This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE
Euro 2000 is, for many people, the greatest international tournament there has ever been. The incredible comebacks, the breathtaking goals, the scintillating football and all the drama and tension you come to expect from a European Championship were on show in Belgium and the Netherlands in the summer of 2000.
This final in Rotterdam perhaps didn’t quite stand up to the quality set by the tournament in the weeks before, but it was a stunning way to end a memorable summer; a grandstand finish for a group of players to stake their claim as one of the greatest international sides ever.
In many ways, this was a far superior French side that triumphed on home soil two years earlier. Aime Jacquet had managed to succeed without a world-class striker in his squad, relying on Stephane Guivarc’h to lead the line. Two years later, however, and his successor (and former assistant) Roger Lemerre had three to choose from: David Trezeguet, Nicolas Anelka and the irrepressible Theirry Henry.
In fact, the array of attacking talent Lemerre had to choose from borders on the absurd. Christophe Dugarry, Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord, Johan Micoud, Youri Djorkaeff and, of course, Zinedine Zidane must represent one of the strongest attacks to ever feature at a Euros. Les Bleus also had a reliably strong foundation to rest this talent on: a defence wrought from Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Bixente Lizarazu and the icon Laurent Blanc forming was every bit as formidable as the attacking quality on show.
There’s a sound argument that this could have been the most perfect squad to ever compete in a European Championship.
When you compare this French squad on paper with their Italian opposition, hardly a vintage Azzurri at that, the game looked like a foregone conclusion before kick-off. When the opposition is Italy, however, with their revolving door of gifted players and steely resolve, it was never going to be easy.
Managed by Dino Zoff, this Azzurri side was efficient and compact, staying true to the old-school Catenaccio tactics, having conceded only two goals so far in the tournament. They weren’t about to roll over for anyone.
Finals are often nervous affairs with neither side wanting to make an early mistake. The fear of losing can far outweigh the desire to win. Therefore, when finals are locked in a state of mutual assured destruction, it needs moments of brilliance or enforced mistakes to break the deadlock. Thankfully, this final was decided by flashes of the former.
The game started furiously. Italy, playing the unaccustomed role of underdogs, had plenty of early pressure with Roma’s Marco Delvecchio proving a nuisance up-front. Henry provided the French threat, unleashing a couple of trademark snapshots before being on the receiving end of several reducers from the Italian midfield, the chief culprit among them being Luigi Di Biagio.
But in truth, the final didn’t come…