Euro '92 but whose players were called back from holidays when Yugoslavia was disqualified following the start of the Balkan War. Denmark had beaten the Netherlands on penalties in the semifinal and was not expected to get past West Germany in the Gothenburg final.

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Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald had early chances for the favorite, but Peter Schmeichel stood firm in goal. When Denmark pushed forward at the other end, there was a surprise hero: John Jensen, who had scored once in his pervious 47 internationals–and was a much-loved figure but the punch line of jokes at Arsenal for his woeful scoring rate–smashed the ball high into the net from the edge of the area.

There were 70 minutes for Denmark to hold on, and that seemed unlikely despite Schmeichel’s best efforts; he kept out shots from Jurgen Klinsmann and Stefan Effenberg before Kent Nielsen cleared off the line. Klinsmann then had a header tipped over the bar, before Kim Vilfort sealed the fairytale, scoring off the post with 12 minutes left. The Danish players are still heroes back home for their achievements in nearby Sweden–and rightly so.

2. Euro 2012: Spain 4, Italy 0


This performance was the culmination of four years of dominance on the international stage. There was even a debate, though it seems ridiculous to think, that Spain’s possession-based style of play was boring on the eye. This was proof that it was anything but, and it continued Spain’s astonishing run of success–a third straight major tournament, and a record of 10 matches and over 16 hours of playing without conceding a goal in a knockout match. Mainly, that was because no opponent could get the ball.

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Coach Vicente del Bosque had faced criticism for playing without a striker in previous games, so what did he do in this one? Exactly the same, trusting in his principles and in Xavi and Andres Iniesta to control the game and create chances. They did that, and how: David Silva opened the scoring with a glancing header from Cesc Fabregas’s cut-back, and Jordi Alba doubled the lead after a sensational Xavi defense-splitting pass.

At that stage, the result was not in doubt; instead this was a masterclass in how to control and win a match. Italy had no response, and it went down to 10 men when Thiago Motta went off injured in the second half. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata added two more goals after that. The performance was one of total superiority–Iker Casillas pleaded with the referee to forego second-half stoppage time–the apogee of four years of success.

1. Euro 1976: Czechoslovakia 2, West Germany 2 (Czechoslovakia wins 5-4 on PKs)

West Germany was bidding for an unprecedented third straight tournament win after success in 1972 and 1974. It had just edged past host Yugoslavia in the semi-final, and faced outsider Czechoslovakia in the final. Jan Svehlik put the Czechs ahead after eight minutes, but the Germans pushed forward, and forced Czech goalkeeper Ivo Viktor into making a succession of great saves.

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​Karol Dobias doubled the lead on 25 minutes, shooting home from distance. Czechoslovakia could have killed off the game one minute later but Masny’s shot from close range beat Sepp Maier but rolled just past the post. Within two minutes, West Germany pulled one back, Dieter Muller volleying home. There were chances aplenty in the second half, as Czechoslovakia striker Nehoda saw his header crash off the post.

It would be a costly miss: with the last touch of the game in normal time, Holzenbein headed home from a corner to make it 2-2.

The Czechs held firm in extra-time and the match went to penalties. We all know what happened next: the first seven were scored, and Uli Hoeness fired his over the bar. Up stepped Antonin Panenka, who ran at full pace and then chipped the ball down the middle of the goal as Maier dived despairingly to his left. The underdog had won, a new penalty was invented, and no German team has ever lost a shoot-out since. What a final!