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Biggest shocks in EURO history

Sat 20 November 2021 | 14:30

The European Championship has had plenty of surprises and shocks during its 60-plus years, from the shocking Switzerland’s win over France in Euro 2020 to Iceland's unexpected heroics against England in Euro 2016. Read on to find out more about the biggest shocks in EURO history.

Many believe that the Azzurri were worthy champions and played the best football throughout the Euro 2020 tournament. Other than Spain in the semi-finals, no team got the better of Italy at Euro 2020, which isn’t a surprise given that they are the masters of the game.

It was beautiful, touching, and uplifting, so soon after a near-tragedy. Worried fans inside the Parken Stadium were waiting for updates after Denmark midfielder,

Christian Eriksen

, collapsed on the field during the game against Finland when supporters from the Finnish contingent broke the silence.

Reaching the semifinals didn’t appear beyond the Danes at the start of Euro 2020. It certainly did, however, after losses in their first two group games and with their most important player, Eriksen, out of the tournament while he recovered from cardiac arrest.

But a 2-1 loss to England in the semifinals, following the contentious awarding of a penalty in extra time, ended the fairytale. Denmark’s players headed home distraught but as heroes to many soccer fans.

When Kylian Mbappe saw his penalty pushed aside by Switzerland goalkeeper

Yann Sommer

to end the shootout and consign France to a round-of-16 exit, it capped an underwhelming — some might say disappointing — tournament for a player widely regarded as the new superstar of world soccer.

The striker didn’t score in four games at Euro 2020, which he started uncomfortably after he went public on Day 3 of the tournament about a feud with teammate Olivier Giroud. He didn’t get any better.

Biggest shocks in EURO history:

The followings are a review of the best, worst, and downright strange in the European Championship history.

We look back at some of the most eyebrow-raising results in the competition's history and discover that the unbelievable comes true regularly at the UEFA European Championship finals.

Which shock is the biggest in European Championship history?

Read on to find out but remember that this isn't a comprehensive list and it is in no particular order.

Switzerland’s win over France - Euro 2020

Switzerland's penalty shootout victory over world champions France was one of the greatest games in the history of the European Championship and one of the

top

biggest shocks in EURO history

.

Switzerland defeated world champions France 5-4 on penalties in the last 16 of Euro 2021 as

Kylian Mbappe

missed the decisive spot-kick in the shootout following a thrilling 3-3 draw in Bucharest.

Switzerland’s win over France in Euro 2020 is the latest in a long list of the biggest shocks in EURO history. The last time Switzerland were in the quarter-finals of a major tournament was the 1954 World Cup that they hosted. They had not progressed through a knockout game since the 1938 World Cup.

France started badly and finished badly, letting a brave and spirited Switzerland team get the best of them in a penalty shootout after regular and extra time ended in a 3-3 draw.

Entering the tournament and round as outright favorites, France played out a six-goal thriller at the National Arena in Romania before being beaten 4-5 on penalties.

To everyone’s surprise, it was Switzerland who got the early breakthrough after Haris Seferovic beat Hugo Lloris with a sumptuous header to score the opener. The Swiss then missed a penalty in the second half, leaving the door open for a French comeback.

Le Bleus capitalized on the penalty miss by the Swiss and made a fantastic comeback, moving into a 3-1 lead through a Karim Benzema brace and a long-ranger by

Paul Pogba

.

The Red Crosses, however, scored two goals in the final nine minutes of normal time to force the game into extra time and then penalties, where Kylian Mbappe missed his spot-kick as Switzerland booked their place in the quarter-finals.

Kylian Mbappe, charged with taking the fifth penalty to extend the shootout following a 3–3 draw through regulation and extra time, saw his effort saved by Yann Sommer, with the Swiss goalkeeper diving to his right to paw the ball away and a moment that instantly became iconic.

Switzerland’s victory over France on penalties in the round of 16 of UEFA Euro 2020 will go down as one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history.

Manager Vladimir Petković and skipper

Granit Xhaka

hailed the achievement of the first Swiss side to reach the last eight of a major tournament since they hosted the World Cup in 1954.

"No normal side would have come back from 3-1 down against the world champions," Petković said.

Xhaka said they had written a new chapter, which was particularly satisfying after the stinging criticism that followed their 3-0 loss to

Italy

in Rome on June 16 in their second Group A match.

