Tournament football gets me excited. The World Cup sits proudly at the top of the pile for me and gets me as giddy as a big lad in a cake shop. But the Euros isn’t far behind. European teams feature frequently in the list of best teams on the planet and the Euros sees them thrown together over a month.
It’s summer, the weather is usually pretty good, the kick off times are brilliant and there’s always a smattering of historical political undercurrent to some of the games. It’s a potent mix for memorable games and great goals.
By using a thoroughly scientific process* the best goals of the European Championships have been decided.
8) John Jensen Denmark v (West) Germany 1992
This might not be the most stunning goal you’ve ever seen. But it is one of the most important in European football. The aforementioned history of political undercurrent, was never more apparent than in 1992. It was the first that time that Germany had played a major tournament since reunification, the USSR played as a CIS – Commonwealth of Independent States – following the breakup of the Soviet Union and Denmark were pushed into the tournament late on, after UEFA expelled Yugoslavia because of the war in the country which lead to the eventual breakup of the state.
If you don’t remember the tournament, just read that first paragraph again. Denmark were dropped it at late notice and went on to win the competition, with this John Jensen goal being the turning point in the final against Germany. Try and imagine France next week if a United Ireland played instead of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, if Greece broke up and all the islands decided to get back together just for four weeks of footy and then Ukraine were kicked out for political reasons to be replaced by Scotland. Who then won it. It was mental.
The goal footage starts around 2.35. It’s a good, not great, goal, but it has the most amazing story out of all the goals in this list.
7) Frank De Boer Holland v France, 2000
I’m not usually a big fan of free kicks in the best goals lists. Unless it’s that goal by Roberto Carlos free kicks should usually be forgotten pretty quickly. But feast your eyes on this banger from De Boer. Not only does it travel at around Mach 3, it wrong foots the keeper from about 25 yards and bends round the wall and into the top corner.
I’d place a hefty bet that Frank, who was known for his thunderbolts, never hit another quite like it.
PS lovely music on that video, eh?
6) Davor Suker Croatia v Denmark – 1996
Suker was probably the stand out player from a golden generation of Croatian football that evolved from the wreckage of Yugoslavia.
His goal against Denmark at Hillsborough was all about the technique. It’s a cocky, cheeky finish that put the ball in pretty much the only part of the goal he could have scored in. The defender approach from his right blocked a shot one way and Schmeichel had made a career out of blocking low shots to his right with his legs, but the dink over the top with the outside of his left foot was unstoppable. Bravo. (It’s about 3.30 into this video).
5) Luis Figo Portugal v England – 2000
I still feel bitter and twisted about this. England were 2 – 0 up and cruising, when the midfield decided to leave a gap of 40m between them and the back four and let Figo, a fairly handy player, have a run at them.
The strike into the top corner is something else. David Seaman looks like he’s put down roots and just twists his head and long, flowing hair to watch the ball sail into the top corner. The comeback was on and Portugal ended up winning 3 – 2 and I’m still not happy.
4) Ronnie Whelan Republic of Ireland v USSR – 1988
A goal that deserves a place for the shortest of short shorts if nothing else. Whelan’s mid-air pivot and volley into the top corner showed great technique and skill to pull it off, especially when you consider it came directly from a stupidly long throw. Even with a guy stood on the touch line, the ball was still propelled about 45 yards across the pitch. But when it reached Whelan, it was slowing down so as well as getting airborne, he had to put the power behind the ball too.
Watching the clip from behind the goal, I think he might actually shin it rather than kick it. But that’s not important right now. The ball landed in the back of the net, the history books say he scored and I say it was a beauty. Case closed.
3) Karel Poborsky Czech Republic v Portugal – 1996
The thing that stands out the most from this goal, is the ridiculous height Poborsky gets on the lob. Sure, keepers get lobbed all the time, and Davor Suker’s lob (number 6) involved some unbelievable tekkers, but this baby from Poborsky came down with snow on it.
Yes, he gets very lucky as he’s running towards the box, but with two players descending on him from behind, two rapidly arriving from the sides and the keeper rushing out, he decided to go over the top. To be honest, it’s probably bad goalkeeping. With the ball going so high, he could, no should, have been able to get a quick pint before catching the ball and throwing it out. Ridiculous.
2) Paul Gascoigne England v Scotland – 1996
This goals needs no introduction to most football fans, regardless of where you grew up. 1996 was England’s best chance of winning a major tournament since… well, you know when. A superb team that had world class players at the top of their game had the benefit of home advantage. Games at Wembley, Shearer and Sheringham, Ince, Seaman and we had Gazza. Paul Gascoigne. The most naturally gifted footballer England has ever produced and he was flying in 96.
He’d shrugged off some pre-tournament shenanigans on a team bonding trip to become the beating heart of the team. Against Scotland, at Wembley, there was all the usual pressure of playing for England in a tournament, but multiplied by the fact the Auld Enemy were trying to crash the party. With Three Lions belting from the stands the whole game, Gazza came up with the sort of goal that has millions of people claiming they were in the stands that day.
When you watch the clip, look how deep Gazza breaks from. He’s tearing out of his own half, sensing the space and demanding the ball. As it’s played in to his feet – perfectly weighted, but on the bounce – he flicks the ball with a confidence of being the world’s best. Over Colin Hendry, leaving him floundering and that strikes a sweet volley into the bottom corner. I actually think he mishits it, but who cares?
And then he rolls out the Dentist’s Chair. The pre-tournament shenanigans involved having spirits poured down his throat in a dentist’s chair in a bar by his team mates, something the press ripped him to pieces for. Having just scored one of England’s best ever goals, he took his chance in front of an audience of millions to get his own back. And didn’t he, didn’t we, enjoy it.
1) Marco van Basten Holland v USSR, 1988
This isn’t just the best goal at the Euros, I think it’s the best goal scored in tournament football. The Dutch in 1988 were in the process of reinventing football much like their 70s counterparts did. With a team full of pace, power and skill, they ripped up the tournament and took home the Oranje’s first major trophy, something Cruyff et al could never manage.
It’s easy to forget they lost the first game (when van Basten was on the bench) but destroyed England (when van Basten scored a hat trick), beat West Germany in West Germany (when van Basten scored the winner). There’s a theme here.
In the final against the USSR (that’s Russia for you young’uns), Holland were already 1 – 0 up, when Mühren curled a beautiful cross from the left. Don’t underestimate just how beautiful it is. It was a first time strike that was perfection, but will forever be consigned to history as the floor of the Sistine Chapel – a thing of beauty that no one ever looks at – thanks to Marco van Basten’s screamer.
There’s not a huge amount I can say about the finish either, just watch and admire it. And watch the manager, Rinus Michels, react too. Remember this guy had coached Cruyff and still looked like this was the greatest thing he’d seen happen on a patch of grass. And check the reaction of Rinat Dassaev, the man voted world’s best goalkepper in 1988, as he stands and admires, in a state of shock, what’s just happened.
It’s truly amazing.
*Entirely my opinion