The best performances in UEFA European Championship history
The UEFA European Championship provides one of the biggest international stages for the continent’s best talents to shine, and there is no greater pride than pulling on your country’s jersey and creating history.
Here are the five greatest individual performances in the history of the Euros.
5. Ashley Cole (Euro 2004 Quarter-final)
Cristiano Ronaldo was still a teenager in 2004 and was fresh off the back of his £12m move to Manchester United. Although nowhere near the beast he is today, he was still supremely talented and on a Portugal team that also featured the attacking talents of Luis Figo, Deco, Postiga, and Nuno Gomes.
But Ashley Cole was arguably at his peak in an England jersey at this tournament and put in one of his best-ever displays on a football pitch. The left back completely shut down Ronaldo’s threat and covered every inch of grass on the left side of the pitch as he nullified the Portuguese threat. He also cleared the ball off the line as England started to struggle in extra time.
The game ended 2-2, and Cole topped off an excellent performance by coolly slotting his penalty home in the following shoot-out. Ricardo Carvalho was awarded Man of the Match, but Cole turned in an all-time great performance, and he didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
4. Andres Iniesta (Euro 2012 Final)
Spain became the first team in history to score four goals in a European Championship final and this was the third successive international honor on the spin for a once-in-a-lifetime Spanish side that had won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
Iniesta was at the heart of this golden generation in Spain, and had pulled the strings throughout Euro 2012. A Man of the Match performance against Italy was followed by two assists against Ireland, one against Croatia, and another against France. The semi-final with Portugal ended goalless, but Iniesta slotted home a penalty in the shoot-out as Spain reached the final.
212 – Xavi (212) and Iniesta (207) made more passes into the final third than any other players at Euro 2012. Balón.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) November 30, 2012
While he wasn’t directly involved in any of the four goals, Iniesta pulled the strings in the final as the Italians were left mesmerized by the little magician. Iniesta ran the middle of the park and appeared to have the ball on a string for 90 minutes as he single-handedly helped dismantle Italy.
He picked up the Man of the Match in the final, and was crowned Player of the Tournament.
3. Francesco Toldo (Euro 2000 Semi-final)
Francesco Toldo was a superb goalkeeper in his own right but didn’t have much international experience, such was Italy’s quality at the position. But ahead of Euro 2000, Angelo Peruzzi withdrew from the squad and Gianluigi Buffon broke his hand, meaning Toldo was thrust into the spotlight.
Despite a mistake in the opening group game against Turkey, manager Dino Zoff stuck with Toldo, and it proved to be an inspired choice when it came to the semi-final with the Netherlands. The Dutch were the tournament hosts, and hot favorites for the competition. It all looked to be going to plan when Gianluca Zambrotta was sent off after 34 minutes, leaving Italy with 10 men.
The Netherlands were awarded a first-half penalty, but Toldo pulled off a remarkable save to tip Frank de Boer’s spot kick around the post. The Dutch were awarded another penalty just after half-time, but this time Patrick Kluivert hit the post.
Italy were under pressure throughout the game, but Toldo pulled off a series of remarkable saves before the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Incredibly, the keeper then saved another Frank de Boer effort and a penalty from Paul Bosvelt, while Jaap Stam blazed over the bar after being goaded by Toldo. Kluivert was the only one to score as Italy won the shoot-out 3-1.
The Netherlands had six penalties in total in this match, and scored just one as Toldo made history.
2. Jean-Francois Domergue (Euro 84 Semi-final)
Another left back makes this list in the shape of Jean-Francois Domergue. The Lyon defender only had 45 minutes of international experience, but came into the side in France’s opening group game after Manuel Amoros was sent off and suspended. Domergue kept his place in the team, and became a French legend in the semi-final with Portugal.
In the 24th minute, France had a free-kick, and everyone stood patiently waiting for Michel Platini to step up and take it. But Domergue decided he fancied it, and unleashed an incredible effort with the outside of his left boot that hit the top corner as Portuguese keeper Bento barely moved.
France – Portugal au bout du suspense :— Histoire De Sport (@histoire_dsport) August 28, 2020
Après un premier tour immaculé, la bande à Hidalgo se retrouve en demi-finales de son Euro (1984). Une élimination à ce stade ne serait pas seulement vécue comme une déception, mais comme un échec.
Le coup de Jean-François Domergue : 1-0. pic.twitter.com/3EFmR7N6EQ
Portugal mounted a comeback, equalizing after 74 minutes, and then took a 2-1 lead in extra time. But with six minutes remaining, Domergue started another attack up the left-hand side. The ball came to Le Roux, who saw his shot blocked, and then Platini went down looking for a penalty. Before he could appeal the ball fell for Domergue, who fired into the roof of the net.
Platini scored the winner and France went on to win Euro 84. Incredibly, Domergue only played a handful of more games for his country and never scored again, but this match made him a legend.
1. Kim Vilfort (Euro 92 Semi-final and Final)
The story of Denmark in 1992 is well told. They weren’t meant to be in the tournament to start with, let alone win it, and it has become one of the great underdog tales. But Kim Vilfort’s story is particularly special.
Vilfort’s daughter, Line, was fighting leukaemia, and was deteriorating during the tournament. He went home to be with his family, but after Denmark got to the semi-final with Holland, Vilfort’s family encourage Kim to return to the squad.
Vilfort put in an incredible 120 minutes, battling Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, and Ruud Gullit in the heart of midfield as the Danes formed a resolute barrier in front of their five-man defence. The game ended 2-2 and Vilfort, drained physically and emotionally, was still strong enough to score a penalty in the shoot-out.
After the game he left the squad to be with his daughter, but again his family sent him back for the final. Vilfort scored Denmark’s second goal as the Danes shocked Germany 2-0 in the Euro 92 final. It was a remarkable achievement, and an incredible performance given the extreme and tragic circumstances Kim was dealing with.