"I've always said this team deserved a lot more than you can read," he said after the match.

"There was so much discussion about this team. They said we were arrogant but I can guarantee you one thing, we really wrote a history.

"All Swiss people can be really proud. We achieved something that is impossible to describe with words.

"I had a positive feeling and in my opinion, we played a perfect first half. Then we missed a penalty and conceded three goals. This was a slap in the face but we committed mistakes.

"But that we still turned it around against a team such as France, with all the top players in their ranks, is just unbelievable."

Xhaka said even at 3-1 down, he believed a miraculous comeback was still possible.

"It was the 65th or the 68th minute, I looked up at the stadium clock, it was a corner against us and I said to Yann [Sommer], we have to wake up or this will all be over.

"It was too early to give up, we had 25 minutes left and I knew when we pulled it back to 3-2, we could go on and equalize.

"We were the better team and we wanted to win the match then in extra time. Then, in the end, we were lucky that we have a great goalkeeper to save the penalty."

Petković, who has coached the Swiss over the last seven years, said his side had reached a new level.

"I will be asking for the same from them again," he said of their quarter-final with Spain in St Petersburg.

Germany 0-2 Denmark - 1992 Euro final

Denmark did not qualify for EURO '92 and were drafted in just two weeks before it kicked off when Yugoslavia withdrew; a month later they were European champions, John Jensen and Kim Vilfort scoring in the final to complete their improbable journey. "We couldn't fail because there were no expectations," Vilfort said.

Denmark defeated Germany 2-0 in the Euro 92 final to win their first ever European title. The victory was definitely one of the

biggest shocks in EURO history

. The Germans came into Euro 92 having already won the tournament on two occasions and, with players such as Jurgen Klinsmann, Stefan Effenberg, and Matthias Sammer in their ranks, were considered heavy favorites.

Denmark have participated in nine UEFA European Championships, and have won the tournament once.

Not much was expected from Denmark in Euro 1992 but they finished second in Group A with only one win in three games, which was a 2-1 victory over France. The Danes then had to rely on a penalty shootout win against the

Netherlands

in the semi-final.

Squaring off against the mighty Germans in the final, midfielder John Jensen broke the deadlock in the 18th minute before Kim Vilfort’s tame effort made it two 12 minutes from full time. Germany could only watch as Denmark defended their lead to lift the title.

The Red and White weren’t really contenders to even play in Euro 1992, as they had failed to qualify for the competition. Their participation only happened after war-torn Yugoslavia were disqualified and the rest as they say is history.

Despite a strong start by Germany, goals in either half by John Jensen and Kim Vilfort, and a stoic display from goalkeeper

Peter Schmeichel

, ensured Denmark pulled off one of the greatest surprises in international football by winning the 1992 UEFA European Championship.

Germany began as they meant to continue, dominating their opponents and forcing Schmeichel into early action, the Manchester United goalkeeper saving from Stefan Reuter and Guido Buchwald. Denmark had barely emerged from behind the barricades when they scored against the run of play.

Peter Schmeichel,

Denmark

goalkeeper commented, "I think, beyond anything, it really sank in when we were in Copenhagen in the town hall for the celebrations with the rest of Denmark. That was unbelievable, truly unbelievable.

At this point you're thinking: 'Christ, we actually did this, it's not a dream.' I don't think we'd had many big results in the times before 1992. We'd had the odd one, but there wasn't a mentality in sport that you could actually go out and say 'we want to win this, this is our target' because people would look at you."

Portugal 0-1 Greece - 2004 Euro final

The quote from England legend Jimmy Greaves often rings true — particularly when you look at some of the craziest and most unexpected results in UEFA European Championship history.

Played every four years, the biggest tournament on the continent can throw up some shocking scorelines and incredible underdog victories.

Being the host nation,

Portugal

were the favorites when they made it to the final of Euro 2004.

Greece

, on the other hand, were the underdogs as it was only their third appearance in a major tournament.

Greece’s way to the final included several upset wins, but nothing compares to their heroics in the final. They had beaten reigning champions France in the quarter-final, and got the better of Czech Republic in the semi-final.

Led by Luis Figo, Portugal had a superior team on paper, but it just wasn’t meant to be for them. The Portuguese attempted 16 shots on goal but only five of them were on target. Greece, on the other hand, scored with their only attempt on target.

