Italy are too good a team and Gareth Southgate too shrewd a manager for there to be much complacency among the England team and coaching staff ahead of the Euro 2020 final. But just in case there is any complacency at all, this brief history of the worst defeats in a major final by a football team playing at home, which encompasses both club football and international football, should dispel it completely. These five teams were convinced they couldn’t lose on home turf, but lose they duly did.
Here then, in ascending order, are the five worst home final defeats ever.
Five Teams That Lost Major Finals at Home
5. 2002 Copa del Rey Final (Santiago Bernabeu Stadium) – Real Madrid 1-2 Deportivo La Coruña
This was the 100th staging of the Copa del Rey and it was held at Real Madrid’s home ground, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. That decision is not as bizarre as it might seem at first glance to English football fans. Spain, like most countries in continental Europe, does not have a national stadium that is equivalent to Wembley, so the hosting of the Copa del Rey is rotated between the nation’s biggest grounds, found in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the fact that Real Madrid were playing at home made them strong favourites against Deportivo, especially for such a historic match.
Despite that, Deportivo won 2-1, taking a 2-0 lead through midfielder Sergio and striker Diego Tristán before Real legend Raúl got one back. However, neither Raúl nor any of the other Galacticos in Real’s team could get the equaliser. In Spain, it was seen as such a stunning and historic home loss that it was actually compared to the number one entry on this list. The only consolation for Real was that just over two months later they won an even bigger final – the Champions League final, at Hampden Park, against Bayer Leverkusen. Similarly, if England should lose to Italy on Sunday, they should console themselves with the thought that they will still have the World Cup to go for next year in Qatar.
4. 2012 Champions League Final (Allianz Arena) – Bayern Munich 1-1 Chelsea (Chelsea Win 4-3 on Penalties)
“Our City. Our Stadium. Our Cup.” It was a slogan that said it all, a summation of supposed Teutonic footballing supremacy, which was made to look very foolish indeed when Bayern Munich lost on penalties to Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final. Bayern are the only team in the thrity-year history of the Champions League to have reached a final at their home stadium, although Roma had achieved it nearly thirty years earlier in the era of the European Cup. Bayern really should have learned from Roma’s experience that supposed home bankers can go awry, because just as Roma lost to Liverpool on penalties in 1984, so Bayern ultimately succumbed to Chelsea on spot-kicks in 2012. Of course, if Arjen Robben had scored the single penalty that Bayern were awarded in extra-time, the match would never have gone to a penalty shootout, but he didn’t, it did, and Didier Drogba duly thumped home the deciding penalty to give Chelsea, not Bayern, the biggest prize in club football.
3. 2004 European Championship Final (Estádio da Luz) – Portugal 0-1 Greece
If the above two examples from the club game are not sufficient, or somehow deemed irrelevant, then England can look at the top three entries on this list to see how even international teams can lose major finals at home. Remarkably, two of the last four European Championship finals have seen the host nation competing at their home ground, or at least on home soil, and somehow they still lost.
In 2004, Portugal lost the Euro 2004 final to an ultra-defensive Greece at Benfica’s Estádio da Luz. They really should have been forewarned, as they had already lost to Greece once in the tournament, going down 2-1 in its opening match in Porto. However, having fought their way back from that disappointment to reach the final, defeating Iberian rivals Spain, England and Holland en route, they foolishly thought that lightning could not strike twice. Unfortunately for them, it did, as Angelos Charisteas struck a 57th-minute winner that the tournament hosts just could not recover from.
If there is one lesson in particular for England in 2021 to learn from Portugal in 2004, it is to get to the final early. Portugal didn’t, instead embarking on what appeared to be a city-wide tour of Lisbon before the final even took place, with the result that the team appeared completely drained of energy for the match itself. If Gareth Southgate and his players have to sleep at Wembley overnight on Saturday, that is still infinitely preferable to risking a similar fate to Portugal in 2004.
2. 2016 European Championship Final (Stade de France) – France 0-1 Portugal
Many French football fans believe that the best team at Euro 2020 will not be in the final this weekend, because that team – their national side – was eliminated in the last 16 by Switzerland on penalties. On the one hand, that may seem to fans of other nations, particularly England, like so much Gallic arrogance. On the other hand, it is an argument that can be justified, because France, the reigning World Champions, could already have done the ‘International Double’ of European Championship and World Cup if they had won the Euros on home soil in 2016.
Instead, Portugal, even without an injured Cristiano Ronaldo who had to retire from the final early on, won the match, staging a defensive rearguard a la Greece in 2004, before eventually breaking away in extra time to score the winner through Eder – not (obviously) the great Brazilian winger of the 1980s but his namesake, who had previously been a largely unused substitute at Swansea City. Nevertheless, the Portuguese Eder achieved what the Brazilian original never managed, by scoring the winning goal to secure his country a continental Championship, in the process stunning the Stade de France and indeed the entire nation de France.
1. 1950 World Cup Final (Maracana Stadium) – Brazil 1-2 Uruguay
And so we come to the great-grandaddy of home final defeats, the one that all the others on this list have been compared to and the one that is still referred to in Brazil, more than 70 years on, simply as ‘The Defeat’. It came when Brazil lost the World Cup final at home to their far smaller neighbour (at least in population, if not in footballing achievement), Uruguay.
The final irony, as it were, was that Brazil did not even need to win the match. Indeed, the 1950 World Cup did not actually have a ‘final’, as such, because – remarkably – there was instead a “final” group phase. Consequently, Brazil, having won their earlier matches in that group phase against Spain and Sweden comfortably, only needed a draw against Uruguay to win their first-ever World Cup. And when they took the lead just after half-time, it seemed that the World Cup was theirs to lose. But lose it they duly did, as Schiaffino and Ghiggia of Uruguay scored two late goals. And the Uruguay winner was at least partly the result of a mistake by Brazil’s goalkeeper Barbosa, who later claimed that that single error had ruined his life, as he was never forgiven by his compatriots, even after Brazil won three World Cups out of four between 1958 and 1970.
Whatever happens on Sunday night between England and Italy, it is to be hoped that neither Jordan Pickford nor Gianluigi Donnarumma, nor anyone else who makes a decisive mistake, suffers such a fate. Nevertheless, there can be no doubting the enduring ignominy of losing a major final at home, especially a major international final. England may be the favourites for the Euro 2020 final, because of home advantage, but by the same token Italy will not face the unique pressure of playing a final at home. It all makes for the most fascinating of contests. Hopefully, it will be a fitting finale to one of the greatest ever international tournaments and arguably the greatest European Championship ever.