Euro 2020: 8 great but forgotten European Championship group games

The group stages of European Championships are often forgotten about, just a set of games played before the real nitty gritty of the competition begins in the knockout rounds. After all, that's where the bulk of the action takes place, right? 

Wrong. The group stages at the Euros have thrown up some crackers that rival even the best and most memorable games in the tournament's distinguished history. We've seen goals galore, more comebacks than you could wish for, and a couple of controversial decisions to boot.

While the knockout rounds live long in the memory of fans for their sheer importance, we've decided to look at some of the best games you might've forgotten about from the Euros.  

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.

2. Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic, Euro 2008

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. Portugal 3-3 Hungary, Euro 2016

A classic match of to-ing and fro-ing, Hungary took the lead three times during the game, but Portugal managed to thwart their advantage every time. Both teams needed to avoid defeat to improve their chances of reaching the last 16, giving reason as to why each goal came with a reply. 

Even deciding on the best goal of the game places these teams level, with Zoltan Gera's expert half-volley from the edge of the area into the bottom corner arguably upstaged by a sumptuous Ronaldo flick fashioned from behind his body. 

Two Balazs Dzsudzsak strikers ended up in the goal via deflections, while Nani and Ronaldo both scored to equal the scoring. As we now know, Portugal surprisingly went on to win the tournament after finishing third place in this group, though Hungary emerged as table toppers.

4. 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.

5. England 3-2 Sweden, Euro 2012

England entered this game against Sweden, the second in the group stages, having just drawn 1-1 with France. Their Scandinavian counterparts, on the other hand, lost to Ukraine 2-1 in their opening game of Euro 2012. The result seemed a formality, especially after Andy Carroll opened the scoring with a brilliantly directed header following a pinpoint 40-yard pass from Steven Gerrard.

Sweden, though, rallied. A team of giants, they caused confusion and fear within England's defence from free-kicks and corners, which is where both of their goals came from. They drew level just after half-time via a Glen Johnson own goal, helped by the pinball chaos ensuing in the box. Ex-Aston Villa defender Olof Melberg then rose highest from a free-kick to give Sweden the lead on the hour mark.

Shortly after though, a Theo Walcott inspired substitution turned the tide back in England's favour, as he equalised from a long-range strike - albeit hit down the centre of the goal. A bursting run from Walcott then followed as the game entered the final 15 minutes, setting up Danny Welbeck to score a backheel-come-volley winner.

6. 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 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.

7. West Germany 3-2 Netherlands, Euro 1980

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.

8. 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.


FIXTURES Euro 2020 fixtures and dates: Full schedule and how to watch every match of the 2021 summer tournament

WALL CHART Euro 2020 wall chart: Download free with full schedule, fixtures and dates

GROUNDHOPPER Euro 2020 stadiums: Host cities, capacities, and everything you need to know

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1