The winning goal came a mere three minutes before the hour mark when Greece forward Angelos Charisteas rose highest to score the only goal of the match. The unthinkable then happened as the home crowd were silenced and the Greeks emerged triumphant.

"The opponent was technically better than us, but we took advantage of our chances," said Otto Rehhagel after his side had silenced the home crowd in Lisbon.

Angelos Charisteas's header was enough to defeat the overwhelming favorites - who included a young Cristiano Ronaldo. The Greeks really made football history.

England 0-1 Yugoslavia - Euro 1968 semi-final

World Cup winners two years earlier, England faced Yugoslavia for a place in the final of the 1968 European Championship in Italy. But it was not to be for Alf Ramsey's men this time around.

A squad featuring Bobby Moore,

Bobby Charlton

, Gordon Banks, and Geoff Hurst had hopes of another trophy. But Dragan Dzajic fired past Banks in the 86th minute to end their hopes of another memorable triumph.

Showing tremendous ball control for someone so tall and well built, he beat three men with bewildering sleight of foot before being stopped by a fourth. When a long ball came in from the left, he stole behind the admirable Bobby Moore, chested it down and hammered it high past Gordon Banks in the England goal.

Dragan Džajić, Yugoslavia's world-class winger, snatched the goal that won this ill-tempered European Nations Cup semi-final after Bobby Moore had failed to reach a high cross five minutes from the end. It was a bruising, angry battle in which the Yugoslavs kicked anything that moved, and in the final moments Alan Mullery became the first player ever sent off while playing for England.

He got his marching orders for retaliating after being on the receiving end of a brutal tackle by Trivić. By today's no-contact rules at least two players from either side would have been sent for early baths long before Mullery made his miserable exit. “It was the worst moment of my career,” he said later.

“I felt as if I had not only let the team down but also my wife and family. The player I kicked out at had been hacking at me throughout the game and I just lost my temper. To be the first England player ever sent off is a record I will hate having to live with,” he added.

England 1-2 Iceland - round of 16 Euro 2016

It took Ragnar Sigurdsson fewer than 120 seconds to cancel out Wayne Rooney's fourth-minute penalty, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson's first-half finish and a measured second-half display earning the debutants a miraculous win. "They thought this would be a walk in the park," said goalscorer Sigurdsson. How wrong England were.

Iceland’s 2-1 win over England in the round of 16 of Euro 2016 has gone down as one of the most humiliating defeats for the Three Lions and one of

the biggest surprises in the history of EURO

. Their then manager Roy Hodgson resigned minutes after the game as emotions poured in from both camps.

This victory for the Nordic minnows was an example of their sheer determination as they had to first overcome a

Wayne Rooney

goal before scoring the winner. Furthermore, the fact that Iceland were playing in their first major international tournament made that win all the more spectacular.

The first goal of the match came as early as the fourth minute when Wayne Rooney converted from the spot. A mere two minutes later, Iceland got right into the game through Ragnar Sigurdsson before Kolbeinn Sigthorsson capitalized on Joe Hart’s error to score the winner.

Greece's final win against hosts Portugal in 2004 has set the bar high for shock results at a EURO.

The Czech Republic's 2-0 victory over the previously fancied Netherlands provided perhaps the biggest surprise of UEFA EURO 2020 so far, but was it a bone fide shock?

Euro 2016, was the most unpredictable in the tournament's history, with 29% of matches being won by the underdog, a tally that included Portugal's victory over hosts France in the final.

Portugal’s triumph over France was a continuation of one of the big trends of the tournament as the odds were upset at Euro 2016 again and again.

Fernando Santos’ side were the big beneficiaries, making the most of their rather limited squad to orchestrate a huge shock, even with Cristiano Ronaldo missing for most of the match.

But perhaps even more memorable than the exploits of Portugal were those of

Wales

and

Iceland

before them - as well as the success of the likes of Northern Ireland and Hungary in making the last 16.

Over the course of its long history, the competition has seen several such shocks like the Czech Republic beating Italy in Euro 1996 or Sweden beating England 2-1 in Euro 1992. On that note, we take a look at three of the biggest upsets in UEFA Euro.

"We all believed. The rest of the world didn't but we did."

Those were the words of defender Kari Arnason, after he and his Iceland team-mates recorded, statistically speaking, the most unlikely result in the competition's history and condemned Roy Hodgson's England to surely their most humiliating defeat in any competition.

