10 of the most bonkers Euros meltdowns ever
10 of the most bonkers Euros meltdowns ever

1. Spain leave it late… and later (2000)

Before Spain were Spain, they were ‘typical Spain’ – kind of a Spurs of international football, they had good players but never quite managed to make it work or convert it into cold, hard trophies.

Still, they managed to occasionally win a match here and there, and one of the more memorable successes came against Yugoslavia at Euro 2000. Having lost their opening game to Norway, then beaten Slovenia, Spain needed three points from their third match to be sure of progression to the quarter-finals.

‘Typical Spain’ being ‘Typical Spain’, they went behind not once, not twice, but thrice. Their third equaliser came via a Gaizka Mendieta penalty in the fourth minute of injury time. Then, in the fifth, Alfonso scuffed in a volley to spark an almighty bundle of a celebration. 

Spain were somehow through (and, thanks to Norway’s draw with Slovenia, so were Yugoslavia) thanks to perhaps the most bonkers final few minutes of any Euros match.

2. Zidane throws up as England bottle it (2004)

Think of Zinedine Zidane, and you probably picture a cucumber-cool customer, unlikely to have his feathers rustled (World Cup final headbutt notwithstanding).

However, in France’s Euro 2004 opener against England, there was a particularly unpleasant sign the pressure was getting to him. Or maybe it was something he ate.

Zidane scores against England

Having put his team level with a 91st-minute free-kick, Zidane was presented with the opportunity to seal three points for the then-European champions with a 93rd-minute penalty. A huge moment, but, just as he reached down to place the ball on the spot, he was caught chundering onto the pitch below. 

Sadly for England he was unbowed, and promptly slotted home to secure the win.

3. Basile Boli vs Stuart Pearce (1992)

The early nineties were an odd time – New Kids on the Block were atop the hit parade, Global Hypercolour t-shirts were a thing people actually spent money on, and Stuart Pearce defied all preconceptions at major international tournaments.

His uncharacteristic penalty miss at Italia 90 is well documented, but his headline moment at Euro 92 was perhaps even more unlikely. Someone had the temerity to headbutt him. Stuart Pearce. Somebody headbutted Stuart Pearce. 

France defender Basile Boli was the fool in question, and Psycho reacted exactly as you’d expect. He basically didn’t even flinch, playing on with minimal fuss or treatment.

4. Russia are unlucky tossers (1968)

If you thought penalties were a lottery, just imagine England getting knocked out at the latter stages of an international tournament thanks to the toss of a coin. 

Bonkers it may sound, but it was the fate that befell Russia at Euro 68, following a 0-0 draw with Italy.

Coin toss

With the concept of a penalty shootout still alien, the referee took the two captains down to the dressing rooms, and pulled out some loose change. “The referee pulled out an old coin, and I called tails,” Italian skipper Giacinto Facchetti later recalled. 

With a flick of the official’s thumb, Italy were through to the final, and Russia were sent packing.

5. Scandinavian neighbours aggravate Italy (2004)

Italian football fans aren’t afraid to cry ‘conspiracy’ when they feel their team has been wronged – and at Euro 2004, fans of the Azzurri could certainly be forgiven for being a little irked.

Having drawn their first two Group C matches against Denmark and Sweden, Italy were left needing a win in their final game against Bulgaria, and hoping the Scandinavian duo didn’t manage the 2-2 draw that would guarantee both went through at the Italians’ expense.

Sweden flag

It was with some inevitability – at least as far as Italy were concerned – that the final score in Porto was Denmark 2-2 Sweden. Italy were out despite a 2-1 win over Bulgaria, with the press back home screaming ‘Combine!’ That’s ‘fix’ to you. 

6. "What was wrong with it?" (2004) 

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was once an era when England went into major tournaments with optimism rather than trepidation. That optimism may have sometimes been misplaced, but certainly not at Euro 2004.

England were arguably the best team in the competition (hey, we said arguably), and, having been unfortunate to lose to France, romped past Switzerland and Croatia to make the quarter-finals. 

There they played hosts Portugal, and went ahead early through Michael Owen, only to suffer a major blow when Wayne Rooney limped off injured. Helder Postiga equalised, before Sol Campbell rose highest to head home a dramatic injury-time winner. Except, for some reason, referee Urs Meier disallowed it. 

Sol Campbell, Portugal

BBC commentator John Motson went potty, sputtering that “it’s a repeat of HoddleinArg… in… errrr, the World Cup in France”, referring to a similar incident involving Campbell against Argentina six years previously.

A further two goals were traded via Manuel Rui Costa and Frank Lampard, before England were beaten on penalties. “What was wrong with it?” Motty screamed as he watched a replay. He had a point – the only foul was by Campbell on John Terry.

The English press took the defeat as well as you’d expect – Meier was forced into hiding after one tabloid published his email address. He could’ve just turned off his computer…

7. Mullery gets England’s first red card (1968)

England red cards at major tournaments may no longer be an alien concept, but back in the more honest, Queen Mother-loving days of the 1960s, it was different. Alan Mullery’s red card against Yugoslavia at Euro 68 was met with shock and disgust – including from Mullers himself. 

“I turned round to kick him in the how’s your fathers,” Mullery later admitted, with a cockney chirp. 

However, the former Spurs man claimed, in mitigation, that his victim wasn’t entirely innocent. “Every Yugoslav spent the game kicking us, but [Dobrivoje] Trivic was exceptional – the coward raked his studs down my calf!” Cor blimey!

8. Webb cancels holiday to Gdansk (2008)

When you’re not particularly popular in your own country, it must be quite a nice change of pace to feel the hate from other parts of the globe. 

Well, possibly not, but Howard Webb (supposed enemy of Liverpool, Spurs and any other team who lost a match he officiated) spent the summer of 2008 avoiding opening the mail. 

Howard Webb, Euro 2008

Having awarded Austria a late penalty in their Euro 2008 draw with Poland, Webb was bombarded with death threats. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk didn’t help matters, fuming that he “wanted to kill” such was his rage at Webb’s decision.

9. Koeman gets shirty (1988)

The red-hot football rivalry between the Netherlands and Germany is well-documented, but arguably the ultimate flashpoint of the feud was little more than toilet humour – albeit particularly disrespectful. So much so, in fact, that even the protagonist’s own father said it was “uncalled for”. 

Following a fiery win over West Germany at Euro 88, Dutch star Ronald Koeman (now manager of Southampton) swapped shirts with German defender Olaf Thon, and proceeded to mockingly wipe his backside with it. 

Ronald Koeman

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Koeman said afterwards, before adding: “but to say I regret it… not really.”  Lesson learned, then.

10. Double Dutch dismissal taints Cruyff’s legacy (1976)

The great Johan Cruyff famously packed in international football in 1977 at the age of 30, following a kidnap attempt against him and his family. Sadly, the 1976 European Championship failed to provide a suitable send-off for the Dutch master. 

With the scores tied at 1-1 in the semi against Czechoslovakia, the great Dutch side looked odds-on to make the final, but they quickly lost discipline. Johan Neeskens was sent off, then Cruyff picked up a booking that ensured he’d miss the final. 

The Czechs scored in extra time and, apparently unhappy at some of their opponents’ roughhousing, Dutchman Wim van Hanegem was dismissed for refusing to kick off. The Dutch were beaten, and the Czechs went on to win the final.