Euro 2000 is often considered one of the most exciting tournaments of all time. This poses a question: how does one measure excitement in a football match? Well, goals are a good start. Since a group stage was added to beef up a format that was lacking in, er, matches, the 2000 edition became the most goal-friendly Euro tournament to date with 2.74 per game. Six games produced five or more goals (which is another record) while 80% of these games were decided by one goal or less. Tight + high-scoring = exciting.
In terms of drama, the script for the latter stages wasn’t bad either, with comebacks and late penalties, but also both semi-finals and final going to extra-time – this hasn’t happened since in a Euro or World Cup tournament.
We have one team in particular to thank for Euro 2000 setting the highest goals-per-game record in the tournament’s history: The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Their games were responsible for a quarter of the goals at Euro 2000, finding the net eight times themselves (good) and conceding 13 (not so good).
Scenarios for two of those games were as blockbuster-esque as Gladiator, the Ridley Scott creation released just a month earlier. In their opening match, FR Yugoslavia came from 3-0 down, and one man down following the red card of Yugoslavia’s own Maximus, aka Siniša Mihajlović, to draw 3-3 with Slovenia, the biggest comeback in Euro history.
It was a case of ‘hold my beer’ in the third group game against Spain. Vujadin Boškov’s men led three times before conceding two injury-time goals and losing 4-3.
An anticlimactic 6-1 defeat against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals signalled FR Yugoslavia’s exit, but not without securing two much-sought-after accolades: Highest Goal Involvement In A Euro Tournament™ (21) and Most Red Cards In A Euro Tournament™ (3).
The frenzy also extended to the referees. This was a time when the governing bodies were instructing Pierluigi Collina & Co. to be firmer with dangerous play and various forms of cheating, so it was perhaps unsurprising to see the referees award 13 penalties and hand out 10 red cards, both Euro records. One of those reds was notable for ending Gheorghe Hagi’s international career – a double yellow embodying the new, stricter rules. The first for an ankle-breaking tackle on Antonio Conte followed, four minutes later, by a dive in the Italian penalty box. It was off for an early shower for Mr. Hagi.
It was a penalty that ended England’s hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. An 89th minute spot kick at that, memories of which probably still haunt Phil Neville. All that after beating Germany in a competitive match for the first time since the 1966 World Cup final. England had been ahead in all three of their group games but were going home with two defeats. Kevin Keegan did not “love it.”
Finally, you knew this was an edition with a difference when Germany finished bottom of their group with only one point in three games, their worst-ever showing at a major tournament.
The Final – Subs To The Rescue
2 July 2000. Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium. 93 minutes and five seconds on the clock. Italy are moments away from winning their second European Championship and their goalkeeper Francesco Toldo is producing the performance of a lifetime: he has saved 27 of the previous 28 shots faced in the tournament. That’s the moment Sylvain Wiltord chooses to ruin it. 1-1.
A few minutes later in extra-time, France complete the comeback. This time David Trézéguet, with the last shot of the tournament, sending Robert Pires’ cut-back into the roof of the net. Until that moment, Italy had never trailed at any point during Euro 2000 – such is the cruelty of Golden Goals.
Both French goals were created and finished off by the three substitutes (pat on the back for Roger Lemerre), continuing France’s ‘But en Or’ tradition – 43% of all Golden Goals scored in the World Cup and European Championships have come from Les Bleus (3 out of 7).
Italy, so dogged defensively and happy to let the opposition control the ball, were inches away from winning the title with an average of 40% possession over the whole tournament. In fact, since Stats Perform data began, the only time a team has won a Euro or World Cup trophy with such low possession numbers was Greece in 2004.
Del Piero’s Big Chances
Italy can look back at the final and wonder how they didn’t seal the game earlier. The man kicking himself the most will be Alessandro Del Piero. The Juventus striker had lost his place in the starting XI to Francesco Totti but had the opportunity to become a national hero when Dino Zoff brought him on in the second-half to stretch the French defence.
