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Top Three Most Memorable UEFA European Football Championship Openers

Top Three Most Memorable UEFA European Football Championship Openers

On Friday night, the eyes of the footballing world will be on Munich as Germany face Scotland in the opening match of Euro 2024. This summer is the 17th edition of the European Championships so, ahead of the big kick-off at Allianz Arena, we’re looking back at three of the most memorable Euro tournament openers in the history of the competition.

Three Memorable Euro Tournament Openers

Three Memorable Euro Tournament Openers: Euro 2004: Portugal 1-2 Greece

Without wanting to denigrate the two opening fixtures we’ve got coming up below, this is the most memorable in our view, not just for what happened but for what it represents.

It’s 2004 and we’re in Portugal, where the host nation have something of a golden generation, featuring a teenaged Cristiano Ronaldo, Ballon d’Or winner Luís Figo, Rui Costa and six members of the Porto side that had just won the Champions League under José Mourinho.

Led by Luiz Felipe Scolari, who’d masterminded Brazil’s World Cup glory two years earlier, they’ll face Greece in this opener, a side who’ve qualified for a first Euros in 24 years and have never won a single match at a major tournament before.

So, an easy home win right? Wrong!

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Giorgos Karagounis breaks the deadlock from long-range after just seven minutes before, against all odds, Angelos Basinas doubles Greece’s lead from the penalty spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo, on his Euro debut, pulls one back in stoppage time, but it’s too little too late, as Greece pull off a hugeshock at Estádio do Dragão.

After that, Portugal won their two subsequent group fixtures to finish top, while the Greeks failed to beat either Spain or Russia, sneaking through at the expense of the Spaniards by goals-scored, the fifth tiebreaker.

22 days after this opener, the pair would meet again in the final in Lisbon, with the hosts having overcome England and Netherlands – while Otto Rehhagel’s team had battled to 1-0 victories over holders France and Czech Republic, the latter via a lesser-spotted silver goal.

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Having learnt their lessons from the curtain raiser in Porto, Portugal surely wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Well, whatever Portuguese for déjà vu is, those inside Estádio da Luz experienced that and more, as Angelos Charisteas’ header secured Greece’s unlikely triumph.

It would be quite the story if this summer’s opening game between Germany and Scotland was repeated in the final in Berlin.

Euro 2016: France 2-1 Romania

Fast forward to Euro 2016, and a similar scenario is at play, with a whole nation expecting that hosts France will go all the way, hoping to relive the summer of ’98 when they won the World Cup for the very first time, also on home soil.

Didier Deschamps’ side commence their quest for glory at the Stade de France, bursting with excitement, while Romania, who’ve not won a Euros match since 2000, should be perfect, cannon-fodder opposition.

Well, the party can start when, on the hour mark, Olivier Giroud breaks the deadlock, heading beyond Ciprian Tătărușanu.

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Flags are waving and la Marseillaise is echoing around the Saint-Denis night sky, for seven minutes that is, until Patrice Evra trips up Bogdan Stancu, who gets up and converts the subsequent spot-kick.

Just as an underwhelming 1-1 draw seems inevitable, Dimitri Payet cuts in on his left foot – and unleashes an absolute rocket into the top corner, snatching victory for Les Bleus in the final minute of normal time.

As had been the case 12 years earlier, the hosts would get to the final and suffer a heartbreaking defeat, this time Portugal playing the role of party-poopers, although France would win the World Cup two years later, which has to be some consolation.

This opening match in Paris’ northern suburbs has a similar dynamic to Friday’s clash in Munich, with a host nation juggernaut taking on a rank outsider suggesting, even if Germany does beat Scotland, it’s unlikely to be straight-forward.

Euro 2020: Italy 3-0 Turkey

Looking back at the most recent European Championships, the opener itself wasn’t a classic, but that’ll always be remembered for what it represented.

Euro 2020, of course, had been delayed a year due to Covid-19, with everyone enduring over 12 months of being stuck inside, while football had been more about fulfilling fixtures rather than entertainment, with perpetual, soulless matches taking place behind closed doors.

For many, the Euros was a symbolic beginning of the end of the pandemic times starting with the opening ceremony, at which tenor Andrea Bocelli performed Nessun Dorma providing all Italia ’90 aficionados with some much-craved nostalgia.

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The game, taking place at Stadio Olimpico in Rome, was the start of a pan-continental Euros, one of Michel Platini’s more left-field ideas, which worked very well in Covid-times, with 11 cities in 11 nations taking on the heightened burden of hosting fixtures.

By full time, the vast majority of the 13,000 at the Olimpico left delighted, as Italy cruised to a 3-0 victory, swatting aside a Turkey team who many tipped as dark-horses but would instead lose all three group games, scoring just a solitary goal.

All the talk afterwards was about how this Italy team looked pretty good, and it turns out they were, winning all three group games, knocking out Austria, Belgium and then Spain, before defeating England on penalties at Wembley to hoist the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft for the first time in 53 years.

Following a tournament in problematic Russia, a covid-ravaged Euros and a winter World Cup in Qatar, many feel as though Euro 2024 is the first ‘proper tournament’ we’ve had since France eight years ago, hence why so many are excited for the action to begin on Friday night.


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