The biggest upsets in Euro history

Profile Picture: Josh Powell

May 13th, 2021

Football is a funny old game.

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.

Here are five of the best.

5. 1992 group stage: Sweden 2, England 1

England was incredibly close to the World Cup final in 1990, but went out on penalties to West Germany in the semis. Two years later, and under new manager Graham Taylor, things took a turn, and the worst was yet to come against Sweden.

Two scoreless draws, against Denmark and France, were uninspiring, but the Three Lions still could have made a semifinal if they defeated Sweden. David Platt put them up, 1-0, after just four minutes, and it all looked rosy.

But six minutes after halftime, Jan Eriksson equalized from a corner, and with a half-hour of the game left, Taylor took off England star Gary Lineker. Lineker only needed one more goal to equal the national record, but with England needing a goal, the manager took off one of England's greatest strikers, and he never played for his country again.

Denmark took a surprise lead against France late in the other group game, so England only needed to hold the draw. But Tomas Brolin had other ideas.

England was out, and Taylor lost his job. “Swedes 2-1 Turnips” was the headline the next day.

4. 2004 group stage: Latvia 0, Germany 0

Latvia made its Euro debut in 2004, and after a 2-1 loss in the opening group game against the Czech Republic, next came the Germans.

Germany was not at the very height of its powers but still made the final of the World Cup two years earlier and was a big favorite to see off lowly Latvia.

Germany had 65% of possession and dominating the shot count, 22-5, but couldn’t find the breakthrough. And it could’ve been even better, as Lativan striker Maris Verpakovskis had two appeals for a penalty, which in the days of VAR could easily have been given.

Neither team qualified from the group, and while Latvia manager Aleksandrs Starkovs called it a "great result, proving our strength and spirit”, it wasn’t the same for German coach Rudi Voller, who resigned.

3. 2016 Round of 16: Iceland 2, England 1

This was England's worst humiliation since the 1950 World Cup. It cost manager Roy Hodgson his job and was a disaster for the country. Iceland was ranked 34th in the world and had a population of just 330,000.

Wayne Rooney gave England the lead, after just four minutes, from the penalty spot, but it took less than a minute for Iceland to equalize, as Ragnar Sigurdsson bundled the ball home after a long throw-in.

England’s defensive woes continued just 12 minutes later, as Joe Hart let a Kolbeinn Sigthorsson shot go through his hands. The next 75 minutes were fairly even, as England failed to mount a serious comeback.

The shameful defeat caused fans hurled their shirts and flags at the players after the game.

2. 1992 final: Denmark 2, Germany 0

A month before the 1992 Euro final, Denmark wasn't even in the tournament. Yugoslavia was disqualified, so the runner-up in qualifying, Denmark, got in.

A 78th-minute goal from Lars Elstrup against France in the final group game was a surprise in itself and put Denmark in a very unlikely semifinal against the reigning European champions, the Netherlands. That game ended 0-0 and Peter Schmeichel saved Marco van Basten’s penalty to shock the continent and put Denmark into the final.

The biggest shock was still to come, as Denmark then beat the reigning world champions in the final. John Jensen and Kim Vilfort grabbed the goals and somehow the Danes' defense did not break from the relentless German attack.

1. 2004 final: Greece 1, Portugal 0

Euro 2004 was held in Portugal, and the host nation fancied its chances.

Led by legend and captain Luis Figo, the Portuguese side featured Deco, Pauleta, and a young Cristiano Ronaldo in attack, and was managed by 2002 World Cup winner Luiz Scolari.

Heading into the final in Lisbon, Portugal was a huge favorite against Greece, which was +8000 to win the final before the tournament started.

Greece had played six games in major tournaments before Euro 2004 — five losses and a draw.

But the Greeks had a game plan and stuck with it. Defending deep and pressing high, they chased, hassled, and got into the faces of their opponents. They wasted time and deliberately frustrated the host side.

Angelo Charisteas headed home to send Greek fans wild and the team held on in a 95-minute battle.