He did just that in the 59th and 84th minutes when finding himself one-on-one with Fabien Barthez. Both times – with Italy already 1-0 up following Marco Delvecchio’s opener – Del Piero couldn’t convert the chances, worth 0.43 expected goals (xG) each. It summed up the story of his tournament: the star striker created five big chances for himself that summer – chances that are subjectively judged by analysts to be excellent goal-scoring opportunities where the player should have scored – none of them found the back of the net.
Italy will still be ruing these golden opportunities 20 years later.
Dutch Pay the Penalty
As co-hosts and with the final due to take place in their backyard, the Netherlands and their superstars were one of the favourites going into Euro 2000, aiming to add to their 1988 crown.
Sure enough, they won all four games on their way to the semis, scoring more goals than any other side.
Then along came Italy.
A total of 31 shots – including penalty misses by Frank de Boer and Patrick Kluivert – and 71% possession against an Italian side reduced to 10 men from the 34th minute were not enough to find a breakthrough. In fact, only two teams have accumulated three or more expected goals in a European Championship game without finding the back of the net: the Dutch on that June afternoon in Amsterdam and … Italy in 2012 against England (3.27 xG, 0 goals).
0-0 after extra-time. The Netherlands had lost all three of their previous penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments and, sure enough, the new millennium wasn’t about to begin any differently. In total, the Dutch missed five of their six penalties that afternoon, shoot-out included, with three of them saved by man of the match Francesco Toldo.
Portgual’s Euro Trip
With Luis Figo and Rui Costa in their ranks, Portugal had two of the world’s most creative midfielders.
Despite their tournament getting off to a sluggish start – they found themselves 2-0 down against England after 18 minutes – they rallied to win 3-2 thanks to a hat-trick of assists from Rui Costa. Another highlight of their group stages was Sergio Conceicao’s hat-trick– against Germany (3-0). It was the first time Die Mannschaft had conceded three goals by the same player since a certain Geoff Hurst lit up Wembley in the 1966 World Cup final.
Figo and Costa created a combined 29 chances (including three assists each), the highest tally by a midfield duo at the tournament.
Propelled by their two maestros (only Zidane made more progressive carries than Figo and Rui Costa at the tournament – see table below), Portugal reached the final four. In doing so, they confirmed the country’s love affair with the European Championships: in seven appearances, they’ve made it to the semi-finals on five occasions, including the 2016 victory.
Barely a month after Portugal’s exit, Luis Figo would be the subject of possibly the most acrimonious transfer in modern football history when he moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid. Oh, and he would also pick up the Ballon d’Or later that year. An eventful start to the noughties for Luis.
Using assists as separator (aka the modern way of attributing the Golden Boot), Savo Milosevic would have won the crown – both he and Patrick Kluivert netted five times, but Milosevic notched one assist to the Dutch striker’s zero. Had Kluivert converted his penalty in the semi-final against Italy, it would have been different story. Nevertheless, with his three goals against Milosevic’s FR Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals, Kluivert remains the last player to score a hat-trick in a Euro or World Cup knockout game.
But what is perhaps most remarkable is the way Milosevic reached his tally. He only had six shots in 308 minutes, scoring with five of them, boasting a fox-in-the-six-yard-box ratio of 0.58 xG/shot. His finishing also helped secure top spot in the assists category for teammate Ljubinko Drulović – three of Drulović’s four offerings were for the ex-Aston Villa frontman.
France’s victory in Euro 2000 saw them become only the second team to secure back-to-back Euro and World Cup triumphs after West Germany in the early 1970s. On July 2nd, the anniversary of their triumph, Stats Perform will be publishing a data-driven breakdown of how ‘Les Blues’ went all the way.
Stats Perform has analysed every UEFA European Championship match since 1980 and every final going back to the inaugural tournament in 1960. To see how our unique database can help you, please get in touch.