International tournaments can be notoriously tricky affairs for teams handed the tag of favourites, especially the Euros.
While some have lived up to the billing, plenty have imploded under the weight of expectation – as England fans know only too well.
Part of what makes football so brilliant is the unpredictability of it all. That’s only magnified further in tournament football where an inspired bit of skill or moment of madness can prove the difference between success and failure.
Tricky drama, Individual errors, last-gasp goals and dodgy managerial decisions have derailed many a tournament as these 10 favourites turned flops demonstrate only too well.
West Germany – Euro ‘84
Holders West Germany had only just edged out Northern Ireland in qualifying but nevertheless went into Euro ’84 among the favourites. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was top scorer in the qualifiers, while manager Jupp Derwall had emerging stars like Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthaus and Rudi Völler to call on.
Despite a disappointing draw with Portugal in their opener, a 2-1 victory over Romania, secured via a Völler brace left them only needing a point from a final group game with Spain. Things looked to be going West Germany’s way after Harald Schumacher saved a second half penalty, but just when it seemed all was lost for Spain, Antonio Maceda rose highest to head home on 90 minutes and send Die Mannschaft packing.
Derwall took the brunt of the criticism in the aftermath and duly stepped down to be replaced by Franz Beckenbauer. They bounced pretty quickly.
England – Euro ‘88
Two years on from “The Hand of God” Bobby Robson’s England headed to Euro ’88 brimming with confidence. A team spearheaded by Gary Lineker and Bryan Robson had cruised through qualifying, remaining unbeaten and racking up 19 goals in just six games. But the tournament would prove a chastening experience for the Three Lions who, in the absence of the injured Terry Butcher, struggled in the sapping heat of host nation West Germany.
A shock 1-0 defeat to a resolute Ireland got things off to a bad start and despite a spirited performance against eventual winners Holland, two late Marco Van Basten goals sealed a 3-1 win and England’s early exit. There was still time for an abject second-string England to limp to a 3-1 defeat to the USSR though. Though he tended his resignation, Robson thankfully remained in charge to guide England on to the 1990 World Cup.
France – Euro ‘92
France were most people’s pick to win Euro ’92 after becoming the first team to qualify with a perfect record from a group also containing Spain. Eric Cantona was back from his first international exodus at this point while Les Bleus also boasted the brilliant Jean Pierre-Papin as well as future World Cup winners Laurent Blanc and Didier Deschamps.
Michel Platini’s side didn’t start well though and were lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw from their first game with hosts Sweden, rescuing a point with a goal from Papin. A dull 0-0 stalemate with England set up a winner-takes-all decider with underdogs Denmark. Confident of success, rumour has it the French players asked the Danes to go easy on them ahead of the semis. They didn’t listen.
Papin was on the scoresheet again, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Denmark claiming a famous 2-1 win on their way to lifting the trophy. Platini said “au revoir” soon after.
Italy – Euro ‘96
Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi raised plenty of eyebrows when he omitted Roberto Baggio and Serie A top scorer Beppe Signori from the Azzurri squad for Euro ’96. Baggio was a particularly controversial omission despite the Divine Ponytail coming off the back of an injury-ravaged season. Yet the gamble looked to be paying off after a 2-1 win over Russia, with Pierluigi Casiraghi scoring twice and Gianfranco Zola also impressing.
An over-confident Sacchi then rang the changes for the next game against the Czech Republic, resting five players including Zola and Casiraghi. In their absence, a then-unknown Pavel Nedved fired the Czechs to a shock 2-1 victory. Italy now faced Germany needing a convincing win to be sure of progressing. Though they dominated the game with Zola contriving to miss a penalty, a 0-0 draw was not enough after Vladimir Smicer scored two minutes from time to secure a 3-3 draw for the Czechs and with it progress to the quarter-finals.
Czech Republic – Euro 2000
Four years on from their appearance in the final, the Czech Republic arrived at Euro 2000 as the form team. With the likes of Nedved, Karel Poborsky and Tomas Rosicky in their pomp, they had finished 12 points clear of Scotland in qualifying with 10 wins from 10 and just five goals conceded.
The tournament draw did them few favours though with the Czechs pitted against hosts Holland and World Cup holders France. They had the better of the Dutch in their opening game only succumbing to a fortuitous 89th minute Frank De Boer penalty.
It was a similar story against the French. Defender Petr Gabriel (no relation) gifted Thierry Henry the opener with a weak back pass, early on. Though Poborsky levelled things up from the spot, an enthralling encounter was ultimately decided by Youri Djorkaeff who took advantage of some weak defending from Tomas Repka to make it 2-1 and send the Czechs out with a game to spare.