In what was described by former England striker

Alan Shearer

as "the worst performance I've ever seen from an England team", Iceland came from behind to beat the Three Lions 2-1 in the last 16 in 2016.

Wayne Rooney's fourth-minute penalty suggested an easy evening lay ahead for England, but Ragnar Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson turned the game on its head within 14 minutes and the final whistle was swiftly followed by Hodgson's resignation.

England 0-1 Republic of Ireland -1988 group stage

The Republic of Ireland enjoyed an epic 1-0 win against England at Euro '88. However, England were favorites against a Republic of Ireland side making a historic first appearance in major final tournaments.

The absence of the injured Terry Butcher, however, put pressure on England's young central defenders, whose inexperience was exploited almost immediately.

"I don't think anybody in Ireland gave us a prayer," said Ray Houghton as he looked back on his nation's finals debut, which did not go by the form book. Houghton headed Jack Charlton's side into a sixth-minute lead, and they survived an England barrage thereafter thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Pat Bonner.

Kevin Moran took a free-kick and hit it long, Ireland's main mode of attack. Mark Wright moved out to the right to cover, though contrived only to get in Gary Stevens' way.

The ball fell to Tony Galvin, who hooked in a cross that Kenny Sansom inadvertently ballooned up in the air. John Aldridge headed it to

Liverpool

club-mate Ray Houghton, whose own header looped beyond Peter Shilton.

“England’s defensive deficiencies, in contrast to the Irish, were so widespread that even the full backs were coated with a sense of unease. They were not alone. For the opening 20 minutes, every member of Bobby Robson’s side was racked with nervous tension and discomfort. By the time they had relaxed, the damage was done,” The English press commented.

Sweden 2-1 England – 1992 group stage

England’s infamous defeat by the hosts, Sweden, in the 1992 European Championship is usually remembered for Gary Lineker’s surprise substitution and the “Swedes 2 Turnips 1” headline. For the former

Aston Villa

, Wolves and Watford winger it was also the end of his international career.

"That goal is always shown in Sweden and everywhere I go people ask me about it," said Thomas Brolin, reflecting on the strike that sent England home in 1992. England led after four minutes but the finals hosts kept believing, Brolin's 82nd-minute finish the coup de grace after Jan Eriksson had equalized.

Czech Republic 2-1 Italy - 1996 group stage

Defeated by Germany in their opener, the Czechs' fortunes turned in their second game. Enrico Chiesa canceled out Pavel Nedvěd's early opener, but Luigi Apollini's dismissal and Radek Bejbl's finish set them on course for the final. "Many, many things happened, and I enjoyed them all," recalled Karel Poborskyý.

Pavel Nedvěd gave the Czechs a dream start to help forget their 2-0 defeat by Germany five days earlier, yet Enrico Chiesa restored parity for the Azzurri. However, soon after Apolloni's moment of madness, Radek Bejbl restored his side's advantage, which they clung on to despite a bold second-half onslaught from Arrigo Sacchi's men.

Latvia 0-0 Germany - 2004 group stage

Latvia lost 2-1 to the Czechs on their EURO debut but rallied to hold Germany, and even came close to an astonishing victory when Māris Verpakovskis raced clear moments before half-time. Coach Aleksandrs Starkovs called it a "historic result", adding with pride: "We proved the strength of our team spirit."

Unheralded Latvia produced a gritty performance of determination and endeavour to deny Germany and earn their first major tournament point in an entertaining goalless draw in UEFA EURO 2004 Group D.

The Baltic underdogs gallantly withstood constant second-half pressure, and could have even grabbed a shock win had Māris Verpakovskis taken a gilt-edged first-half chance. Germany dominated proceedings after the interval, but were ultimately frustrated as they failed to convert their chances.

West Germany 0-1 Spain - Euro 1984 group stage

Holders West Germany required only a point to progress to the semi-finals as group runners-up in 1984 - and they were certainly fancied to get it.

Spain had other ideas, however, as Antonio Maceda's 90th-minute goal stunned Jupp Derwall's side.

The late winner sent the Germans home and saw Spain clinch top spot before losing in the final to France.

Portugal 1-2 Greece - Euro 2004 group stage

One magical summer will never be forgotten in Greece, as the nation pulled off one of football's greatest shocks to win Euro 2004.

