We’ve witnessed some great comebacks at Euro 2020, with two round of 16 ties, in particular, providing a captivating night of football.
Croatia looked dead and buried against Spain but, much to our elation, fought back valiantly to force extra-time. Later that night Switzerland went one better, stunning Les Bleus with a late show before dumping them out of the competition via the penalty spot.
For neutral fans watching those fightbacks was so cathartic.
Over the years the Euros have provided countless similar experiences. Whether it’s Michel Platini’s late brace in ‘84, the Czech Republic’s stunning fightback against the Netherlands in ‘04 or any number of Yugoslavian epics – remarkable recoveries are a Euros tradition.
Here are five of the greatest comebacks in European Championship history.
France 4-5 Yugoslavia (1960)
In the inaugural game of the European Championship France and Yugoslavia, two of Europe’s premier sides, produced the perfect advertisement for the game.
Having reached the semi-finals of the World Cup two years earlier Les Bleus were the tournament favourites. Yugoslavia had also impressed in Sweden – losing to eventual winners Brazil in the quarters.
Milan Galić put the visitors in front at the Parc des Princes, but France responded with goals from Jean Vincent, François Heutte and Maryan Wisniewski. Ante Žanetić pegged one back after the break, but Heutte promptly restored France’s two-goal cushion.
With 15 minutes remaining, Albert Batteux’s men capitulated – conceding three goals in five minutes!
Tomislav Knez’s volley handed Yugoslavia a lifeline, before a quick-fire brace from Dražan Jerković completed their unlikely comeback.
Yugoslavia held on to win the pulsating affair – a match that remains the competition’s highest-scoring game. What a shame there were just 26,000 spectators in attendance.
Yugoslavia 2-4 West Germany (1976)
Reigning World and European champions West Germany emerged victorious in this gripping semi-final thanks to a spectacular debut hat-trick.
With bona fide legends Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and Berti Vogts in their ranks, Die Mannschaft were expected to blitzkrieg their way to another title. In their path, with a 50,000-strong army of boisterous Serbs at their back, were hosts Yugoslavia.
Ante Mladinić’s side enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges and went two up thanks to Danilo Popivoda and the magnificent Dragan Džajić.
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Substitute Heinz Flohe fortuitously pulled one back, before Helmut Schön unleashed his secret weapon – 22-year old wunderkind Dieter Müller. The Köln striker had been in scintillating form that season, bagging 14 goals in 19 Bundesliga appearances.
With his first touch in international football he levelled the tie, planting a header past the statuesque Ognjаn Petrović. Deep into extra-time he put his team in front, and then tapped home his third to complete a stunning 27-minute hat-trick.
West Germany progressed, but lost the final against Czechoslovakia – the night Antonín Panenka scored that penalty. Nonetheless, Müller’s one man demolition job and that breathtaking turnaround remain iconic.
Yugoslavia 3-3 Slovenia (2000)
Euro 2000, a competition lauded for its entertainment factor, produced two of the most compelling comebacks on record – the first of which was a fiery affair between former compatriots.
This emotionally-charged battle of the Balkans turned the half-empty Stade du Pays de Charleroi into a cauldron of nationalistic pride. At times the 18,000 impassioned fans sounded more like 80,000.
Slovenia deservedly took the lead through Zlatko Zahovič’s stooping header and added a second when the Olympiacos attacker’s cross found Miran Pavlin’s head. A horrid mistake by Siniša Mihajlović sent Zahovič clear to score a third, then three minutes later Mihajlović compounded his error by getting dismissed for a petulant shove.
How Yugoslavia fought back from this position still boggles the mind.
When Slovenia failed to clear their lines ex-Aston Villa striker Milošević gave his side hope with a close-range finish. Drulović then curled in a delicious second and, three minutes later, the ten men were level – Milošević equalising with another tap in.
Yugoslavia survived a late scare to earn a remarkable point. Their recovery from a three-goal deficit, after going a man down, was a phenomenal achievement.
Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain (2000)
Eight days after their resurgent performance against Slovenia, Yugoslavia were involved in another classic – a seven goal thriller against José Antonio Camacho’s Spain.
Despite their rich array of attacking talent La Roja endured a nightmarish opening to the tournament. Only a win would do in this clash against the group leaders.
Spain fell behind and equalised twice, with goals from Barcelona-bound Alfonso and Pedro Munitis cancelling out strikes from Milošević and super-sub Dejan Govedarica.
This tetchy encounter had threatened to boil over and, on the hour mark, Slaviša Jokanović was dismissed. Miraculously, Yugoslavia rallied and took the lead for a third time – Slobodan Komljenović grabbing his share of the limelight.
After laying siege to Ivica Kralj’s goal Camacho’s men were handed a lifeline in the dying embers – the ice-veined Gaizka Mendieta coolly slotting home a penalty to set up an enthralling finale.
Spain flooded forward and, with seconds remaining, Alfonso rifled a volley past a static Kralj and completed Spain’s great escape.
The Spanish delegation erupted in celebration and, after news came through of Norway’s draw, the Yugoslavia players followed suit – their superior head-to-head record enough to send them through.
A satisfying climax to one of the great Euro games.
Turkey 3-2 Czech Republic (2008)
A chaotic end to Group A saw emerging dark horses Turkey knockout the much fancied Czech Republic in sensational fashion.
Both nations scraped narrow wins against Switzerland, but were soundly beaten by runaway leaders Portugal. In this winner-takes-all clash, their identical records dictated that in the event of a draw there would be a penalty shoot-out.
Karel Brückner’s team opened the scoring through man-mountain Jan Koller – the Czechs’ all-time leading goal scorer and lucky charm. They had never lost a competitive match in which the giant had scored.
Mid-way through the second half Osasuna midfielder Jaroslav Plašil slid home Libor Sionko’s pinpoint cross and Turkey’s faint hopes dwindled.
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) June 15, 2019
The vastly experienced Czech defence looked impenetrable. Petr Čech, Zdeněk Grygera, Marek Jankulovski, David Rozehnal and captain Tomáš Ujfaluši boasted a total of 300 caps between them.
Staring into the abyss, Turkey regrouped – somehow!
Fatih Terim’s side halved the deficit through Arda Turan, before an unfortunate error from the ever-reliable Čech gifted Nihat Kahveci an equaliser. As penalties loomed, Turkey went for the jugular.
With one minute of normal time remaining Nihat raced through on goal and clipped the ball over a helpless Čech and in off the underside of the crossbar. In a cruel twist of fate, the Czechs went crashing out of the tournament.
Turkey’s stunning comeback had a galvanising effect on the team and the momentum carried them all the way to the semi-final, where they were narrowly edged out by Germany.