By News Team
14th May 2021
Excitement across Europe is starting to build with Euro 2020 just around the corner.
And if past European Championships are anything to go by, we should be set for a lively opening with the competition having treated us to some superb Euro group stage matches across the years.
Ahead of Euro 2020’s June 11 start, we’ve taken a look back at the European Championship’s greatest ever group-stage games.
England 4-1 Netherlands – 1996
Boasting the likes of Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf and Ronald de Boer, Netherlands were one of the continent’s most exciting teams come Euro 96, but England tore them apart on a sultry June evening at Wembley as Three Lions fans really began to start to believe this was their year.
Picking up where he left off in the previous two games, Alan Shearer notched his third goal of the tournament from the penalty spot early on, before an 11-minute spell followed in the second half that ranks among England’s best ever. Teddy Sheringham made it two with a header from a corner, before Shearer soon rifled home a third into the top corner after some great work from Paul Gascoigne and Sheringham.
Moments later it was four, as Sheringham slotted home a rebound following a Darren Anderton strike. England fans could barely believe what they were seeing, with Patrick Kluivert’s late consolation doing little to dampen the jubilant mood around Wembley. A classic Euros game.
Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain – 2000
It doesn’t really get better than a seven-goal thriller in the group stage, and that’s exactly what Yugoslavia and Spain were able to offer up at Euro 2000 in this Euros match.
Spain headed into this game against underdogs Yugoslavia needing the three points to seal their progression to the knockout rounds, but as the clash approached injury time, their chances looked to be dead in the water as they trailed 3-2.
Even when Spain was gifted a penalty in the fourth minute of injury time and Gaizka Mendieta stepped up from the spot to convert, it still seemed to be too little, too late – but not according to Alfonso Perez.
With just seconds remaining Perez, who had scored earlier on in the game, managed to scramble home his second to spark jubilant scenes among the Spanish team and its supporters. In the most dramatic of circumstances, they had progressed to the quarter-finals.
Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic – 2004
There are few European football fans who will forget this match in a hurry, though so much happened in this group-stage clash that you would be forgiven for not remembering it in its entirety.
While Netherlands missed out on qualifying for the World Cup two years earlier, they were determined to make up for it at Euro 2004 and stormed into a 2-0 lead against Czech Republic through Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooy – though this was as good as their afternoon was going to get.
With Czech Republic 2-0 down, manager Karel Bruckner opted to make the unorthodox substitution of a midfielder for a full-back barely 25 minutes into the game, and he was soon rewarded. Jan Koller soon cut the Dutch lead before Milan Baros equalised with a simply stunning hit.
With just two minutes left on the clock and both sides pushing for a winner, the Czech comeback was soon complete as Vladimir Smicer scored a dramatic winner against their 10-man opponents, who had seen Johnny Heitinga sent off.
Hungary 3-3 Portugal – 2016
As well as throwing up a few thrillers, the group stages of the European Championship often throw up a great underdog story.
Few gave Hungary a chance ahead of this final group stage game at Euro 2016 against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, but the footballing minnows put up one hell of a fight and nearly dumped the eventual champions out.
With Balazs Dzsudzsak managing to score twice, Hungary took the lead three times in this six-goal epic. But as is so often the case, Cristiano Ronaldo was to have the final say on things. The forward netted twice to secure Portugal a lucky point as they scraped through the group stages as one of the best third-placed teams.
But just a few games later, and Ronaldo would be lifting the Euro 2016 trophy.