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Top Five Greatest European Championships Upsets

Denmark European Champions IMAGO / WEREK

Since the first European Championships in 1960, there have been some big upsets at the European Championships. With Euro 2024 starting soon, we take a look back at just five of the biggest upsets that have had fans on the edge of their seats and wondering how they happened.

Read More: Top Five Greatest Games at The European Championships

Top Five Greatest European Championships Upsets

1988: England 0-1 Republic of Ireland

Following a decent World campaign in 1986 and an unbeaten qualification to Euro 88, England were one of the favourites to lift the trophy. The Republic of Ireland on the other hand were 50/1 outsiders with many believing they were only there to make up the numbers.

It took Ireland just six minutes to score. A ball into the box was not dealt with by England and Ray Houghton was in the right place to head the ball back across Peter Shilton into the goal. It sparked wild celebrations amongst players and fans alike.

England rallied and bombarded the Irish goal; however, they came up against goalkeeper Pat Bonner who performed heroics to keep his side in front. The Republic, in their first-ever tournament, would go on to draw with the Soviet Union and were denied a place in the semi-finals by a late goal against eventual winners Holland. England lost their next two games and went home humiliated.

1992: Germany 0-2 Denmark

Denmark had failed to qualify for the tournament and were a last-minute replacement for the disqualified Yugoslavia. They scraped through the group stage and needed penalties to defeat Holland in the semi-final. However, few gave them a chance against the World Cup winners Germany.

The Germans were expected to win but by now Denmark had built a fighting spirit amongst their squad and were not going to lie down for their opponents. On 18 minutes John Jenson shocked the world with a long-range effort to put the Danes a goal up. Peter Schmeichel was called into action a number of times as Germany pressed for an equaliser; however, late in the game, Kim Vilfort scored to seal the victory and stun fans around the world including those in their own country.

In one month, Denmark had gone from failure to qualify to champions of Europe.

2004: Portugal 0-1 Greece

Greece beating Portugal to win the European Championship is not just one of the greatest achievements in European Championship history but also in football history.

Not even their fans would have dreamt of coming even close to winning the tournament. Huge success would have been reaching the knockout stages but with Portugal and Spain in their group, even the most optimistic of Greece fans had little expectations.

Victory over Portugal and a draw with Spain was enough to see them into the knockout rounds. Two stubborn 1-0 victories over France and the Czech Republic saw a rematch of the first game against Portugal in the final. The hosts were odds-on favourites, Greece were huge underdogs and given almost no chance despite winning the first game.

Their stubborn performances from their previous games continued with Portugal unable to break down the Greek defence. When forward Angelos Charisteas gave Greece a shock 57th-minute winner, it silenced the home crowd and gave the underdogs a lead to hold onto once again. Despite Portugal trying everything to find an equaliser, Greece held on for an unlikely victory to make the impossible happen, lift the trophy and be crowned champions of Europe.

2016: England 1-2 Iceland

The Three Lions suffered humiliation at Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland with a population of just 330,000 who produced a massive shock. It was a defeat that would convince manager Roy Hodgson to hand in his resignation.

Despite taking a fourth-minute lead, England could not match the desire, work rate and commitment of their opponents. Wayne Rooney’s penalty was cancelled out just a minute later and on 18 minutes Iceland were deservedly ahead.

England attempted to get back into the game but could find no way through with manager Hodgson looking powerless to stop the inevitable defeat. At full-time, England players slumped to the ground while Iceland celebrated a famous victory.

2016: Wales 3-1 Belgium

The Welsh were playing in their first major tournament in 58 years and to say they over-achieved would be an understatement. With this famous win, Wales reached the semi-final of a tournament for the first time and they deserved to be there.

An end-to-end game saw Belgium take the lead but captain Ashley Williams equalised before halftime. When Hal Robson-Kanu, a striker without a club scored a Welsh wondergoal, celebrations in the stands reached levels never seen before.

Belgium pushed for an equaliser and Wales who five years prior were ranked 117th in the world had to withstand heavy pressure from the number two team in the world. However, the game was settled by substitute Sam Vokes’ header on 85 minutes to seal a famous win.

Former Wales forward John Hartson said: “If I was a chairman of a Premier League club I would be making Hal Robson-Kanu my next signing. What a goal. He sent Thomas Meunier for a cup of tea and a piece of toast with that turn.”


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