The eleventh edition of the UEFA European Football Championship saw an international premiere: the first ever co-hosted competition. Although it had never become a reality until 2000, joint bids had been made before – it was the only real way the smaller countries within the UEFA family could stand a chance of hosting the event while keeping expenses to a minimum and without having to construct new stadia – which might afterwards never be filled.
Belgium and the Netherlands were an appropriate choice as joint hosts; Belgium had hosted the small four-team tournament in 1972 and had been runners-up in 1980, while the Netherlands had been champions in 1988. Both countries provided four grounds each, spread across eight host cities; the venue for the final was Rotterdam’s Feijenoord Stadion (“De Kuip”), a somewhat surprising choice given that Amsterdam’s ArenA had a slightly larger capacity and was a more modern construction.
With the two host nations qualifying automatically, it meant that fourteen places were available during the qualifying competition as opposed to fifteen in 1996. As in England four years earlier, the format remained the same, with the finalists being divided into four groups of four, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the knockout stages. The tournament lasted just over three weeks, with eighty-five goals being scored in the thirty-one matches played at a fairly healthy average of 2.74 per match.
The final in Rotterdam saw a dramatic encounter between France and Italy, with both countries chasing their second European title. The Italians held the lead deep into injury time and had one hand on the trophy, only to see the French equalise right at the end of the ninety minutes before settling matters with the second golden goal finish in successive tournaments. Meanwhile for Germany, who had come into the finals as defending champions, the campaign had turned out to be nothing short of a disaster.
Qualifying Campaign and pre-tournament build-up
Germany’s path to Euro 2000 looked fairly straightforward as they topped their group two points ahead of second-placed Turkey and with a superior goal difference, but the final analysis was somewhat deceptive. Erich Ribbeck’s side claimed only one point from the available six against Turkey, and took the automatic qualification spot only on account of the Turks’ inability to close out results against the weaker teams. It was a solid if unspectacular campaign, brightened by the occasional goalfest such as those in the home games against Moldova and Northern Ireland.
In the early part of 2000 there was little to get enthusiastic about; the first fixture of the year saw a 2-1 reverse at the hands of tournament co-hosts the Netherlands, which was followed by two 1-1 draws, the first in Croatia and the second at home to a Switzerland side that had failed to qualify for the big summer gathering in the Low Countries. As the finals drew near form did appear to pick up slightly as a last-minute Bierhoff winner beat the Czechs by the odd goal in five in Nürnberg – on the face of it no mean feat as Jozef Chovanec’s side had won all ten of its qualifying games – before eight goals were put past lightweights Liechtenstein in what was clearly a deceptive sign-off.
Germany’s Tournament in brief
Belgium and the Netherlands were to play host to what was arguably the most abysmal German tournament performance in recent memory. You’d have to go back to the disaster that was Córdoba in 1978, and even then that was something of a one-off, a bad day at the office.
The opening game against Romania finished 1-1 after Mehmet Scholl’s super strike – the only bright spot in some 270 minutes of tournament football – had cancelled out Viorel Moldovan’s opener for the Romanians who could very easily have scored six or seven. Time and again the lumbering Lothar Matthäus was caught out at sweeper, and time and again the Romanians fluffed their lines when it would have been easier to score.
What then followed was a match up against England, which turned out to be the ultimate example of twenty-two useless individuals lumping a bag of wind around a field. It was like a race between a beaten up old Volkswagen Jetta and a rustbucket Rover 200, with the Rover winning by a nose – if you want to put anyone off the wonderful game that is football, I’d recommend this pile of luke-warm Scheiße that was served up – rather appropriately – in the grim and otherwise unmemorable Belgian city of Charleroi.
If one thought things could not get any worse for this poor and rudderless German side, cue their next match against what was effectively a reserve Portuguese eleven. With thirty-five minutes gone the game was still goalless, and that was as good as it got for Ribbeck and his men. In what was a truly shambolic performance, Sérgio Conceição – hardly the world’s most electric centre-forward – was allowed the space and time to score what was surely the easiest and cheapest hat-trick any German side has ever conceded.
If the previous year’s Confederations Cup had been a low point in the history of the Nationalmannschaft, the debacle that was Euro 2000 would be the absolute nadir.