That final victory against hosts Portugal ranks as the most surprising result in a Euros final with only 24.5% chance of winning, but it fails to make the cut here.

That's because the unfancied Greeks had already beaten Luiz Felipe Scolari's men in their opening group game, as goals from Georgios Karagounis and Angelos Basinas sealed victory despite Cristiano Ronaldo's late response. Even then, nobody predicted what would follow. The win was truley among the

biggest shocks in EURO history

.

Ukraine 0-2 Northern Ireland - Euro 2016 group stage

"It is probably something that might not fully sink in for another 30 or 40 years."

That was Niall McGinn's view four years on from scoring his famous goal at Euro 2016 which, after Gareth McAuley's header, sealed a 2-0 victory over Ukraine. It was Northern Ireland's first win at a major finals since 1982.

That one group-stage victory was enough for Michael O'Neill's men to earn qualification for the knockout stages too.

CIS 0-3 Scotland - Euro 1992 group stage

"When you go out on that park today, you'll be doing something that no other Scottish player has ever done," Scotland head coach Andy Roxburgh said to his players before the nation's Euros debut in 1992.

After opening defeats by the Netherlands and Germany,

Scotland

were eliminated - but claimed a memorable first victory at the tournament against their final group opponents, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - formed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Paul McStay, Brian McClair and Gary McAllister earned a 3-0 victory to ensure Roxburgh's side left with their pride intact.

Netherlands 0-1 Denmark - Euro 2012 group stage

"We can say we are a little jealous of the Dutch team, that we are not in their shoes. They are the favorites. There is no doubt about that."

It appeared an honest statement by Denmark coach Morten Olsen at the time, and even Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk was lulled into admitting his side were favorites in 2012, but in hindsight it may all have been mind games.

The Netherlands - World Cup runners-up two years earlier - were stunned by Michael Krohn-Dehli's first-half strike, and went on to lose all three of their games.

Denmark, despite their surprise win, also failed to make the knockout stages.

Belgium 0-2 Turkey - Euro 2000 group stage

This is a great gift for the whole of Turkey,"

Turkey

coach Mustafa Denizli said. "This is the best achievement in 77 years of Turkish soccer history."

Denizli's elation followed Turkey's 2-0 defeat of Belgium at Euro 2000, which simultaneously sealed his nation's first ever appearance in the knockout stages of a major tournament, and eliminated the co-hosts.

Hakan Sukur scored both goals for the underdogs, who had taken only one point from their first two games.

Belgium 1-3 Wales - Euro 2016 quarter-final

"If I was a chairman of a Premier League club I would be making Hal Robson-Kanu my next signing," said former Wales forward John Hartson.

"What a goal. He sent Thomas Meunier for a cup of tea and a piece of toast with that turn."

The greatest night in Welsh football history ranks as the third greatest Euros shock of all-time, with Robson-Kanu's sensational turn and finish - as attested to by Hartson - the highlight of an unforgettable victory in 2016.

In Wales' first major tournament for 58 years, Chris Coleman's side came from a goal down to beat a talented

Belgium

3-1 and reach the semi-finals of a major tournament for the very first time.

Radja Nainggolan had put Belgium ahead with a strike from 25 yards, but goals from Ashley Williams, Robson-Kanu - who did not even have a club - and substitute Sam Vokes turned it around.

France 0-1 Greece - Euro 2004 quarter-final

Greece sensationally knocked out defending champions France with an incredible win in their Euro 2004 quarter-final.

Greece pulled off the biggest shock of UEFA EURO 2004 so far as they beat France for the first time in their history to reach the semi-finals. Angelos Charisteas' second-half header ended the holders' hopes of retaining their EURO trophy.

"This is the greatest moment in Greek football," declared match winner, Angelos Charisteas.

At the time it was a fair comment, as Otto Rehhagel's side booked their place in the semi-finals of Euro 2004 by dumping out holders France.

Les Bleus could offer no response to Charisteas' second-half header as the Greek's fairytale summer continued at the expense of a French side which boasted

Zinedine Zidane

, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry.

But Charisteas' comment soon became out of date - because there were even greater moments to come. Greece would go on to beat the Czech Republic 1-0 in the semi-final, before claiming their first and only major title, beating Portugal in Lisbon.

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