the home of cult football
From the playmaking genius of Netzer in 1972 and Platini in 1984, to the goals of Van Basten in 1988, and to the goalkeeping heroics of Schmeichel in 1992 and Nikopolidis in 2004, here's our list of European Championships heroes.
Contrary to popular belief it isn't just the British who have the monopoly on not picking maverick talent for the national team. Take for instance the case of Germany's Gunter Netzer. One of the finest talents his country has ever produced, the midfield playmaker only made 30 appearances for the national team. At least he, and his adoring public, can look back on the 1972 tournament with relish though.
It would have been easy to pick out legendary striker Gerd Muller as West Germany's man of the tournament for 1972 - he did, after all, score four goals in the semi-final and final, to help the German's lift the trophy for the first time. However, we've plumped for the midfield architect of that triumph instead, iconic Borussia Monchengladbach schemer Gunter Netzer. Ask many German football fan who has been their country's most naturally gifted midfielder, and you will get a resounding shout for the man nicknamed 'the Karajan of Football' (a reference to renowned conductor Herbert von Karajan). Netzer was a fantastic playmaker who was capable of raking, long range passes and penetrative runs from deep in his own half into the oppositions, skills which he would demonstrate throughout the 1972 tournament.
Having eased through their qualifying group ahead of local rivals Poland, West Germany were drawn against another old foe in the quarter finals, England. With the quarter finals played on a home and away basis, Netzer put in a performance that is still rhapsodized in his homeland, pulling the strings as the Germans ripped apart England 3:1 at Wembley, and showing his long-haired English counterparts what genuine maverick talent really was as he scored a penalty and set up the other two. The semi-finals and final would take place in Belgium, and West Germany were drawn against the hosts in Antwerp. With club-team mate Herbert Wimmer doing the defensive donkey work alongside him, Netzer was again free to probe and create, helping set up Muller midway through the first half and then again 20 minutes from time. Substitute Odilon Polleunis pulled one back 7 minutes from time, but the German's held out to book their place in the final, against the USSR. With Netzer again in inspirational form, the German's went one up through Gerd Muller after 27 minutes, followed by a goal from Netzer's midfield partner Wimmer, and another by Muller soon after half-time. 3:0 up with 30 minutes to play, Netzer went into exhibition mode, showing the Brussels crowd his full range of passing and skill on the ball. Unfortunately for him, and the watching public, he never got the chance to shine at any other tournaments - he was injured in the run up to the 1966 and 1970 World Cup's, whilst coach Helmut Schon gave the nod to rival playmaker Wolfgang Overath in the 1974 World Cup, insisting he couldn't play both in the same team and thus limiting Netzer to a cameo role, coming on as a sub for 20 minutes against East Germany.
Video Clips: Various Netzer highlights (YouTube).
Aged 29, at the peak of his career, and captain of the host nation, the story of the 1984 tournament was dominated by one man - Michel Platini.
Having unexpectedly finished fourth at the last major tournament, the 1982 World Cup in Spain, expectations in France were now at an all-time high as the country looked to lift it's first ever international trophy.
Retaining the core of the 1982 team, the silky midfield trio of Platini, Giresse and Tigana was now joined by PSG workhorse Luis Fernandez, creating what became known as "le carre magique" (the magic square). Yet whilst France now boasted one of the games finest midfield's and a solid defence, it lacked star quality up front, with the likes of Bellone, Lacombe, Six and Ferreri all willing but not as able as their midfield team-mates. Worried about who was going to score the goals to lift the trophy, French boss Michel Hidalgo devised a 4-4-2 system that allowed Platini to be midfield playmaker one minute and additional striker the next. It worked a treat.
A classic opening game in Paris against an up-and-coming Denmark looked to be heading for a goal-less draw until Platini popped up with 12 minutes remaining to get the hosts off to a winning start. Four days later in Nantes, Platini would set down a marker for the rest of the tournament, hitting a hat-trick as France demolished a much fancied Belgian team 5:0. Having just been thrashed 5:0 by the Danes, and having also lost to Belgium, Yugoslavia were expected to be brushed aside by Platini's troops in the final group game in St. Etienne. However, Red Star striker Milos Sestic gave the Yugoslavs an unexpected first half lead, which they clung onto until halfway through the second half, when Platini, who else, grabbed an equaliser. An incredible 15 minutes saw the French captain score another couple to claim his second hat-trick in a row, both of which were 'perfect' hat-tricks (left foot, right foot, header). A Dragan Stojkovic penalty ensured a tense finale, but Platini's incredible goal-scoring run of 7 goals in 3 games, from midfield, had taken the hosts into the semi-finals as group winners.
