The most shocking moments in Euro history

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May 26th, 2021

Everybody loves a bit of drama. Whether it’s celebrity controversy, sporting outrage, or just a bit of gossip in your mate’s WhatsApp group, there isn’t anything better to get people talking. And the UEFA European Championship is no different.

One of the biggest international tournaments in the world has had its fair share of controversial moments, and here are our favorite five.

5. Ronald Koeman’s jersey antics at Euro 1988

The Netherlands was involved in a blockbuster semifinal at Euro 88, when the Dutch took on tournament host West Germany. There was a fierce rivalry between the two nations anyway, and this only escalated it, as the Dutch came from behind to win, 2-1, courtesy of a penalty from Ronald Koeman and a late goal from Marco van Basten.

As the fans celebrated wildly, Koeman swapped his jersey with rival Olaf Thon and then pretended to wipe his arse with it.

Incredibly, the defender avoided a ban or a fine, and was even unapologetic about it in interviews afterward, despite the outrage it caused.

Koeman played in the final a few days later, when the Netherlands defeated the Soviet Union, 2-0.

4. The 1996 Euro robbery

A lot of European Championship controversies involve a contentious call, and usually the host country benefits more than most. This was never more relevant than in England’s clash with Spain at Wembley in the Euro 1996 quarterfinal.

Spain dominated the contest, but Julio Salinas had a goal ruled out, even though the forward was clearly onside, before Jose Luis Caminero was bundled over in the area, but the referee waved play on. Atletico Madrid striker Kiko also had the ball in the net for the Spanish, but again the linesman’s flag was raised — albeit this time it was a close call.

In front of a sold-out Wembley, England held on to draw 0-0 and dumped the Spanish out on penalties.

Spanish striker Salinas told the media afterward that Spain not only played against 11 players, but 70,000 fans and three officials.

“It was impossible to win,” he said.

3. Polish president peeved at Euro 2008

The Spaniards may have been frustrated at Wembley — but at least their president didn’t get involved. That was exactly the case when Poland met Austria at Euro 2008.

In the group clash, Poland had a 1-0 lead deep into injury time, with host Austria facing an early elimination. In the 93rd minute, though, English referee Howard Webb felt that Marcin Wasilewski pulled the shirt of Austria’s Sebastian Prodl. Ivica Vastic stepped up to score the penalty, which kept Austria in the tournament and essentially eliminated Poland.

The Poles were fuming, and coach Leo Beenhakker claimed it was the worst decision he had seen in 43 years in the game. He said it was impossible to accept, and that was supported by Polish president Donald Tusk, who voiced his criticisms of the official. Webb suffered death threats and UEFA dropped him for the rest of the tournament.

2. The Portuguese meltdown at Euro 2000

Another controversial refereeing decision, another late penalty, and another nation in meltdown. Step forward Portugal at Euro 2000.

The Portuguese played France in the semifinals, a thrilling end-to-end contest that had the crowd on the edge of its seat throughout.

Nuno Gomes gave Portugal the lead in the first half, but Thierry Henry scored the equalizer just after the break. That’s how it stayed for the rest of the game and the majority of extra time.

With just three minutes left until penalties, David Trezeguet’s effort was saved by Portuguese keeper Vitor Baia and the ball fell for Sylvain Wiltord, whose goal-bound shot hit defender Abel Xavier on the arm. Referee Gunter Benko gave a corner, but on the advice of the linesman, changed his decision to a penalty.

It looks a certain penalty on replays, but Portugal was furious. Zinedine Zidane eventually scored the penalty to send France to the final, but Portugal continued the meltdown, and Gomes was even shown a red card after the final whistle.

Xavier claimed innocence immediately and told reporters his conscience was clear.

1. A convenient draw at Euro 2004

The biggest controversy comes down to Group C at Euro 2004.

Italy knew, if it defeated Bulgaria, it would qualify, as long as Sweden and Denmark didn’t finish in a 2-2 or higher scoring draw.

Italy bagged a 2-1 win against Bulgaria, but Nordic buddies Sweden and Denmark conveniently drew, 2-2, which meant they both qualified and Italy was dumped out. Denmark led, 2-1, thanks to a brace from Jon Dahl Tomasson, but with only a minute to go, Mattias Jonson popped up to equalize for Sweden.

The Italians were furious, and legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon claimed the match was fixed. But UEFA ruled that neither Sweden or Denmark had a case to answer, and it remains the single biggest controversy in the history of the European Championship.