Germany – Euro 2000
Drawn in the dreaded “Group of Death” alongside England, Romania and Portugal, most ranked the holders among the tournament favourites, but all was not well behind-the-scenes. Erich Ribbeck had been brought out of retirement to manage Germany but rarely convinced, especially after recalling the 39-year-old Matthäus, then of New York Metro Stars, and refusing to drop him despite the protestations of several senior players.
A limp 1-1 draw with Romania did little to inspire confidence but things went from bad to worse next time out with Alan Shearer scoring the only goal in a 1-0 defeat to England. Even so, a final game against an already-qualified Portugal offered a chance at progress, especially as England ended up losing to Romania. But Germany were abject, going down 3-0 to a Portugal B-team and a Sergio Conceicao hat-trick. Ribbeck resigned while an inquest into the lack of emerging youth talent began in Germany.
Spain – Euro 2004
It might seem hard to fathom now, but there was a time when Spain were perennial underachievers in international football. Euro 2004 was a case in point.
Drawn alongside hosts Portugal, on paper Spain had little to fear from fellow Group A opponents Russia and Greece. They also had a squad to match the tournament’s very best with eventual World Cup winners Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol featuring alongside world-class talents like Raul, Juan Carlos Valeron and Fernando Morientes.
Yet, in what was an all-too-familiar scenario at the time, Spain froze up, labouring to a 1-0 win over a poor Russia before narrowly escaping with a 1-1 draw against a well-organised Greece. They only needed a point against Portugal, who hadn’t beaten Spain since 1981, but ultimately went down 1-0 to a Nuno Gomes wonder strike and ended up finishing below Greece having somehow scored fewer goals.
Italy – Euro 2004
🇸🇪 Zlatan Ibrahimović 🤩#OTD at EURO 2004, the Swedish star scored 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 goal in Sweden's 1-1 draw with Italy!⏪ @svenskfotboll | @Ibra_official pic.twitter.com/Ut9W3TyazvJune 18, 2020
Italy fans will cry conspiracy but, unlike in the 2002 World Cup, they really only had themselves to blame for their early exit from Euro 2004. Going into their final group game against Bulgaria, the Azzurri knew even a win might not be enough to progress should Denmark and Sweden play out a draw featuring four goals or more. There was certainly something fishy about the resulting 2-2 stalemate that dumped them out on goals scored, but Italy should have never been in that position.
Francesco Totti played his part, after being banned for spitting at Denmark’s Christian Poulsen, as did the moody and misfiring Christian Vieri. But it was Giovanni Trapattoni's overly cautious tactics that ultimately did for Italy over the course of a 0-0 draw with the Danes and 1-1 draw with Sweden, which the Azzurri dominated, shipping a late acrobatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic equaliser.
France – Euro 2008
🇳🇱 Sneijder starred when @OnsOranje put 4 past France #OTD in 2008! 🎇#EURO2020 | #NED pic.twitter.com/yM64iWWIhhJune 13, 2021
Two years after reaching the World Cup final, France endured a Euros to forget under the divisive Raymond Domenech who made a talented Les Bleus outfit look decidedly ordinary. Zinedine Zidane had retired but this was still a team featuring Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda and Thierry Henry as well as emerging stars like Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema.
A drab, disjointed 0-0 draw with Romania in their opening game was bad. The 4-1 shellacking handed out by Holland next time out was even worse. Still, France had a chance at progressing when they played old foes Italy. That chance all but evaporated after just 24 minutes when Eric Abidal conceded a penalty and was sent off. Andrea Pirlo converted the spot kick with Daniele De Rossi doubling the lead in the second half. Somehow Domenech clung on to his job for the 2010 World Cup. It didn’t go well.
Netherlands – Euro 2012
Ahead of Euro 2012, the big talking point for the 2010 World Cup finalists was the inclusion of 18-year-old defender Jetro Willems who made history as the youngest player to ever play at a Euros. Once the games began, however, discussion switched to the Dutch’s clear failings. While Willems looked out of his depth, Bert van Marwijk’s charges were supremely wasteful, going down 1-0 to Denmark in a game that saw Holland register 29 shots on goal but just six on target.
The likes of Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben were given a painful lesson in effective finishing next time out against Germany, with Mario Gomez scoring twice in 2-1 win over their great rivals. Going into the final game with an outside chance of qualification, Holland’s misery was compounded by a 2-1 defeat to a Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal. Van Marwijk, who had only recently signed a contract to stay on through to Euro 2016, resigned soon after.
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