Throughout Euro 2016 we will be serialising Rob Fielder’s marvellously comprehensive book, The Complete History of the European Championship. The series will look at the 10 greatest matches in the tournament’s history, recalling the events around the games and many of the wonderful players who have graced the competition over the years. We began with Yugoslavia’s fightback against France in the semi-final of the 1960 European Nations’ Cup and continued with England’s victory against the Netherlands at Euro ’96, the thrilling quarter-final between Germany and Turkey at Euro 2008, and Denmark’s improbable victory against the Netherlands in the 1992 semi-final. Now it’s time for a helter-skelter encounter between Yugoslavia and Slovenia at Euro 2000…
YUGOSLAVIA – SLOVENIA 3:3 (0:1)
Scorers: 0:1 Zahovič 23, 0:2 Pavlin 52, 0:3 Zahovič 57, 1:3 Milošević 67, 2:3 Drulović 70, 3:3 Milošević 73
13.06.2000 (20.45) Charleroi (Belgium), Stade du Pays de Charleroi, Att: 16,478
YUG: Kralj; Dudić, Đukić, Mihajlović, Nađ; Stanković (Stojković 36), Jokanović, Jugović, Drulović; Kovacević (Milošević 52), Mijatović (c) (Kežman 82)
SVN: Dabanovič; Milanič (c), Galič, Milinovič; Novak, Čeh, Pavlin (Pavlovič 74), Karič (Osterc 78); Zahovič, Rudonja; Udovič (Ačimovič 64)
Sent off: Mihajlović (60)
Referee: Vítor Melo Pereira (Portugal)
Euro 2000 was a tournament of comebacks and surprises. There was a plethora of enthralling tussles which ebbed and flowed and contributed to arguably the best European Championship in history. Yet few could touch the marvellous and bewildering contest between Slovenia and Yugoslavia in Charleroi for drama, excitement and shock factor.
Going into the match few gave the Slovenes much chance of upsetting their far bigger neighbours. There could be no doubt about the calibre of players available to Yugoslavia manager Vujadin Boskov at the finals. Siniša Mihajlović, Vladimir Jugović, Dejan Stanković, Darko Kovačević and Predrag Mijatović all plied their trade at some of the biggest clubs in Europe and Croatia’s achievements at the World Cup two years earlier, when they lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners France, had proven that dark horses could make an impact on the international stage. The only black mark against this side was the continued reliance on so many of the top players of years gone by and a failure to inject some youthful vitality into an aging team. The great hope was that this swansong would see a host of legends bow out in style.
In contrast Slovenia were the rank outsiders, widely available at 125-1 to win the tournament. That reflected the complete lack of top level experience the side could boast, a somewhat unconvincing qualifying campaign and an absence of household names. In Zlatko Zahovič they had a star who was capable of illuminating any match but his preparations had been far from ideal after a tumultuous season at Olympiakos. If he hit top form then anything could happen but most people had written the Slovenes off before a ball was kicked. Perhaps the only man who really believed they could accomplish the unthinkable was manager Srečko Katenec, who played for Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup and had a few ideas on how to stop the potential juggernaut.
Earlier in the day Norway claimed a shock win over Spain and that blew the group wide open. Perhaps sensing a chance to capitalise on the opportunity the match began at breakneck speed as Željko Milinovič went close for Slovenia from a free-kick and Kovacević worked the goalkeeper at the other end. Only Raúl had scored more goals in qualification than Zahovič and he was lively here, keeping the Yugoslav defence on their toes. Quickly Slovenia’s good play got its reward as a free-kick from Amir Karič was angled into the area and Zahovič’s precisely placed header left Ivica Kralj with no chance. The goalkeeper was able to deny Zahovič with his legs later in the half when he broke through on goal but at the interval Slovenia held a deserved 1-0 lead.
After the break the underdogs set about cementing their advantage. First Zahovič crossed from a free-kick and Miran Pavlin supplied another excellent header to double the lead. Then moments later Siniša Mihajlović, normally so adept in possession, committed an appalling blunder, passing the ball across his backline and straight to Zahovič who sped in on goal to score comfortably. To make matters worse Mihajlović capped a truly awful night by getting himself sent off shortly afterwards for a push on Sašo Udovič, which earned his second booking. Surely there was no way back from here for Yugoslavia?
Somehow Mihajlović’s dismissal galvanised the Plavi. With their backs against the wall they were forced to commit and they set about getting back into the game. A corner from the magical veteran Dragan Stojković, a former teammate of Katenec, looked like it was heading out for a corner until some superb work from Drulović kept it alive; Savo Milošević was on hand for a simple tap-in to reduce the arrears.
Three minutes later Mijatović cut the ball back for Drulović and he fired in with a firm left-footer to make the score 3-2. Another three minutes later and Yugoslavia, incredibly, were level as Drulović surged to the byline and delivered a perfect low pass for former Aston Villa striker Milošević to net from close range. In the space of six minutes, and with only ten men, the Yugoslavs had managed to come back from three down to level the scores.
From that point on either side might have won the game, with Milošević and Zahovič in particular tormenting the opposing defences. Slaviša Jokanović was desperately close with one header while in the dying moments Ivan Dudić made a vital clearance to keep out Željko Milinovič after Kralj found himself caught out of position. The match finished 3-3; Yugoslavia had staged one of the truly great comebacks but there was no question about the performance of Slovenia. Few teams would be writing them off as outsiders now.