6 great but forgotten European Championship group games

Knockout tussles at international tournaments are much more likely to enter into folklore but, as Michael Healy shows, the initial stage has still served up some crackers down the years...

1. Denmark 3-2 Belgium, France 3-2 Yugoslavia, Euro 1984

The two standout games of the group stage in 1984 were played simultaneously, with Denmark, Belgium, France and Yugoslavia all playing their part in a pair of tremendous encounters. The Danes went 2-0 down to Belgium but fought back to record a 3-2 victory that sent them through to the semi-finals, while France also won by the same scoreline thanks to a hat-trick from Michel Platini, who played a pivotal role in les Bleus' success on home soil that summer.

France 3 2 Yugoslavia EURO 1984   Google Chrome

Platini seals his hat-trick in style

2. Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic, Euro 2008

Qualification was still in Czech Republic's hands at that point, but they completely collapsed late on and conceded twice more, captain Nihat grabbing a crucial brace with goals in the 87th and 89th minutes

Both Turkey and Czech Republic had identical records going into their final group game, which meant a draw would have seen qualification decided by a penalty shootout. The Czechs appeared to have the win in the bag when they stormed into a 2-0 lead, which they held until Arda Turan's strike in the 75th minute.

Qualification was still in Czech Republic's hands at that point, but they completely collapsed late on and conceded twice more, captain Nihat grabbing a crucial brace with goals in the 87th and 89th minutes. There was still time for Turkey goalkeeper Volkan Demirel to be dismissed, but Fatih Terim's men held on to progress to the next round.

3. Russia 3-3 Czech Republic, Euro 1996

The European Championship welcomed 16 countries for the first time, with a number of exciting group stage matches convincing most people that the expansion had been a success. Russia's 3-3 draw with the Czech Republic at Anfield was one such example, the latter surrendering an early two-goal lead to fall 3-2 behind, before rescuing a point – and booking their place in the knockout stage – when Vladimir Smicer scored in the 89th minute.

4. Spain 4-3 Yugoslavia, Euro 2000

A contender for the best match in European Championship history, Spain edged out Yugoslavia in a seven-goal thriller to progress to the quarter-finals in first place in Group C

A contender for the best match in European Championship history, Spain edged out Yugoslavia in a seven-goal thriller to progress to the quarter-finals top of Group C.

Yugoslavia opened the scoring through Savo Milosevic, but Spain – as would become a theme of the game – hit back soon after. Yugoslavia went 2-1 ahead in the 50th minute before again being pegged back seconds later when Pedro Munitis got his name on the scoresheet; Vujadin Boskov's side showed great resolve to get their noses in front for a third time, though, and that looked to be enough to wrap up a victory.

Spain weren't quite done yet, however, as Gaizka Mendieta's dramatic stoppage-time penalty levelled the scores once more. If Yugoslavia were gutted at conceding so late, things got even worse as Spain quickly won back possession from kick-off and hit a dramatic last-gasp winner to take all three points.

5. West Germany 3-2 Netherlands, Euro 1980

The Dutch had five minutes of normal time to chase an equaliser, but despite putting West Germany under a great deal of pressure they couldn't quite find a way through

Euro 80 was a rather defensive and low-scoring competition, but West Germany's memorable clash with the Netherlands was a welcome exception. A Klaus Allofs hat-trick saw the Germans open up a 3-0 lead and make it seem like a thrashing was on the cards, but the Netherlands fought back admirably, narrowing the deficit through Johnny Rep and Willy van de Kerkhof.

The Dutch had five minutes of normal time to chase an equaliser, but despite putting West Germany under a great deal of pressure they couldn't quite find a way through. The Netherlands went out after only drawing with Czechoslovakia in their next outing, with Jupp Derwall's men going on to claim West Germany's second European Championship.

West Germany 3-2 Netherlands 1980

Allofs' hat-trick goal

6. Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic, Euro 2004

The Netherlands and Czech Republic are clearly entertainers given their multiple appearances on this list, and the two played out a fantastic match in the group stage of Euro 2004. Although Germany had drawn their first two encounters they were expected to advance to the knockout rounds, with the Netherlands and Czech Republic seemingly fighting it out for a place alongside them.

Goals from Wilfred Bouma and Ruud van Nistelrooy put the Dutch 2-0 ahead after 19 minutes, but a Czech side who played some beautiful football throughout the tournament didn't let their heads drop. Jan Koller pulled one back midway through the first half, before Petr Cech somehow kept his side in it with a sensational save from Johnny Heitinga's rasping drive. 

It paid off: Milan Baros pummelled home a cracker from Koller's knockdown with 20 minutes left, Heitinga was sent off to add insult to injury, and Smicer killed the Dutch off with an 88th-minute winner. Both teams went through in the end but neither made it beyond the semi-finals.

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