And what a semi-final it was. Arguably the finest match in the history of the competition, an electric atmosphere at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, saw Toulouse defender Jean-Francois Domergue give the hosts a first half leader against a Portuguese team that had come through Group B undefeated. With Platini and Giresse pulling all the strings in midfield it looked only a matter of time before the French doubled their lead, but as the second half progressed Portugal started to come back into it, with Benfica winger Fernando Chalana wreaking havoc in the French defence and creating a number of openings. So it was no surprise when Jordao levelled with 15 minutes to go, or when he made it 2:1 nearly 10 minutes into extra time. Platini rallied his team for the 2nd period of extra time, and with just 5 minutes remaining their onslaught paid off, as Domergue scored his 2nd of the game. Sensing that they could win it, Platini, Giresse and Tigana poured forward, and just one minute away from the dreaded penalty shoot-out commentator John Motson finally lost the plot as Platini crashed home the winner.
Having defeated Denmark on penalties in the other semi-final in Lyon, it was now Spain who stood between Platini and the chance to lift France's first football trophy. For the neutral, after the drama of the semi-finals, it was almost an anti-climax, but for Platini he just carried on where he'd left off, scoring another goal, a curled a free kick passed Luis Arconada, 12 minutes into the 2nd half. However, the much-vaunted French midfield was struggling for the first time in the tournament, and when Monaco defender Yvon Le Roux was red-carded they had to scrap their normal fluent passing game as they grimly hung on until the final minute when Bruno Bellone scored, the only goal scored by a French striker in the entire tournament. As Platini lifted the trophy at an ecstatic Parc-des-Princes, no-one could deny the impact he'd had - in the five games he'd played every single minute and scored an amazing 9 out of his team's 14 goals.
A Belgian legend whose career with the national team spanned nearly 14 years and earned him a record 96 caps, Ceulemans was the primary star of Belgium's finest footballing era, a period where they finished 4th in the World Cup in 1986 and 2nd in the European Championships in 1980.
At the start of the tournament the Belgian's were labelled as Group 2's whipping boys, as they took their place alongside the might of Italy, Spain and England. However, after a start delayed by rioting fans and tear-gas, the Belgian's surprised England as Ceulemans, aided by the likes of Vandenbergh, Van der Elst and Cools, caused the English all kinds of unexpected problems. Ray Wilkins lobbed effort gave England the lead but Ceulemans smashed home an equaliser just 3 minutes later following a good old-fashioned goalmouth scramble.
Ceulemans operated primarily in midfield, where his stamina and all-action style, coupled with his ability to surge past opponents, made him Belgium's most important player, as emphasised in their next group game with a man of the match performance against Spain. Bearded right-back Eric Gerets opened the scoring following a slick move with Erwin Vandenbergh and Walter Meeuws, Quini levelled past Jean-Marie Pfaff 10 minutes before half-time before Ceulemans crossed for Julien Cools to head home the winner mid way through the 2nd half. With Italy only narrowly beating England in Turin it meant the Diables Rouges went into their final group game against the Italians needing just a draw to qualify for the final (there were no semi's in 1980). In Rome's Olympic stadium the hosts, complete with established world stars such as Antognoni, Bettega, Tardelli, Zoff and Gentile, were expected to ease past the North European underdogs, but Guy Thys replaced Erwin Vandenbergh and packed out the midfield, and with Ceulemans tirelessly covering every blade of grass they somehow held out for a goalless draw.
Ceulemans and his team were in Rome again 4 days later for the final against a fine West German side with talented youngsters Bernd Schuster and Hansi Muller supplying the ammo for Rummenigge and Allofs up front. It looked like a game too far for the Belgians as the Monster, aka Horst Hrubesch, fired the Germans into a 10th minute lead and proceeded to dominate the first half. The 2nd half was a different story though, as Ceulemans' creativity and energy sparked a revival as he set up chances for Francois Van der Elst and Rene Vandereycken. With 15 minutes to go Van der Elst was brought down and Vandereycken scored passed Schumacher. But just two minutes from taking the game into extra time Hrubesch struck again, with a trademark header, to leave Ceulemans and his team-mates wondering what could have been.
Ceulemans would become a national hero by leading the team to 4th place in the World Cup 6 years later in Mexico and became a legend at Club Bruges, scoring nearly 200 goals there in 400 games and turning down the approaches of AC Milan in order to stay with them.